Army nurse pens heartbreaking tribute to fallen Vietnam War soldiers on Memorial Day

By Christopher Brito

/ CBS News

A nurse who served in the Army during the Vietnam War offered a heartbreaking account on Memorial Day of her experience helping the severely wounded. Peggy Akers, who served with the Vietnam Army Nurse Corps from 1969 to 1972, penned a letter to the editor for CentralMaine.com on what she remembered seeing in the war.

"It's Memorial Day, America," she said. "Do you hear the flags snapping in the wind? There's a big sale at Macy's and there's a big parade in Washington for the veterans. But it's not the American flag or the sound of drums I hear — I hear a helicopter coming in. I smell the burning of human flesh."

"It's Thomas, America, the young black kid from Atlanta, my patient, burned by an exploding gas tank."

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As the nation remembers those who served and didn't come home, she emphasized the lengths of sacrifice from service members in the Vietnam War — a war she personally opposed as a college student and served in anyway, eventually earning the rank of captain. Akers has since become an award-winning nurse practitioner in Portland, Maine.

"I remember how [Thomas'] courage kept him alive that day, America and I clung to his only finger and whispered over and over again how proud you were of him, America — and he died," she wrote.

Akers' emotional account includes other graphic examples of soldiers and victims of war. She wrote about Robbie, a teen who sat next to her on a plane to Vietnam. The 17-year-old had shrapnel rip through his heart. It was the first time he was away from home, according to his friends who spoke with her at the time.

"What did you tell his mother and father, America?" she asked.

She concluded her letter expressing anger at the country for sending her and "thousands of other men and women who loved you" to serve in Vietnam.

"America, you never told me that I'd have to put so many of your sons, the boys next door, in body bags. You never told me…" she wrote.

First published on May 27, 2019 / 2:07 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Army nurse pens tribute to fallen soldiers on Memorial Day

"America, you never told me that I'd have to put so many of your sons, the boys next door, in body bags," she wrote

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