Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Oral History Interview with Linda J. McClenahan

Wisconsin Veterans Museum


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[Interview Begins]

DERKS: Hear you right. [laughs] I don't want to cross you.

MCCLENAHAN: That's funny.

DERKS: Actually that pressure is on for the whole project, you know? These, these stories are all--starting with the World War II program in Korea. It's just, you know, these, these show aren't about an audience at all. It's about, you know, making the veterans pleased with the program.

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah--I saw a really good program that um, James Ga--The guy who played. um, Tony Soprano, um--

DERKS: Um, Gandolfini.

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah. He did a, a special on, um, uh, "People's Alive Day." Did you see that?


MCCLENAHAN: It was really well done. He talked to several wounded veterans Iraq and then one Afghan man and woman, and the "Alive Day" is the day they were wounded and almost, almost killed, and so they call that their "Alive Day." And--oh, it was powerful. Again, non-political but really powerful, you know, so.

DERKS: Well we're doing some interviews with returning Iraq and Afghanistan 00:01:00veterans for the Veterans Museum, um, because they wanted an exhibit and they realized that they couldn't interpret the war at this point cause it's--

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah. Oh no, no.

DERKS: It's so fresh.

MCCLENAHAN: Right, right, right.

DERKS: It's still happening. So they decided they would just have these kiosks with interviews with these guys. It was so clear that they don't even know--

[video skips here]

MCCLENAHAN: To get back.

DERKS: Yeah, go ahead. Okay.

MCCLENAHAN: I wanted to get back to Vietnam because, um, um--it wasn't so much that I wanted, I wanted to go back that I enjoyed the war or anything. It was simply a matter of I still had people that I knew and cared about over there, and also, I didn't really fit in here. And at least there, as awful as it was, I kind of knew what to do. And so, I did try to get back.

MCCLENAHAN: Uh, but, um, that didn't go, so. Uh, I, I understand why there would be some confusion for the returning vets right now trying to figure things out.

DERKS: Well, plus at that age.


DERKS: The people you've been with for a year are like the closest people there 00:02:00are to you.

MCCLENAHAN: Closest people you'll ever have. Yeah. Absolutely. And that's hard to explain to people too. Um, how, how somebody--I think part of is, normally when you meet people, you sort of talk a little bit, see what you have in common. Try to get some of that out. But, in a war situation, you don't have time for all that surface nonsense. You know, you get down to the basics of human existence. And uh, when you're in that kind of a life and death, uh--every day, every moment situation, you know, you get pretty close, so.

DERKS: You're right. It's on a very primal level, isn't it?

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah. It is, you know. I mean, like my best friend over there, his name also happened to be Linda, but of course nobody called me Linda over there. My last name is, you know, McClenahan, so everybody called me Mac. Uh, but, um, Linda, um, absolutely my best friend ever. I would've died for her. I know she would've died for me. It was no question. Well, um--actually after I came back, 00:03:00it took me 15-16 years before we found each other again. But, um, when we did, and reconnected immediately, we discovered we really didn't have anything in common, but it didn't matter, you know? Uh, we didn't like the same kind of movies, we didn't like the same kind of books--although we did like General May. We continued the General May game that we started in Vietnam [laughs] for a penny a point. We started it in a bunker one night under and attack. And, uh, uh, kept it going. Kept the score card--she still had it. I couldn't believe it. Anyway, um. Actually, she died a couple years ago in June, and uh, uh--I put in her coffin, 722 pennies because I still owed her a penny a point and that's what the score was at that point, so. It was quite a story.

DERKS: Wow [laughs] just resume the score.

MCCLENAHAN: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So.

DERKS: So let's go back to young Linda McClenahan who decided she had a future in the military.


MCCLENAHAN: Well actually, I grew up, uh, in Berkley, California. "Berzerkley," "People's Republic Of," you know, all those names that we used to get called. I great up in Berkley California, I went to The School of the Madeleine, a Catholic Grade School, and then, Holy Names High School. And, it was actually my intention to become a sister after I graduated from high school. But in 1967, um, the Vietnam War was hot and heavy, and the protests were Hot and Heavy, and coming home from school in the November of my senior year, that would have been November of '66, Um, As the bus was going down College Avenue, we had to turn and do a detour because they were rioting at the UC-Berkley campus. And, down Telegraph Avenue, I could see a police car overturned and on fire. And, it moved me to a point of, you know I was tired of the people in the street telling me how to think, or the government telling me how to think, so at that moment I 00:05:00decided before I'd give three years of my life to my country. And so, when I graduated in June, I joined the army. And, um, and then--uh, well I was of course a Fort McLaren for basic training. That's where all the women used to go--in those days. And then, uh, Fort Gordon Georgia for my AIT Advanced Individual Training for communications. I was a 72 Bravo, which is a, a fixed station in communications. And that actually pulled strings, to get to Vietnam. And, uh, uh--it was a rather involved process, but, uh. I actually made rank really fast. I accelerated promotions, so I was never a PFC. I went from, you know, Private A2 right to Spec-4 and then was a Sergeant, uh, very quickly. But uh, uh--went to Vietnam. Got my orders.

DERKS: How was that? How were you able to advance so quickly?

MCCLENAHAN: Oh, grades--you know, good scores, and good evaluations, and 00:06:00uh--Well, you know--I was a, kind of of a, not a--priss I guess. I, you know. Com--High school. I mean, all, all through school I was always doing all the right things and taking care of things. I mean I really was the, the class good little Catholic girl. Um, um--

DERKS: Well that sounds like pretty deep thinking [Linda laughs] for an eighteen year old. No, really. To commit yourself that way.

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah, well. It was-- but uh, maybe. But uh. So, you know, I, I got over, and here's where it isn't so much deep thinking. Here's, here's the 18 year old. Um, wanted to get to Vietnam for all kinds of reasons. One, to see for myself because it was kind of, the thing, but also, there, there were actually three reasons. One is my brother Mark had just gone into the Marine Corps. He'd been drafted. And, I knew, at that point, under the Sullivan Act, I don't know if that, if they still honor that anymore, but--I knew if I were there, he 00:07:00wouldn't have to go. He could volunteer to go, but he didn't have to go. And so if I was there, he, you know, I didn't have to worry about him. Secondly, um, I, um, thought war would be kind of a glorious, grand adventure. You know, as a lot of, like I said, a lot of kids do. Um, you know. You think about the movies and, you know, I mean, all of that stuff. Whether John Wayne or Eddie Murphy or, you know, any of those people. And, yeah, it's just--

DERKS: Combat.

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah, yeah. Oh, sure.

DERKS: TV shows.

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah, um, I mean I, even wrote a poem about that at one point, but, the, um, uh--So, you know, of course I, I get there, and find out, I think my first day, that I didn't know what the hell I was thinking [laughs]. So, I fly--oh, that was the other thing. Um, I was uh, under 21 at that time. For women who are under 21, you had to get parental approval to enlist or anything, 00:08:00so I did have that. But because I had to extend three months in order to complete a year's tour in Vietnam, my parents had to sign the form again. And it was a real interesting conversation trying to get my parents to sign that. Um, uh, I don't remember if I had to have both of them sign it or if I finally just talked my dad into it. My dad was in the Navy in World War II. He wasn't crazy about me doing this, but he uh, seemed to understand that it was something that I felt that I needed to do. So--um, anyway. That, and of course the guys, you know, you don't need that, you know. 18, you're just pphh [makes sound] gone. But--so I arrive at um, at the 93 placement, in, um the Ven Wall, Lang Vei area.

DERKS: How did you get there?

MCCLENAHAN: Uh, the flight and the plane. We left out of Travis Air Force Base. There was probably about, you know, 100-150 guys and me. Um, and then of course 00:09:00the two stewardesses. That was it. And, uh, when we landed, they had the officers and me up front, so we would disembark first. And of course the door opened and that, you know, the heat and the, the smell, you know, whoo. Uh, the smell--it's hard to explain. It was kind of a combination of, um, diesel fuel and cordite and, you know, um. Also the sanitary conditions. They used to burn the um, um--

DERKS: Awful, awful. [laughs]

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah, well. I'm trying to watch my language here. But they used to burn the human waste, as it were. And that was up in the air too, so I mean, it was really kind of a, an odd smell, especially in that heat. And then um, you know, we go to the 993rd placement which was an open cement floor with a tin roof and. Sitting on these benches waiting to be assigned. And all of a sudden 00:10:00it was [whistles] boom. You know, incoming. Somebody yelled incoming and everybody's on the ground. And I, you know, was bout as flat as I turned to the captain next to me and I said, uh, "Aren't we behind the lines here?" He said, "Lady, this is Vietnam. There are no behind the lines here." So, anyway, after that, uh actually my--um, they, it hit near the luggage, and my duffle bag had some holes in it and my guitar was destroyed, so I had to buy a little Vietnamese guitar, which served me pretty well the year I was there. Anyway, got assigned to the WAC detachment, so we got on this bus and um--Well the bus had no windows but it did have these, you know like, little cages. Cage that went over the window. They looked like, you know, the prison buses do without the windows. And I said, um, "what's this?" "It keeps the grenades from coming in." 00:11:00[laughs]. "Oh, swell," you know. And then on the way in, I saw where, um some rockets and come in and saw some, um, um--bodies on the side of the road, and, and that was kind of my first, you know, um, sight of that, and I was a little surprised. I guess in my head somewhere I figured soldiers got killed, not civilians. Again that naive unsure person. So I was, uh, a little surprised, I guess. Um, got to the WAC detachment on Long Binh post. now the WAC detachment. There were about 758,000 women in Vietnam. Most of them were nurses. Probably about 7,000 of them were nurses. The rest of us, uh, were--you talk about a minority within a minority--the rest of us were um, enlisted women or officers who worked in administration, communications, finance, various things like that and a-- So, that was, uh, you know and I was communications. So the WAC 00:12:00detachment on Long Binh had about, uh, 110-120 women that were there. And, you would have thought we walked into Fort Knox. I mean it had a fence around it. It had barbed wire all over the place. And, you know, um. The barracks, or the billets, so uh, Got checked in there, got the fatigues and all that stuff, and then my first--or my duty assignment, was at the USARV headquarters. The USARV - U-S-A-R-V, um, U.S. Army in the Republic of Vietnam. Um, MACV was in Saigon, but USARV was the army headquarters and that was in Long Ven. It was about 50,000 people. It was huge, huge base. But, um. I was at the Comm. Center of the Communications facility there at USARV.

DERKS: 50,000! That's a large city.

MCCLENAHAN: It was a, it was a, it was a--yeah. And then, um, uh--So I was assigned to that. And there were two shifts, uh, 12 hours shifts. From 6 at 00:13:00night to 6 in the morning. 6 in the morning til 6 at night. Twelve, uh, twelve hour shifts six and a half days a week. We got half a day off a week because at that point I was still a, you know, the good Catholic girl, or the good kid, I asked for Sunday morning off so I could, you know, hit mass. And, um, And there were, on my shift, there were, um, 50 some guys and then me. And then, uh, another women there -- Dale, who, um, worked only days. Um, so every, every, you know, 30 days, I'd see, see--I'd work with her. But otherwise I was just, you know, with the guys at night. Uh, you know, which was fine. We, uh, handled--the messages that came through were surveillance reports, troop movements. All of 00:14:00the casualty reports went out of our office, so--Casualty reports would go to the various, um, you know, the Department of the Army, Department of the Navy, whatever and then usually the fort base or wherever nearest a, a soldier's hometown so that they could be notified. And, uh, um--I mean, I, I say this a lot, but that--we saw everything from a sprained ankle in a parachute jump or getting out of a jeep to pieces of remains not positively identified. And that one still kind of gives me, the, you know, the willies on that. Um, but, um--and then, um, the other thing on that, is the WAC detachment, we didn't have our own, uh--See because the WAC detachment, none of us were actually assigned, I 00:15:00mean we lived, we were billeted at the WAC detachment, but I was actually a part of the 1st Signal Brigade. Uh, 160 Signal 44th Signal Battalion, you know, um, "Can do, Sir," you know. If I remember correctly. And uh, so all of the women were assigned to 1st Log or or 25th or some other unit as it were, but we didn't have our own mess hall, so our..the mess hall was used was the 24th Evac Hospital, which was uh, just past a grove of trees and we'd take a pathway across and go over to the 24th Evac Hospital. Which meant we walked right by the helipad. So we saw the wounded coming in, um--often. And uh, sometimes, you know, we'd hold the doors or, you know, whatever. Push gurneys. Go over and give blood a lot. Um, I never gave blood until I got over there, then I gave blood a lot. I've really--and now, you know, well I continue giving blood a lot because I know how important it is. Until, uh, until I had a bout with cancer, and now 00:16:00they wouldn't let, won't, won't take it anymore. So, um, but anyways, so--that would happen a lot. And, at first, it was a little disconcerting to see people coming in right from the field. I mean, um, uh--in, in--It's amazing to me how badly a person could be wounded and if they were conscious, how they would be able to still look enough to try and see what's going on around 'em. And uh, and how a human body can survive some incredible injuries. It was, uh--uh--anyway. It was interesting how I went from, uh, being uncomfortable or queasy with that, where later, uh--well one good example. Andy and I, uh--had--we decided, well I mean we went to lunch one day. We took the bus down and went to lunch. Uh, and as the bus is pulling in, there was a new driver, and a lot of choppers started coming in. And, he said, "I think I can get ahead of 'em." And Andy went running 00:17:00up and slammed his foot on top of the break and said "Don't move this fuckin' bus," you know. And the guys was just ashen. And there were several new people who were on the bus too, and--they brought in a lot of really badly hurt people. And, after it was cleared, you know, the driver went ahead and went again, and when they got to the door of the mess hall, Andy and I got off. Nobody else got off. They were all pretty sick, you know, so anyway. Off they went. Andy looked at me and said, "Have we been here that long?" And I said, "Yeah, I guess so." But the other thing that, uh, that I carried some guilt about year later, but of course realize now, it's just, you know, you do anything you can to survive kind of thing. Um, it would get to the point where a lot of choppers would be coming in, and I would, uh, I'd, I'd, I'd say, "It's going to be a busy day tomorrow. We're going to have a lot of casualty reports," you know. And, and not--and and just think of, uh, think of the--the people coming in as work rather than people. Cause it, uh, got too hard. Yeah. Got too hard. That was what hit me 00:18:00about the wall, actually. I processed names, all the time. And here are all these names. And uh, that's when I lost it the first time.

DERKS: That wall is a pretty emotional thing for, for everybody. Were you hesitant to go?

MCCLENAHAN: Um [coughs], um--um, uh yeah, uh, I was, the first time. But uh, I was very matter-of-fact about it the first time. I had a few names to look up and I, you know, found them, got the locations. And I'm walking along and it's like, okay, there's that person and there she is and there he is and there he is. Okay, that's pretty good. And I, you know, was standing up at the other end of it. You know how it, how it kind of goes. And I was looking down and all these names, and again, you know, I worked with names. And all these names, and I'm watching people touch the names and do rubbings and leaving things, and it 00:19:00was like, suddenly every single name was a person. And, uh--I mean I just lost it. And I just started sobbing and all of a sudden I had my head buried in this fatigue jacket and I--you know, I don't know where the guy came from, and I was just sobbing and sobbing and sobbing. And when I finally came up for air, you know, I uh, I mean I--slobbered all over his jacket, but got up, and I, you know, thanked him and, and asked who he was, and he says, "I'm just a brother vet." I had me boonie hat on to identify me as a vet. But--he says "I'm just a brother vet." And I said, I said, "How can I thank you?" And he said, "just pass it on sister. Pass it on." And later I did. I mean we had a candle light ceremony later that night, and I was um, you know, saw another guy by himself and he was crying and I did the same thing. So, it was good. Anyway. Where was I? Phhh [laughs]

DERKS: It's kind of a full circle, isn't it? To do the job you did.



DERKS: You, you almost have to disassociated yourself from the fact that every name was a person.

MCCLENAHAN: Oh I think--yeah, I, I, I, think probably just everybody that was there, regardless of what their job was. Whether they were direct combat or combat support or anything, you know, because uh--you know otherwise you could pretty well, you know, uh--easily kind of go crazy. Cause, it's it's it's insane, you know. War's insane, you know. It brings out the best in people and the worst in people and sometimes the same person on the same day. And I, I just, you know, I saw too much of that. It's just, it's insanity. It's all insanity. Which, by the way, I think, is the last line of the Bridge on the River Kwai. You know, after Colonel falls over and the doctor is up in the his--I'm not sure but I think he says, "Insanity. It's all insanity." And, you know, and I thought, Boy, I, I didn't get that before I went over but when I saw it years later, I got it. It's like, yeah it is. Because anything goes, you 00:21:00know? And I think that was part of the problem with the Vietnam War and may be becoming so with the Iraq War, but, people want to fight war in a nice, neat, moral box. You can't do it, you know? It's, it's, it's all immoral. The bottom line of war is you kill and destroy and kill and destroy until one side or the other says "Ok, that's enough." And then you stop. Anyway.

DERKS: And when you're trying to do it for a political aim, it, it, it's, you know, the people think that they can control it, then you know, focus on achieving what they think instead of--

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah. yeah. Yeah, but it's uh. Yeah, I, uh, it isn't that it can't be justified, I guess, but in my personal opinion, and this is just my opinion. In my personal opinion, the last time a war was justified was World War II. Because I think the evilness of Hitler was worse than the evilness of war. But 00:22:00um, anyway, like I said, that's my opinion.

DERKS: And that's the last time they really knew what, what victory was.

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah. yeah. Well you know, I might take that back. I, there's, you know, there was something about when Iraq invaded Kuwait. But, George Bush, I mean, you know, the first George Bush, he just went in and, you know, rescued the country and got out. And, and, you know, course he's very clear in his book about why didn't continue on. It's too bad his son didn't read his book, in my opinion, but [laughs] Anyway. But um--

DERKS: So what was it like? How, how did they, how many men did you say you were working with?

MCCLENAHAN: About 50 guys.

DERKS: How did they treat you?

MCCLENAHAN: Oh, they were wonderful. The--most of the men that I met in Vietnam were great. Uh, they were glad that we were there. You know there weren't that many Round Eyes over there. The Round Eyes were any American woman--If you were an American woman, if didn't matter what you ethnic background was. If you were an American woman and you spoke English and rock'n'roll, or country western, I 00:23:00should, I should mention country cause [laughs]--but anyway, that was all that was necessary and, and, and for me actually, that was kind of nice because, you know, I used to get barked at when I was in high school. I, you know, I wasn't exactly popular or a raving beauty or anything, so, I spent most of the dances sitting. That's why I can dance really well from the top up. [laughs] You know, because I used to sit in my chair and dance, you know. But when I got over there, you know, we were such a rarity, that it was really nice. Because, uh, in those few places--the clubs, as we called them, but the clubs, now mind you, like Annex 11. We're talking about a club that's probably about as big as this room. It was wood, it had a tin roof and it had, you know, sandbags piled out around the corner up there. And they'd get these bands from, you know, all over Vietnam or the Philippines or, you know, whatever and comin' and uh, play. Try to play American rock and roll and sometimes their translations were pretty funny, but regardless of that, the music was okay. And uh, and it was kinda, you 00:24:00know, it was kinda nice. You know, and of course when we, when we woman would go into some of those places, the first time around I'd been in there for a while, you know, you didn't have to buy a drink. You, you just--the table would just be pphhh [makes sound], which was, uh, kind of nice in those days. I mean, you know. But um--And actually, you know I, I sometimes told the ladies--the, some of the people that I talk to about this--that, uh, they haven't danced until they've danced with eight guys at once while you're in combat boots. If you can, if you can dance in combat boots, you can dance fine. You know, you kind of dance in a circle around with. So everybody's included, you know. So that, that part was kind of nice. But the guys, the guys that I worked with and most of the guys that I met were, were really, um, great. They were like, you know, brothers, um, they um, uh--you know--they were glad we were there. We, we worked 00:25:00together well. We had a job to do and we did it. And that's, um, and that's the way it is. But of course it wasn't like that with everybody over there. So, um--yeah. I found that out the hard way to, so

DERKS: When you were working nights. Would you--I mean, was there a whole contingent of people that would go to the club in the daytime?

MCCLENAHAN: Oh. No, no no, it wasn't open. No, no. Working nights, you just, you know you'd get off in the morning and you'd go to breakfast. Uh, occasionally those of us who would work nights would, you know, pop a beer first thing in the morning, and you know, a lot of people would look at that. But it's like, "What do you do when you get home from work, you know?" And then, you know, then go to sleep and that. And of course the Mamasans would, or the Vietnamese women who around who were around who were doing laundry and, and cleaning, for, you know, for pittens, uh--were around, so.

DERKS: How much contact did you have with the civilian population?

MCCLENAHAN: Uh, with my contact was limited pretty much to the, uh, men and 00:26:00women who worked on the base. Uh, I have had friends who, you know, really went out and went to peoples home's and, uh other things. But, you know, I didn't do that. I pretty much stayed on base except for the stand downs. The 199th and the 1st Calv and um, um--Oh great, I'm going to forget the name of it. Americal Division. When they would have stand downs, uh, we would, uh, frequently. I mean we would go to the stand downs sometimes. Now occasionally we'd have to sneak off post to get there, you know. But they, uh, were, uh, always pretty nice.

DERKS: Tell me what a stand-down is.

MCCLENAHAN: Oh uh, a stand-down, as I recall, was, you know, the guys--combat guys or--they'd be out on assignment or, you know, in the bush for a while and then they'd come back in for two or three days. You know, whatever, and that was called a stand-down. And, uh, in that time, you know, if they had a party or 00:27:00anything, they'd always try to invite--well in our area, because there were women there, you know. So they would try, they would invite us. I don't know what other areas did, you know. But um, and, and we would try to go to it. Now sometimes they would formal invitations and the whole WAC detachment would go, you know, by Chinook or um, helicopter or something else, but uh--sometimes it would just be a few of us in a truck. You know, somebody would be dating somebody, and, they would go off and, so, and that was, that was interesting too. I went to a fe--I went to a couple of 'em pretty regularly and uh, you know, you'd see some guys around and then the next time you wouldn't see them and you'd wonder where they were and you wanted to ask but you didn't want to ask, you know? But uh--and uh--anyway.

DERKS: Did, did, uh the WACs go on R & R?

MCCLENAHAN: Yup. Yeah, yeah. Um, uh--I,uh, went on R & R to Japan probably just about the month before I left. Um--you know, I spent a week there. It was--it 00:28:00was a pretty nice time. It felt funny though. I mean, I, in, in---I don't know, it just felt funny. I think I was star--Well, it was after. I had two or three, um, fairly, um traumatic things happen in a very short period of time. In the summer of 70, and um, uh--so, I think R & R--may have been different, a little bit. Cause by that time. I certainly was drinking before that, but, but after those things happened, I was--probably, you know--I, I am--and I am in recovery. I haven't, uh--I've been sober now by the grace of god and a few good friends, for um, about uh, 15 years almost, so. But um, I was drinking pretty heavy by that time, so.


DERKS: Self-medicated?

MCCLENAHAN: Oh yeah. [laughs]. Big time, so. Yeah, I uh it, it, it certainly was not, uh, you know--not what I was expecting, that's for sure. And I lot God over there, so my idea of being a sister after I got out, was, you know, that was out the window. [laughs] Forget that stuff, so.

DERKS: Can we talk about that?

MCCLENAHAN: Well--um--one of the things that we would do at the, at the um, comm center would um, on the tech control area, we would sometimes, you know, we had these patch cords and we would patch in a different signal for different lines to make sure everything was ok. Or, or tune in the radios to different things. Make sure the frequencies were working, cause sometimes the M58 bands that were out there, we might have to change an antenna or something else. And, I didn't do that stuff, so I didn't fully understand it, but I'd be hanging out with the guys who were. And uh, one day on the radio, we picked up a squad that was under 00:30:00attack that was asking for help. And, uh, uh--they didn't get it. And--to um, helplessly listen----was, um kind of tough. Um. And then um, another time, uh, um, we were working with, you know, a group of uh, orphans. You know, I think just about every unit over there are adopted some orphanage somewhere. And um, you know, some of the little kids were something else, but I saw this one little girl, who looked like she had had her throat cut at one point and there was something about that that just hit me badly, and she really couldn't talk. So I don't know if it severed her vocal chords or what, but uh, she uh. That, that, 00:31:00you know--who would slit the throat of a--three year old, you know. So that kind of, uh, hit me in a, in a funny way. And then, uh, um--and then in August, I was at Annex 11 with some friends, and uh, met this guy named Tony, and I frankly don't know if his first name was Anthony or if that was a nickname for a last name or whatever. But he, he had been, uh, with the 212 MPs, the dog, the dog group on Long Bihn, but they had pretty much shut down in June or July of that year, and I think all the guys had been, had been re, rescattered. But anyway, met him and, and some other people, and, you know, danced a little bit. Well about the third time I saw him, um, you know, bout--another day I was there, and um, there I was there by myself, and uh, he came in and he said they were going 00:32:00to have a party down at the old location because it was empty and, you know, they could make all the noise they wanted and asked me to join him. And, um, I, I had not reason not to, you know. "Sure, I'll go with you." So got in the Jeep and went down there and walked in the door and there were two people I had never seen before, and a real-to-real tape playing Elvis' greatest hits and a bunch of beer and a cot, and that was it. By the time I realized what was going on, I was too late, so, uh. Yeah--Not the, not the best day of my life. Um, and I just--easily, easily to say, that I was devastated by that. Not only physically, cause it was pretty brutal with all the guys, but uh including, you know, they 00:33:00kept my clothes on for the combat knife.

[Break in recording]

DERKS: --was a hundred dollars, as if the war wasn't enough.

MCCLENAHAN: Laughs, yeah. yeah.

DERKS: It's vicious.

MCCLENAHAN: So, are we okay again?

DERKS: Yes, we're rolling again.

MCCLENAHAN: Okay--anyway.

DERKS: So when did you say that was? That was

MCCLENAHAN: August '70.

DERKS: And when did you get there?

MCCLENAHAN: I got there in November '69, so--

DERKS: So you were getting pretty--

MCCLENAHAN: That, that weekend was--yeah, I was getting short. And that weekend, I mean not that weekend, but I mean those, those three incidents were all in the summertime. And then there was another time we, we uh--at the hospital, uh, uh--a nurse curse came around the corner with a gurney and this guy, his--burned, you know, complete burns, and the smell and the sight of that was, uh, startled me. And uh, I mean, just, you know, just--just lots of--and the guy, I mean, he was, he was naked obviously. But uh, you know, I wasn't--the 00:34:00nakedness isn't what bothered me. It was the burns and the--'cause I guess the 24th actually, supposedly was supposed to be the primary burn and head wound area, although they did obviously, have other, wounds come in. But yeah I, after that happened. Like I said, I was pretty well devastated. I, I spent kind of a week in a fog. Um, part of it was that, that the guys that I knew over there were really, you know, good guys. They uh, you know, I trusted them all. Like I said they were brothers. We had a job to do and we did it. But um, to have that happen was just like, you know, here I was willing to put my life on the line with somebody. And it was kind of an attack. And, and to add insult to injury, uh, uh--when I--when Tony was driving me back to the WAC detachment, he just stopped the truck right after USARV and told me--or the, uh, jeep--and told me to get out. Uh, you know. And I did, and you know, off he went. And, you know, I 00:35:00felt like garbage dumped on the side of the road. And uh--and it was probably a good thing that I didn't have a weapon because if I had a weapon at that point, we wouldn't be having this interview. So I uh, was late for curfew, you know, obviously. It took me a long time to walk home. I was pretty--I was, I was in a world of hurt, I think we used to say. And uh, got back to the WAC detachment and notified the, the CO and we tried to do something, but in those days, it didn't work out. Um, so.

DERKS: Really. Just no response?

MCCLENAHAN: The CO basically said that the guys told him that it was my idea and they paid me. And um, And uh, besides, what did we women expect putting ourselves in a man's world? Unquote. So, uh, the CO said to me, you know--you 00:36:00know, she reminded me I was short, and uh, to go through all this would probably just make it worse, and if I could just, you know, forget about it as best I could and, whatever. And I did, you know, as best I could. I was lucky in that I did not get pregnant. I did have a very, odd form of venereal disease that followed me for a while. But um, anyway. Yeah, uh--in, and I think you know, as I said I lost god after that. In my mind, the concept that I had of God was that if you do all the right things, you know, and, and that, and follow all the rules, then God will take care of you. That was the, that was the deal, you know. And I, and I kept my end of the deal and God didn't keep God's end of the deal. But course years later I was able to put all of that in a proper 00:37:00perspective, you know. Which is it wasn't God who did it, you know? And actually, God doesn't start wars either, you know. I think one of the greatest gifts God gives us is the gift of free will and no matter how badly we abuse that gift, God won't interfere, so--I really have come to believe that there are times when God cries with us. Um, over some of the choices that are made. But, anyway. That's part of my own concept, you know, the--you get into AA and you get into the God of your own understanding and, so I was able to make peace with, certainly with God about that, but it took years. Um, and as I said, I was drinking a lot by that time and uh, you know. yeah--

DERKS: So, so how did you put it? You lost God. Is that what you said.


DERKS: Obviously you've been--you kept asking --

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah, well.

DERKS: The question and just [inaudible].

MCCLENAHAN: Um, well you know, you say I, I didn't really lose God, but um, it, 00:38:00it wasn't that I lost God at all, but I didn't really want to believe anymore and just told myself that God wasn't there in spite of, you know, anything else, So I stopped going to church and stopped, you know, having anything to do with--any of that stuff. I even had a chain that, you know, that, that one to those that, you know, "I'm a Catholic. Please call a priest" around my neck and I took that off, and, and junked that. And I, partly because one of the guys was wearing one and it kept hitting me in the face and that didn't help. But um, it just, you know, so many different things. But uh--um. So my last, uh, last couple months there were kind of a blur. Uh, uh--When I got home. [laughs]. Um, 00:39:00somebody, you know, periodically I get asked "were you ever called a 'baby killer'" and I said "No." But I was referred to as "Oh look, here's one of Uncle Sam's horrors." [laughs]. It was a bad time to be in uniform, I'll tell you. It's uh--as a matter of fact I think for a while they told us not wear uniforms in airports for a while. It just wasn't safe. And of course I went home to Berkley. [laughs]. So I'm, you know after I got discharged, uh, Doris, Doris and I were--and I'm showing her my hometown. So we're driving around. We're driving down Telegraph Avenue and all of a sudden we're wondering why people are staring at us, and we realized we were in uniform. And we scrunched down real low and took the hats of and was just, you know, trying to safely maneuver around that. But. Yeah, it was a tough time. You know, people weren't doing all these programs for people. And people weren't taking care of people, that's for sure. Um, it's the way it ought to be, but I've gotta be honest. I mean I, I love all 00:40:00the programs that are happening for, for our service men and women right now. I love the support that's there. But I gotta be honest. It hurts.Um--uh--I mean it's the way it oughta be, but it hurts. And I, and I do appreciate that people can support the men and women who are serving whether or not they support the politics that put them there or, or support the government that sent them, you know. Uh, I think that that's, uh, a good thing, so. Um--

DERKS: And you had nothing? Family?


DERKS: To welcome you back?

MCCLENAHAN: No, it was uh--matter of fact, I, uh, uh, had a party. I just decided to throw my own welcome home party at, uh, at my house and I invited all of my friends from high school who were now all in college, including my best friend, Marge, who was UC Santa Clara at that point. And people came in, and uh, 00:41:00start talking about somebody brought up that they were going to be going to an antiwar protest in the morning very house, and I said "Oh." So I started actually, because I had done a 180 about my belief about the war, I started talking about, you know, some things that I thought would give them some information, and I got cutoff short with, "Listen, I don't want to hear any of your glory war stories. Anything that happened to you deserved. You wanted to go." Needless to say, the party kind of ended right there, so, um. Didn't seen any of those people again, and keep wondering about going to a reunion of high school and see if I can [laughs], kind of mend some of those fences. I mean I'm the one that blew them off, but it was like--yeah it was hard. I mean we, we were doing the best we could in a tough situation, and uh, you know, it sure 00:42:00felt like it.

DERKS: What, what was your uh--how did you feel about the war. What was the 180? How did that happen?

MCCLENAHAN: I think a couple things bothered me a lot. One was, um, you know that--we talked about the messages that I would process, including the casualty reports. You know, you'd read about a, a battle that was going on Hill, and I'm just making this up, you know, Hill 24. And, and then, you know, we'd lose, you know, 8, 10, 12 guys, and then, you know, they'd get it and that was fine. And then four months later, there's people dying on the same damn deal, you know? We'd, we'd take real estate and then go away and leave it and then, you know, back and forth and it's like this is insane. And then, um--or things like, I, I'd read the casualty reports. Well, a truck, you know, is driving along, a 00:43:00[inaudible] with, you know, 20 guys in the back. The driver gets shot by a sniper. The truck goes over a cliff, everybody's killed, so the casualty goes back as killed in action, 1. The other were killed as the result of a vehicle accident. What? No! You know, so things like that made me really start to question a lot of stuff, and I just, I just had some problems. Plus I could see what it was doing to people, you know. And even myself, I never, ever, ever said a single swear word. When I went over, I didn't drink, swear, you know, smoke, any of that stuff. and, and, and by the time I came back--I don't smoke I never did--but uh, you know, I was a drunk and I swore like a sergeant in a war, you know. Um, but that was the first time I ever swore. See I tried to go to work the next day after I got--after the, the gang--after I was attacked. And uh um, 00:44:00um--somebody came up behind me, as they did a million times to show me something. He put his arm around me and I slammed his arm off and told him to get the F away from me. you know. They had ever heard me say that stuff, so the whole place got quiet and I just got up and walked out, so--so. I even went up to the clinic, the 16th Med detachment and, and uh, the doctor work me a Librium for a while. Which mixed with alcohol, is really, really a good thing, you know. [laughs] So it was just, uh, uh--I just, uh, I didn't think we out to be there anymore. But, by the same token, I had trouble. You know, I went down to an antiwar protest and they were waving the Viet Cong flag and I couldn't stand that either cause people I knew and loved were being killed by people who were on that flag. So it was like I didn't belong anywhere. I didn't fit anywhere. 00:45:00And of course by, I didn't know anything about Veterans Against the War or Veterans for Peace or any of those organizations at that point, so So I just kind of--and as I said, you know, I still had people back and I wasn't sure. I didn't fit anywhere. [Chris Noels??] ,she was an entertainer in Vietnam. And, and she did song that I heard years later, and I don't remember the name of the song or anything about it, except I remember part of the chorus, and part of the chorus was, "It's not you, it' me. I can't get used to Central Standard time." And I thought, now that's a great way to put it, you know. It was, it was--I didn't fit. So then I went down and talked to a recruiter and talked about going back and all that stuff and wasn't going to happen, so. I didn't.

DERKS: Why wasn't it going to happen?

MCCLENAHAN: Well, I, you know, I could go back in the service, certainly, but um, uh--but there, that was during, you know, Nixon's, you know, withdrawal kind of thing. So they weren't sending more people over. They were pulling people 00:46:00out. Which was another crock because, you know, instead of, instead of really not sending people over, they were cutting people's, you know, like--They'd give people an "early out," you know, sent people home three, four, five weeks early. See, we withdrew another [laughs]. So, I dunno. All those different things. But--I was just real disillusioned about everything. It's like I said, everything that I believed in was gone and I had nothing to replace it with. So I had to kinda, build up from scratch.

DERKS: By yourself?

MCCLENAHAN: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I had, I legitimately, I mean I had literally thought that I was crazy and had to hide it from people. The nightmares were, you know, just absolutely awful. Um, and uh, you know, hypervigilance, and, you know, reactions to people. And I had a temper, uh, uh--To say that I went into rages 00:47:00is probably an understatement. I would have these episodes that would just--beyond road rage. And didn't know why, so I, I really did think I was crazy and tried to hid it from people as much as possible. Tried to look as normal and acts as normal, so--I worked in business and I--did all the, all the right things publicly, but um, spent a lot of lonely nights. A lot of lonely nights. And uh, I didn't, you know, I, I was working with the Bechtel Power Corporation in San Diego for a lot of years and I got transferred down to the Houston office, and there was a guy down there, and I won't mention names. But there was a guy down there that nobody liked. I mean this guys was a real--he was the most obnoxious, rudest--guy I'd ever met. Nobody in the Houston office 00:48:00like this guy. And I was working in the communications center down there. And we, um, we had a Dutch door with a thing so people could put the messages up and we could check them out and take them in, you know, so. And he was laying on the Dutch door and we were talking about this new policy that Bechtel had put into place that we, none of us liked, you know. And finally, this guys says, "Well you know what they say. If rape is inevitable, you might as well lay back and enjoy it." Now according to witnesses, I went over the Dutch door, slammed him up against the wall, took him to the ground and was strangling him, slamming his head on the floor yelling, "Are you enjoying this? Are you enjoying this?" Um, they pulled me off of him, and uh, you know, got me into another room and that was when I kind of became aware again of what was happening. I know I should have been arrested, I know I should have gone to jail. I know I should have been 00:49:00fired. But as I said, this guy, and, you know, I, I--there are many times that I should have been dead in jail or [inaudible]. This is, this is probably the, the key one. But nobody liked this guy, so--everybody just said that he fell on the floor. He slipped on a wet spot and fell on the floor and slammed his head seven times. But uh [laughs] No, I mean--I shouldn't laugh about it cause it really wasn't funny, but, but--That kind of a rage, you know--to go into that and really, um, um. Literally wanted to kill him. And um, you know, trying to work that out, you know. And then thinking afterwards, "I'm crazy. What am I doing here?" You know, years later I found a Psalm, I believe it's Psalm 38, uh, but the line in it is "I roar with anguished heart." "I roar with anguished heart." 00:50:00And that was definitely me. I would rather have people think that I was a raving lunatic than a, you know, a sad, pathetic you know. So. Uh, I was pretty, pretty out there. And then all of a sudden, I was at my--Then I got transferred back up to the San Francisco office and I was working up there. And, and, somebody came in one day with this article about this book called um, um--it'll, it was Lynda Van Devanter's book and I'm trying to remember. I think it was "Home Before Morning" was the title of it. And somebody came in and said "Hey look, there's a book about women, a, a woman who was in Vietnam. I didn't know there were women in Vietnam. [laughs]. And I cringed, you know. And I read the thing and I actually called Lynda in Washington D.C. and talked to her for a little bit. And um, uh, then I wound up getting a hold of a person by the name of [Roseanne Decky??], who was in California, who was running a, a Vet center. These new 00:51:00things called "Vet Centers" that were popping up all over the place. And they were talking about this thing called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And um, so I um. Actually the first time that I went into a vet center was in San Francisco. And when I went in there, I said, you know, I'm a Vietnam Vet, and, and uh, I hear that's something you guys do, and Jack um, [McClowsky??], who was working there at the time, he has since died. But anyway, he, uh, he said, uh, "Oh well glad to have you. You wanna to volunteer? You wanna answer phones? You wanna--" you know? And I, I just said, "Never mind. It don't mean nothing." And next thing I know he's running down the street after me saying, "Wait, wait, wait, wait--come on back," you know. And uh, so I started seeing him. And then eventually he put with somebody else and eventually I wound up out at Rosa's place and part of a women's group, actually, of Vietnam veterans. And um, at least that helped me realize that I wasn't crazy. Even though I was still acting crazy, I wasn't crazy. Several things happened in a short period of time there 00:52:00also now. So, now I discovered I wasn't crazy. Um, I left my job at Bechtel and started teaching at a Catholic high sch--inner city Catholic high school in San Francisco. Teaching and coaching there. And I was working on the Cali--The state of California Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. And um, um, all of those things kind of helped, at least at the time, to help me kind of heal some things and put some things in perspective and that. And then of course teaching at the inner-city school, I had to take my kids to the mass, you know, and uh, along the short of it, is I worked my way back into the church and periodically the thought of being a sister would still creep into the back of my head and it was like "yeah right? Who are you kidding? What combat in their right mind would want me, you know?" And um, but I, you know, it was like, alright, let me check it out anyway. And uh, so I did, uh. Was working with a community in California 00:53:00and that didn't work out. I guess I was just a little bit too obstinate or something there. But, anyway. But then through a series of coincidences found the Dominican Sisters of Racine, Wisconsin. And uh, they were very interested in, not so much in where I had been, but where I was going and where, where I was going that I could use where I had been, you know, in the past, in service to God's people, going forward, so. Um, so, I came out, joined, you know. I'm a counselor, I'm a licensed professional counselor working mostly with trauma people. Not only veterans but other people as well. And I'm also part of a group called the international conference of war veteran ministers, and we do, uh, healing retreats around the country for military people and their significant others. And we don't, we not only talk about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but we talk about Post Traumatic Spiritual Disorder, which is what happened to me. 00:54:00You know, my soul was pretty much ripped to shreds and kinda had to put it back together, so. It's uh, uh, you know, it's good to feel like I can help other people now. I've talked with a few Iraq Veterans, uh, here. Women veterans and then veterans, uh, er, uh--There are some helpful things that can go on, but I've noticed that a lot of them are reluctant to talk because it's still going on and they still know people over there. Some of them are still in the military and are afraid they're going to get called back and they can't really do much, you know. Uh, they don't want to talk about it to put, uh, put themselves at risk, I guess. And then um, we also did a retreat for some Canadians that had come back from Afghanistan, and that was a real powerful retreat. So--cause they didn't have much in the way of Post Traumatic Stress up there. They called it occupational stress. So. But of course it's been around forever, so. I still 00:55:00think the name of it in the Civil War was the best. I mean, you know. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In Korea it was "combat neurosis" and in World War II it was "battle fatigue." And World War I, "shell shock," which people still use a lot. And of course, in the Civil War, it was called "soldier's heart," which I think is probably the best. But of course it's not just soldiers--but, you know--but anyway, that, that's a lot of it, so.

DERKS: It seems like there's still a lot of, uh, a lot of work for you to do with the Vietnam Community.


DERKS: You're still in a lot of pain, aren't you?

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah, um--I, you know, thought I was in pretty good shape. But when the second Iraq War started, I kind of went downhill. And so, went out to the Union Grove, the VA Clinic here in town, and, and I've been seeing somebody and that's very helpful. And then recently went down to a program at Bay Pines Florida, the VA down there that has a, a program specifically designed for 00:56:00people who've been victims of military sexual assault. Uh, men and women. Uh, I mean women and men, I should say. And um, it was a very, very helpful program, too. Um, uh--Most people thought I was, you know, well it is post traumatic stress, but uh, you know part of it, but, um. So--yeah, there's uh, I think, the other thing too, I believe when Saving Private Ryan came out and as more and more World War II Vets and Korean Vets were retiring, I think a lot of them were starting to feel the effects of things. And then one of the, one of the World War II Vets that I saw, um, said that it was the picture of the tanks rolling into Baghdad, that reminded him of the tanks rolling into, you know, uh, in, in Europe, so. That's what set him off. And then um, so yeah. There's a lot of people who are acknowledging it.


DERKS: 9/11 seemed to cause a lot of trouble.


DERKS: 9/11 seemed to cause a lot of trouble with--

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah, um, with, with some vets. Although I think, um, that was mostly, I think, it was, I think--more of the civilian world was brought into our world at that point. Uh, one of the guy, one of the vets I know said "Now, now other people know what we feel," you know? Uh, we're talking about one horrific day as opposed to days on days on days on end. However, it was still a horrific day and yes it was traumatizing, absolutely, absolutely.

DERKS: But I mean it seemed to key a lot of the Vietnam vets. We've, we've heard that that's when they started.

MCCLENAHAN: Well, yeah, I think that's probably true too. I, uh, we--You never know what's going to trigger it or how it's going to be. And I still get ambushed by things. I cannot listen to Elvis, you know. I, I had been a fan, but I, I can't. And we tried that with the exposure therapy down in Florida and it was, you know, I thought it was going to be ok, but it's not. It's not, It's 00:58:00just--I can't do it, so, can't get to the radio fast enough to shut if off, or things, and it's--

DERKS: The other thing that we've heard repeatedly is retirement. I have too much time to think.

MCCLENAHAN: Mm-hmm, yeah. Yeah, I, I actually have worked--a workaholic. 50-60 hours [laughs]. As much as possible. But I've gotta tell you, I'm pretty weary of that. I uh, uh. If I were to take a--well of course now I'm a sister and sisters don't retired, they just go into unpaid ministries. [laughs]. So I would have plenty to do as a volunteer, you know, and working around with things, so. There's a project that we're working on right now that I hope goes through and if, if that does, I'll be, I'll be doing some consoling there. I'm working with some homeless, again. I'm comfortable with vets. I'm comfortable with homeless [laughs]. It's like, ok.


DERKS: I was wondering--

MCCLENAHAN: And yes I still sometimes feel defective, yeah.

DERKS: Trust me, you're not.

MCCLENAHAN: Yeah my head may know that, but you know, the Godzilla goes ahhhhh [laughs]. You know.

DERKS: Well speaking of that. What, what were your, um, your nightmares? Were they um--

MCCLENAHAN: Were? You sound past tense. [laughs]. I've had

DERKS: Did they take the same form or--

MCCLENAHAN: Well, yeah--a lot of feelings of helplessness at various points. Uh, some of the earlier ones are. I had, uh, one reoccurring one that went on for a long, long time, where I would be um, at the WAC Detachment walking to the mess hall and a helicopter would be coming in and it was trying to land but no matter where I went it was over me, and, you know. And finally, I was running and I fell down and I skinned my hands and it's like, you know, they hurt, but, you know this thing's dripping blood and it was like, I can't complain about my stupid little hands when--I, you know, I couldn't get out of the way and it was 01:00:00just--you know, that was a bad one. Uh, one night it even crashed into my roof and I, I thought it did, you know. I mean it did, and I woke up, and of course yelling and everything, and finally realized well there wasn't, the roof wasn't all over my bed. My, my roof was still on and it was fine, so obviously there wasn't a helicopter that just came crashing into it. I had another one where I was, uh, driving in a car in my hometown, my home neighborhood in Berkeley. I was, uh, uh--you know, in this car, military car, and I'm driving down the Alameda and down Solano Avenue, and I can see all the destruction and, and fire, and wound and people and everything else, and I can't, I can't get out of the car. I can't do anything to help. It's its just around me and I can't do a damn thing. So that's very frustrating. Uh, I had another one where I got, uh--shoved onto a, I got onto a city bus, and, and all of a sudden it was a supply room and 01:01:00uh, people are handing me my fatigues and my helmet and my, you know, flat jacket, and, and, a weapon, and next thing I know I'm fully dressed and they shove me out the back door, and I'm in the middle of a firefight, and, and I get shot, and the bullet goes in and it spins around, but I'm not bleeding, you know. And, and the dust-off choppers come in, and they pick up everybody, and I, it's like, "Wait a minute. I'm, I'm, I'm hurt." But he can't see it, you know, and that was--some of these are obvious, you know. But uh, I've had dreams where, like, you know, I lived--our, our Mother House. The Racine Dominican Mother House is called Sienna Center. And I've had nightmares where Siena Center's under attack and I'm trying to get all the sisters down into the tunnels and I'm trying to fight it off, so. Um, I've had dreams where, I'm trying to swim in the water and all of these limbs are around and the water's all bloody. You know, just--lots of things. I've had dreams where, you know, I 01:02:00see faces of people who've hurt me, you know. But uh, but I've just, all kind of different things. But mostly it's, uh, just helplessness and, you know. Overwhelm by the horror, and I, and I can't do anything. So, that's, that's the usual theme. And so. And I still have them too much. I know I'll have them tonight. You know? I'm, I'm, I'm talking about this. I know they're going to be there tonight. [laughs]. So, it's, it's part of the risk. So. But I also still talk to, I mean, you know, through uh, speeches or spiels or whatever. I know that I'm going to be having trouble then too. But uh, I think it's important for everybody to tell a story. The only thing we can truly give each other is our stories. And I, I wish everybody had a story. You know, it doesn't have to be just a war story. I mean, everybody has a story and we need to share those. We need to share those. It's important. These connections, this Western American 01:03:00idea that we have to, you know, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and do everything by yourself, you know, it's kind of misplaced. Or this attitude men aren't supposed to cry, you know. Macho John Wayne--B.S. Um, I think we're the only country in the world where men aren't, you know, ok to cry. Every other country in the world, you know, they get it, so, you know. And, there's plenty to cry about, so what's the issue here? So. Anyway. But see I didn't, I didn't cry myself or I didn't have any emotions except anger. I was either numb or pissed off, you know, for years and years and years. I as going to write a book called "Sergeants Don't Cry." [laughs]. Now if I write a book, it will be "From Sergeant to Sister." [laughs]. Maybe subtitles "Sergeants Don't Cry." I don't know. I haven't decided. But, but yes. I've realized I have more than two emotions, so. It's kind of amazing.


DERKS: I was wondering if you could give me a--after he changes the tape--

[Break in recording]

DERKS: So yeah, if you could just paint the picture of that, of uh, where you worked and, and how the flow of information was.

MCCLENAHAN: Um, to the best of my recollection, um, messages would come, you know, information would come in to the USARV headquarter through various, various points, and uh, then, uh, they would, you know, do up a message and bring it down, and hand it through the window. I remember that from the window in, in the Teletype room. And uh, that would be taken, checked over, given to somebody. They would type up the tape, you know. The old, you know [uses hand to gesture] with tape. And then, that would get checked and then it would be sent out on this, this uh, uh, "new computer thing," which really scanned the tape, is what, what it did. And then, um, uh, and it would send out to wherever. And 01:05:00then, uh, I mostly worked what they called the Service Desk, which was, if sometimes a message'd get garbled or incomplete or there was, you know, some other problem with it. Somebody'd send me, you know, a message saying "We need to have this one over again," or "There's some problem." Um, not so much on the casualty report, cause those were usually pretty brief, but mostly on, on like major troop movements or--you know, like, Bob Hope's itinerary was highly classified and it came through. Uh, when uh, General Abrams took over for Westmorland his orders came through. That was very involved. Um, occasionally we'd get a coded message. And since I was one of the few people who had a high clearance, I would have to go into the back and to the tech room and, and, and do that. Whether it, you know, five-letter code groups, you had these little disks that you had to set according to the manual which was set everyday and you'd have to click, you know, and get the things. And put it in there. And type the five letter code groups and it would, you know, turn into words, you know. 01:06:00[laughs]. It was interesting. Um, uh. In, you know, every day at 24 hundred Zulu we would have to redo the KW26s and the KY? KY26s? KW7s--anyway. These, these things with these little wires on 'em and we had to, like. There were 26 little wires and you had to, you know, A into Z [uses hand to demonstrate] and, and, and B into, you know, whatever. All these little wires that you had to re reset so that the code, scrambled code, would be the same all over the world. So we always went on GMT time, or, or Zulu time.You know, um, all over, on the, you know, military. And um, so I, you know. We also, as I said, we would, at the tech control, check various circuits and used patch cords and, uh, things like that. Uh, one time the Russell Relay, uh, which is where we sent a lot of the stuff, broke down and we had to hand carry messages. So we threw all these 01:07:00tapes. You know, you figurate the tapes and put them all in these big bags, confidential bags. And they needed an NCO to, to go with them on the truck. And I was the only NCO available at that point, so they gave me the M-16. Now, in the, the army in its wisdom, the only time women were not trained in the use of weapons, was during the Vietnam War. [laughs] Don't ask me to explain that one. But anyway, uh, but, uh. Anyway, so they handed the M-16 and somebody says, "You know how to use that Sarge?" And I said, uh, "Not really." And he says, "Ok. Here's what you do." "You, you, you wanna." We pushed the clip in. He says "If anything goes wrong, you push this thing forward and pull the trigger." And I said, "Uh, ok. And what about all of you guys?" And somebody said, "Don't worry. We'll be behind you." [laughs]. I said, "Ok, fine." So, you know, that was my training on the M-16. Hit it to rock-n-roll and go, you know. Anyway, um, so I'm walking out with the M-16 and the guys are loading up the truck with the stuff, 01:08:00and you know, this colonel walks by, and it's, you know, I salute him and, and he says, uh "Sergeant, do you know how to handle that weapon? And I thought, uh oh, "Sir, would you like a demonstration?" "No, that's alright sergeant. Carry on." You know, thank you, you know. [laughs]. "Hey, I'll shoot it, what the heck." Anyway, um, but uh, you know, that was uh, an interesting day. And then of course, at one time I was in a truck. One of the stand-downs, one of the guys in the truck got hit by a sniper, um. And, you know. His M-16 fell at my feet and everybody was shooting at the sniper. Me too. And, uh. That was after all the traumas and one of us hit him, so. That was another awakening for me, as I didn't think I would ever, you know, try to kill anybody, really. And yet at that moment, I probably didn't. There was enough of us firing. But the reality is he is sitting where you were at that moment, I would have killed him without any hesitation. So to suddenly realize that that was, you know, uh, something 01:09:00that I was absolutely capable of, was, you know. So, if somebody says, "Well could you kill anybody?" I would say yes. And, and, instead of the usual, "Well under the circumstances if somebody was doing," you know, that kind of thing. You know, just "yeah." You know, so. Uh, and to know that, I think is, uh, is something different. It's--when you--when anybody, uh, myself included. I think when you're stripped of everything, and you, and there's just you left, you find out what you're capable of, you know? And I think we're all capable of great good. I think we're also capable of great evil. And frankly, even the words good and evil, you know, we've said that over the years. Good and evil, they're relative terms, you know. What's evil to somebody may not be all that bad to somebody else, you know, it's just--So, um, a friend of mine, Reverend Al, he uh, he kinda says he prefers to use "creative destructive" instead of good and 01:10:00evil. And I'm, uh, a little more inclined to do that to.

DERKS: Well especially with something like--that's part of the trauma of coming home, wasn't it? It meant something totally different there.


DERKS: Than here.

MCCLENAHAN: Right, absolutely.

DERKS: But there wasn't, uh, recoding that you could do on you to come home.

MCCLENAHAN: Nope. nope, Uh huh. And that, that was part of not fitting in anymore, you know. And that, that's one of the things, frankly, that does bother me. Even though I've had people tell me it, you know. But it, it is, you know. When something happens, my mind kind of goes to some pretty violent thoughts. Um, and because of my experience I guess that's, you know, normal, ok or whatever. But it doesn't feel ok when sometimes, if I'm am fool enough to say it out loud, and I get these "Whoa!" you know? Uh, so I try to keep that to myself. 01:11:00But I mean it's like, uh, uh--I'm, I'm trying to be a woman of peace, and, and yet, I, I know this, this is possible down there. And I don't kid myself about that. I had a younger sister who had been almost beaten to death by this idiot boyfriend out in California. And when I heard about it, the sister I lived with, Sister Barbara, had, had, had, actually had to stop me. I was on the phone making flight arrangements, and I fully intended. And she says, "You can't go out there and kill him." And I said, "I'm not going to kill him. I said "I'm not gonna kill him. I'm gonna reach down in [inaudible] and pull his intestines out!" [laughs]. You know the, uh, you know--you know, killing is too simple and, you know, ordained. I had, you know, had to. I was--anyway. It's--crazy. But, um. So I don't particularly like that part of me. But it is part of the reality of my life experience and, and that, so. Like I said, I try not to share those thoughts with people. [laughs] But they're, but they're there. [shakes head] But 01:12:00they're always there.

DERKS: At the same time, I think it would

MCCLENAHAN: Especially with the nightmares and that.

DERKS: Pretty well to be a, a woman of peace.

MCCLENAHAN: Well I certainly know, the, you know, both ends of it. So.

DERKS: The, the work you did. Um, that gave you a pretty, um, unique perspective on the war. Didn't it?

MCCLENAHAN: Uh, yeah. Real overview of, you know, all these things happening. There were a couple things, you know. A scene of uh--seeing a, uh, casualty report come in on somebody you know. Um, uh--having a casualty report come in on the brother of one of the guys in my unit. Um, it, it, you know, tough times like that, so. But uh. No, the guys at the, at the comm center were, were great 01:13:00guys. Charlie and Stan and, and uh, Bill and Rich, and--I mean they were just a great bunch of guys. You know, so. And I periodically wonder how they're all doing. So.

DERKS: No contact with any of them?

MCCLENAHAN: No. I tried to a--I was in Philadelphia at one point and I tried to get a hold of Stan, um. Turns out his phone was unlisted, and it was like, oh rats, you know. So. He was a good guy.

DERKS: What about your relationships with the other women? What was that like?

MCCLENAHAN: Oh. Uh, uh. I think we talked about that earlier. That I was closer to those people than I've ever been to anybody and closer than I probably ever will be again to anybody. Um. Julie and I, she lives in Chicago. She and I are still in contact. Uh, I lost contact with a lot of them for a lot of years, including my best friend, Melinda Brackett. But I tracked it--found her at one point, um, and then flew back to Massachusetts and met wit her and her 01:14:00daughter. And, this is how close we were. I, I'd met her daughter. I mean I get off this plane and I meet her, her 12 year old daughter. I hadn't seen her in 14-15 years. And, and we start talking and we go and sit down and have a meal. And so I've been in town maybe an hour, and, and her daughter, Ray Lynne, looks at me and says, "This is weird," she says. "You feel like an aunt to me. You feel closer to me than my aunt. "Why is that?" You know, but she could feel the closeness between her mother and I so deeply, that she picked up on it, you know, so, it was, uh, you know. And same thing, you know, with Julie. I don't see her that often or, you know, talk to her that often. But it doesn't matter, we pick up right where we left off, you know, all the time. Of the six of us who used to hang together, there's only a couple of us left, so. That's kind of hard too, you know. But, uh, it's just, uh, yeah. I, I, [sighs]. If there's, if 01:15:00there's a good thing about war, it's the friendships that are forced in war. Um, maybe the medical advances that are made because of war, but, you know, other than that, I don't see much in the way of a redeeming.Um, and I know that the, that that closeness, those friendships and, and the guys that I worked with, the women that I worked with, you know, it'll always be there. Um, but it's interesting because as I meet other vets, uh, you know, first Vietnam vets and then other vets, there is a connection that's uh, that's there. Uh, all the way through. Um, the guys in the International Conference of War Veteran Ministers, you know, uh, fill it now. Most of us, see, some of the people are part of that, were chaplains in Vietnam or other wars, and then joined this thing. Others are people like me who became ministers after, uh, their war. And um, you know, it's a good bunch, a good bunch of people. The men and the women who are there are really good people too. So, um. And I,I, you know, I like working with, uh vets 01:16:00a lot. I feel very at home working with vets. And, uh, a lot of them are homeless. I, uh, work fine with, you know, homeless vets too. Uh, I think, you know, right now I think the national average is one in four homeless is a veteran. That's, you know, terrible. Um, but uh. And there is something to that. It is part of, you know, I get called Sister Sarge. They can remember that and it works. And then there's a certain level of trust with me, you know, because--As a matter of fact, I went to the house of, this was back in California. I went to the house of a guy I knew, and uh, sat down and, I knew his wife too and his wife was sitting there. And he said, um, he started telling me, I started asking him some questions about his experience. And he started spilling out the story and about two hours later, you know, his wife was in 01:17:00tears and, you know, he's kind of upset, and I'm, you know, with him and all this. And we kind of finished it all, and, um, his wife said, "I never knew any of that. He's never talked to me about any of that. But why did he tell you?" And I said, "First of all he knew that I would get it. And secondly, he wanted you to know but he couldn't tell you, so he told me so you would hear." And I said, "That's important. That's story telling." Um, and you know, because the worst fear is you tell people the truth and then they'll think "Uhhh how could you do that?" Well, you know, you do what you have to do where you are, you know? Um, I had a, there as a guy, Herman Woods, in California that I, that I knew. I didn't know him at the time that he said this, but I went into an event when the California Memorial was first being discussed, and uh, we were at the, um, uh, either the VFW or one of those places. And this guys was showing us 01:18:00slides of the wall that had just been dedicated, and so, he's showing the slides of the Washington. But to get in there, you had to show your 214 to prove you were a vet, ok. So we're all in this room. Vets only. And he's showing, you know, these slides. And then he's talking a little bit about his own experience. And, um, you know, but as he's talking about his experience, and this guy was a combat vet, and I'm sitting there and I'm feeling uncomfortable and I'm, you know, filing. So I finally get up and I start to walk out. And Herman, and as I said, I didn't know him at this point. He had two artificial legs. He was a tunnel rat, and lost 'em in a tunnel thing. They thought they'd cleared it out but they hadn't. But anyway, he stands up on these artificial legs and he yells, he's, "Hey, hold up a second." He talks to the guy who's doing this thing. And he yells at me, he says, "Hey, you, lady. Where are you going?" And I said, "I, I'm leaving. I don't belong here." He says, "You couldn't have gotten in here if you weren't a Vet. Where are you going?" And I said, "Listen. I'm listening to his story. I don't belong here." And he said, "Listen, if you were in Vietnam, 01:19:00you were in shit. Some of us were in it up to our ankles. Some of us were in it up to our waist and some of us were in it up to our necks, but it was all the same shit. Sit down!" And I did. [laughs] You know. And I could have kissed him. I mean, you know, he's right. He's right. Yeah, I was only in it up to my ankles, but you know, I was in it, so I know what "it" is. So when other vets are sharing stories, they know that I know what it is. And if they're sharing stories where they're, you know, in it all the way, it's, I still get it, you know. I still get it, so. Um, and that's something. I mean, I was talking to an Iraq Vet that I met at one point, and, uh, uh--a woman. Uh, actually I was at a garage sale and I see on the back, uh, "Iraq Veterans Against the War." And I see the woman driving, so I went up and I said, "Excuse me, are you the Vet." And when she turned and looked at me I could see in the eyes, yes, she's the vet. So I asked her how she was doing and she says, uh "I'm fine." And then she 01:20:00looked at me and I introduced myself as a Vietnam Vet, and she said, "Okay, I'm not fine." [laughs] You know? And I, you know, was trying to, you know, I gave her my card hoping that she would call me, but she, she didn't, but. I said how's it going with the family and that? She says, "terrible." And I said, "They don't get it, do they?" And she says, "No, and the, the harder they try, the worse it is, you know? And I feel guilty, but they don't get it." And I said, "No, no." And it's not that they don't love us or want to or something, They just don't get it." And it's, it's--And they, you know, if they, if they would stop trying to get it and just listen, you know, it's not about getting it, it's about just listening, you know. Um, so I think that would be.

DERKS: Tell me about the Sister Sarge moniker.

MCCLENAHAN: [laughs]. I, uh, for a while I was working out at uh Vets Place in Union Grove. It was a place for homeless veterans. A great, great staff. Great bunch of people. A transitional facility for guys and gals, uh who were homeless 01:21:00at that time. And they started calling me Sister Sarge. And, uh, you know um, some of them would say things like "Are you really a nun? Are you sure?" [laughs] You know, "Yeah--I'm pretty sure." You know, and they knew I was a sergeant, so you know, Sister Sarge. Well, sure enough when I left, they gave me this wonderful hat. You know, the hat that you saw over there. Uh, that says "Sister Sarge" on it. Now I get invited to, you know, do invocations, benedictions, sometimes speeches, sometimes MC things, whatever, and I always have the Sister Sarge. I've had people call up the phone, uh, you know, on the phone, and say, "excuse me." I'm looking for someone named "Sister Sarge" or they'll call Siena Center, I'm looking for someone named "Sister Sarge." I got a letter addressed "Sister Sarge" and that was all, you know. And, I kind of like that. It's kind of a unique, you know, unique thing to be in, so. And actually, it gives me the freedom. Remember I talked earlier about the Post Traumatic 01:22:00Spiritual Disorder. It kind of gives me a lead in to kind of--talk with somebody about stuff that they may want to talk about but don't know how or when and don't want to sound like a religious, you know, fanatic. I always start out by saying it's very, very important to never let religion interfere with your spirituality. And then try to explain the difference between the two with them and work that out and that sometimes helps. Helps get conversations going. So, um, uh--I think because that's an important part of my life now, is that, and um, so--

DERKS: Thank you.

MCCLENAHAN: Thank you. And don't get up yet and don't stop yet. I want her to put the hat on. [laughs] Sister Sarge hat. Ok, alright. With all my little shenanigans on it. [Puts hat on.] Alright. [laughs] There we go.


DERKS: It looks like a buzz.

MCCLENAHAN: You know I do. I, If I go to events that, um, I um, uh, you know, I, I'm proud to have served my country. I'm proud to be a veteran. I'm proud to be part, not only of the, the history of us Veterans in service to this country, but women veterans. Like I said, they--we've been around since 1776 and not always acknowledged, but, in spite of that, you know, umm, I really am, you know, pretty antiwar. Uh, yeah. There's got to be a better way now. And, all these modern ages. There's got to be a better way. Um, wound--wounds are deep. Wounds are really deep, so--And now not only the physical wounds certainly, but the emotional wounds. But um, and now, so many more, because it, again, of medical advances and the fact that amputees are surviving at greater rates cause 01:24:00in Vietnam they, many of them would bleed out before the dust-offs got there. But now they're getting people, you know, in faster, so there's a lot more physical injured people that are surviving that didn't survive before.

DERKS: Of the number I've heard really high. What, what the death toll would be in Iraq if it was the same level.

MCCLENAHAN: Mm-hmm. Right, right. Exactly. You know.

MCCLENAHAN: And this, you know there are so many other things, but again, the advancements. They've got e-mail now and they've got blogs and all these other things. And our communication was limited to every once in a while getting to a phone where you'd go "Over." [laughs] You know? My mom loved that. "Oh this is so much fun." [laughs]. "How are you doing? Over." [laughs]. Anyway, it was uh--kinda cool. Yeah--I'm one of those people that watched M*A*S*H faithfully even though I would cry through most of them. They really hit a lot of it. 01:25:00I--you know, my favorite line I think was from Margaret Houlihan who once made a comment, it was towards the end of the show, but made the comment, you know cause I came back when I was 21, and people would sometimes say, "Oh, you're young yet. You've got your whole life ahead of ya." I wanted to strangle 'em, you know? Because in the words of Margaret Houlihan or whoever the scriptwriter was, "I'm as old as I'm ever going to get and so much older than I ever expected to be." [nods] And that's, that's how it was. That's how it still is, cause I was very old, you know. It's interesting. You know I said I didn't belong with my peer group at that point? What I've discovered over the years is that, um, you know, people go through the normal course of life will throw enough traumas at you, that as we all get older, I think everybody's catching up. so, it's different. But I don't think people should be 18--19--20--25, who hadn't know that much. And then I also don't think kids should go before parents, and 01:26:00unfortunately that happens in war a lot. So, anyway. You want my poem?

DERKS: Yeah.

MCCLENAHAN: Ok. Alright. You ready? [She reads]

War is hell a wise man said. And those who knew so nodded.

War is hell a young voice cried And with his friends he plotted To lead his troops of neighbor chums Against imagined foes.

To charge and die a thousand deaths Up and down he goes. Charging bushes tall and green Around his father's yard.

Collapsing upon the soft green grass After fighting brave and hard Then gather round and re-choose sides New strategies to form Then charge and fall and rise again No losses do they mourn.

But suddenly the boys grow up and the game's no longer fun. Their friends, they die and don't get up And they're not sure just what they won.

And the neighbor girls who couldn't play with little boys at war Become nurses and support troops who give them care and more.

And soon they find what others know They learn the lesson well. It's just the 01:27:00wise man said. Truly, war is hell.

MCCLENAHAN: So. There we are.

DERKS: Thank you for your service.

MCCLENAHAN: Thank you. You know I've heard that more--

[Interview Ends]