Annie Ruth Graham

Annie Ruth Graham
Vietnam War Nurse

The Vietnam’s Veterans Memorial, also known as “The Wall,” in Washington, D.C. serves as a stark reminder to the approximate 58,000 Americans who lost their lives serving in Vietnam. Each of their names is etched into the dark gabbro rock. The names of eight nurses are included in the memorable list. Lieutenant Colonel Annie Ruth Graham of Efland, North Carolina is one of the eight nurses who lost her life while serving our country in Vietnam [37]. Graham was decorated eight times while serving in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam conflict.

One of six children, Annie Ruth was born November 7, 1916, to J.D. and Tiny Graham. After attending local schools in rural Orange County, North Carolina, Graham graduated from nearby Watts Hospital School of Nursing in 1940 [38]. Graham worked at Watts until she volunteered for service in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II. In March, 1942 Nurse Graham enlisted as a 2nd Lieutenant at Fort Bragg, North Carolina [39]. She was assigned to the European theater of war and worked in both the 57th Station Hospital and the 171st Evacuation Hospital. In April, 1944, Graham was promoted to First Lieutenant [40]. For her service in World War II, Graham was awarded the American Campaign Medal, European - African - Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 2 Bronze Service Stars, and the World War II Victory Medal [41].

After the war, Graham was promoted to Captain and joined the U.S. Army Reserve as an officer. Returning home to Efland, she began a career as a public health nurse with the Alamance County Health Department and returned to school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health Nursing in 1949 [42]. Her time back in North Carolina was short. When the United States entered the Korean War in 1950, Graham was called back to active duty.

Quickly as she was called back to active duty, Graham began caring for wounded soldiers in the U.S. Army Hospital at Camp Yokohama Osaka Army Hospital in Japan. Between 1950 and 1953 over 5,800 casualties from the Korean War was treated at this hospital [43]. While serving in Japan, Graham was promoted to the rank of Major and earned the Army of Occupation Medal (Japan), the Korean Service Medal and the United Nations Service Medal [44] .

After the Korean War ended, Graham spent the next 13 years on assignments in US Army Hospitals in Europe, Africa and the United States. While serving as Assistant Chief Nurse at Womack Army Hospital at Fort Bragg, NC, Graham was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
The fighting in Vietnam escalated through the 1960s. More nurses were needed there to help with the increasing number of casualties. In November, 1967, Graham was assigned as Chief Nurse at the 91st Evacuation hospital in Tuy Hoa, Vietnam. A month later she sent a Christmas letter to her family which read:

"This Christmas finds me a long, long way from North Carolina. I arrived in Saigon on 18 November and almost immediately departed for Tuy Hoa (pronounced Too-ey Wah) where our hospital (400 bed) is located directly on the beach of the South China Sea which is perfectly beautiful but quite treacherous … Getting used to my new outfit (tropical fatigues, jungle boots, and "baseball cap") is not as "exciting" as in World War II but I'm quite sure I'll manage to survive it all! Our nursing staff consists of 59 nurses (12 male) who of our enlisted personnel seem very well trained and apparently have been doing an excellent job. The tour of duty here is 12 months so I plan to be home for Christmas next year. I hope you have had a good year and that your Christmas is filled with joy and the New Year with more happiness than you could possibly wish for. Hope, too, that everyone will pray for peace. Love, Ruth"[45].

Graham spent many off-duty hours in Vietnam caring for civilian land mine victims. On August 8, 1968, Graham suffered a stroke. Due to the seriousness of her condition she was evacuated to U.S. Air Force Hospital at Tachakawa Air Force Base, Japan, where she died on August 14, 1968. Graham was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, DC [46]. Graham was posthumously awarded a Legion of Merit. The citation accompanying this award reads:

Lieutenant Colonel Graham distinguished herself by exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service during the period November 1967 to August 1968 while serving as Chief, Nursing Service, 91st Evacuation Hospital, 43rd Medical Group, 44th medical Brigade in the Republic of Viet Nam.

In this position Colonel Graham was responsible for the entire nursing service for an active four hundred bed inpatient and outpatient medical complex. She personally controlled and coordinated all nursing care, and through her diligence and close supervision, the admission, treatment and disposition of patients were handled in an expeditious and efficient manner.

During the enemy's Tet Offensive and other mass casualty situations, she was continually present and worked tirelessly in organizing and directing all nursing activities. Her meticulous attention to detail and astute planning ensured the smooth functioning of her staff during these critical periods.

Colonel Graham developed and implemented a comprehensive and intensive training program of instruction for ward personnel, which significantly enhanced the technical ability of her staff. Displaying a sincere interest in the welfare of the Viet Namese civilians, she often spent her off duty hours visiting the nationals who, as innocent victims, suffered the consequences of the war.

Through her forceful leadership, keen foresight and unrelenting determination, Lieutenant Colonel Graham contributed immeasurably to the medical support mission in the Republic of Viet Nam. Her professional competence and outstanding achievements were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon herself, her unit and the United States Army [47].

Original references not available.

Compiled by: 
Phoebe Pollitt