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Founder Of Vietnam Women’s Memorial Speaks On Motivation, Military Experience

Part of the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Part of the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Founder Of Vietnam Women’s Memorial Speaks On Motivation, Military Experience

A Helena resident and founder of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., will be honored Sunday as part of the National Memorial Concert on PBS.

Diane Carlson-Evans served as a nurse during the Vietnam War, and continued fighting after for a memorial to commemorate the more than 265,000 women who served alongside her. MTPR’s Freddy Monares spoke with Carlson-Evans ahead of her appearance on the show.

Freddy Monares I'm joined with Diane Carlson-Evans, founder of the Vietnam Women's Memorial at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Thanks for joining us today, Diane. 

Diane Carlson-Evans Well, thank you for having me. 

Freddy Monares Yeah. So my first question is, how do you usually spend Memorial Day? 

Diane Carlson-Evans Well, I usually spend it in Washington, D.C. on site at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for the ceremonies there and the ceremonies that we have at the Vietnam Women's Memorial. And I always watch the National Memorial Day concert, which is held on the eve of Memorial Day. 

Freddy Monares And this year you'll be part of that. How does it feel to be chosen for this ceremony? 

Diane Carlson-Evans Well, it's an incredible honor. I'm just so grateful that they are focusing this year on the women's service during the Vietnam era. 

Freddy Monares I read in the Helena Independent Record that it took you seven years of testimony before three federal commissions and multiple bills before getting support for the Vietnam Women's Memorial. Can you talk about recognition of women serving our country during the Vietnam War and what it looks like now? 

Diane Carlson-Evans The entire effort start to finish took 10 years, and we had seven years of agony, of testifying before the federal agencies and getting Congress to support that women, too, need to be honored and recognized on the National Mall. When we have statues to men we don't think of the women, do we. And we need some visible, we need visible portrayals, images of women in the military. If we don't see those images, we think they're not there or that their contribution didn't matter or that they're — we just keep them invisible. So that was my goal, was to hopefully honor the women with a worthy monument. 

Freddy Monares Yeah. You described the testimony that you gave as agonizing. Did you ever feel like giving up on getting the women's memorial, and what keeps and kept you motivated to, to continue fighting for this? 

Diane Carlson-Evans The reason I didn't give up was that they were worth it. It was that pride in these women that kept me going. And I guess this feeling that I couldn't give up. I didn't give up on a soldier in Vietnam. If I could do what I did in Vietnam, I thought, I can do this. And if I make a mistake, nobody will die on my watch. 

Freddy Monares Has enough changed for female veterans and women serving their country now in terms of recognition and if not, what needs to change? 

Diane Carlson-Evans So we see women in uniform. We see them flying jet planes, helicopters, we're seeing them. Whereas during Vietnam, we were behind the camera, we truly were. There's very little film footage of nurses in Vietnam. Whether or not they feel honored and recognized, I'm not sure — I would — we would have to ask them. They have a lot more challenges today than we did because they have family. My heart goes out to the men and women today because they have multiple deployments and they're leaving families behind them. 

Freddy Monares Yeah, there's ongoing questions about disequal pay of women in the workforce and in leadership positions. How has your campaign for the recognition of women's military service impacted your view of the recognition women get for their contributions to society more broadly? 

Diane Carlson-Evans Well, in the military, while I was there and I had equal pay for equal work, we were paid by rank, not by gender. My time, a woman couldn't be a general. We could only be colonels. That was the highest grade. So we've made a lot of progress. But I think a lot more progress needs to be made in the area of sexual harassment, sexual assault in the military today that's being addressed by Congress, but not soon enough. It needs to end. 

Freddy Monares Any message for women looking for support in their own undertakings? 

Diane Carlson-Evans You know, it seems impossible until you do it. So just be brave. And when you have something you want to achieve, don't give up, don't give in. Persistence overcomes resistance. But as women, we need to weigh the price that we pay. Is it worth relationship with our family? And then finding allies, supportive members of your family, supportive friends, and then people who can help you achieve your goal. So those are kind of all the things that I needed to accomplish my goal and then never giving up. I lost some friends who dropped, who dropped off along the way. And I lost quite a bit of time with my young children. But they were OK; my mom came to take care of them, so they had Grandma. They survived and they're all doing well today. But, you know, that's time away from their family. And how much are you willing to sacrifice? So it gets complicated. And, you know, we come through the other side if we just hang in there. 

Freddy Monares Thanks for chatting with me today, Diane, and thank you for your service. 

Diane Carlson-Evans Thank you. It was a pleasure.

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