Making an Improbable Connection

Researching veterans’ stories is always rewarding, but sometimes you’ll come across information that will knock your socks off.

Consider this: The Army nurse who tended to my cousin Nicky as he lay dying in an evacuation hospital in Vietnam four decades ago lives in my neighborhood. I found out about her one day when my project to write a book about Nicky and my work on veterans stories for The Morning Call collided.

Nicky Venditti at home, June 1969

Nicky Venditti at home, June 1969

It happened in 1998, after I had begun researching Nicky’s life and death as an Army helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. That year, the success of Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan spurred aging veterans to talk about their experiences, many for the first time. We at The Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, planned a special section for Veterans Day 1998 called War Stories, and I was the editor.

One reporter was to write 10 short articles based on interviews with veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. I told the reporter, Ron Devlin, to include a woman who had been a front-line nurse.

“I got a great nurse,” Ron got back to me. “Here in town.”

She had served in Vietnam, he said. Immediately I asked him where and when.

“Chu Lai,” Ron said, “1969.”

The time and place were a match for Nicky, who died July 15, 1969, five days after an Army instructor unwittingly detonated a grenade in a class for new arrivals.

Tending the Wounded, 1969, Chu Lai

Tending the Wounded, 1969, Chu Lai

In the three years I had been following Nicky’s path, I had never spoken with any nurses who worked in the evac hospital where he died. Had this one been there?

Her name was Lynn Bedics, and she was the nurse manager at the Allentown Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic. Within minutes, I called her and she said yes, she was in the intensive care unit at the 312th/91st Evac Hospital in July 1969, but she didn’t remember Nicky’s name, Venditti. Still, the ICU only had about 15 patients at any given time, so she had probably seen him.

Lynn agreed to meet with me.

I didn’t know at the time that I already had files linking Lynn to Nicky. I had asked the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis to send me copies of any paperwork pertaining to Nicky’s care at the 27th Surgical Hospital, where his left leg was amputated below the knee, and the 312th/91st Evac, where he hung on to life for a few days. In response, I got nearly 50 pages of clinical records from both Chu Lai hospitals and studied them.

Now I scoured the records again for nurses’ names and saw two blood transfusion forms with the signature “L. O’Malley, 2LT ANC.” That was 2nd Lt. Lynn O’Malley of the Army Nurse Corps. O’Malley was Lynn’s maiden name, something I knew because Ron included it in his story about her, which noted she was 22 and single in 1969. The records show Lynn gave Nicky 500 milliliters of whole blood at 4 a.m. on July 14. She “hung” an additional 500 milliliters for him at 6:15 a.m.

Nicky died the next day.

army nurse, vietnam

Lynn Bedics, Vietnam, 1969

When I met with Lynn in April 1999, I showed her the forms proving she had ministered to Nicky. It was a bonding moment for both of us, even though she still didn’t remember Nicky and didn’t recognize him from pictures.

Today Lynn is retired from the government. She still lives a five-minute walk from my home in west Allentown. We’ve had lunch together, we see each other at the Farmers Market and exchange e-mail and phone calls. She knows many of the vets I’ve interviewed for my Morning Call series War Stories: In Their Own Words, and even steered me to one. And she looks forward to publication of my book about Nicky, Quiet Man Rising: A Soldier’s Life and Death in Vietnam.

Lynn’s connection to both Nicky in Vietnam and me in Allentown was improbable but didn’t happen on its own. The pieces had to be put together. In the end, it was a lesson in the importance of listening closely, examining the right documents and paying attention to detail.

60 responses to “Making an Improbable Connection

  1. I am a vietnamese boy in 1969, in Sep 1969 I was wounded and was cared by doctors / nurses in Chu lai base. I remember the team of nurses was 3 persons including of 2 females (one of them is Ms Lynn?), one male.
    I am do hope to have chance to visit them / meet them / talk some thing relating to the past.
    I was in chu lai with them in the term from Sep 1969 to Feb 1970,
    Thank you and regards

  2. I was at the 91st Evac Hospital in Chu Lai in 1969. I worked exclusively in the recovery room and the intensive care unit. I am not available for the next 10 days. When I return I will be happy to correspond with you and answer any questions you may have.

    • Rosalie (Rosie) Winkler Smith

      Lynn, I came upon this site only recently and was so excited to see this story involving you. Letting you know that there is a 312th Reunion June 8/9, 2013 in North Carolina. I can’t recall if you arrived while we still were the 312th. I certainly remember our days in ICU/RR at the 91st.

    • I was evacuated to the 91st while pulling security for the my lai investigation team. I had a corneal laceration and the docs sewed me up. I stayed at the hospital for 2 days and was flown out to yokohama. I was curious if you were there at the 91st in dec of 1969. You might have been my recovery room nurse. Please send me an email at ljwsrvv38237@gmail.com to reply. Thanks. Laurence Wolf

      • Vo Ngoc Than

        Thank you David, I still follow the information relating to Chu lai’ hospital. Take care Than

  3. I think that I was cared in the ward 3 of 91st avac (civilian wards), in the time fame around Nov 1969 to Feb 1970. Pls help me to contact the nurses / doctors who cared me in that time. Regards

  4. was in this hospital jan-feb69. remember nurse was killed feb69 i believe,had same birthday as my sister apr 48.

    • Ira,
      Could you mean Army 1st Lt. Sharon A. Lane of Canton, Ohio, who was killed in a rocket attack on the 312th Evac on June 8, 1969? She was 24 and was the only U.S. servicewoman killed by hostile fire in Vietnam.

  5. “Say, you have a nice post.Thanks Again. May read on…”

  6. Pete Kocmalski

    I was an Operating Room Tech at the 312th at the time and I do remember hearing that some of the casualties coming in were the result of the grenade incident mentioned. I also remember that most of us on the OR staff just shook our heads in disgust and disbelief. Coincidentally, I also happened to be on guard duty the night of Lt. Lane’s death. I didn’t know her, but I recall seeing her on the compound. I don’t remember working with Lt. O’Malley, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t rub elbows since I was often in post-op and ICU. On July 15th, the 312th Evac was just 2 or 3 weeks from returning stateside and members of the 91st Evac were probably already there for the transition to replace us.

    • Mr. Kocmalski: I arrived in Chu Lai June 1969 assigned to the 91st Evac. Hospital as the 312th Evac. were going back to the ‘World’. About this time the 101st Airborne had orders to return to the World and the Americal Division replaced the 101st. I vaguely remember a Lt. O’Malley. Was her first name Sharon? My duty responsibility was to assist getting the wounded and or KIA off of the incoming choppers either MedVac or Gunships into the triage area. Also those wounded after they were stable enough to travel I prepared all documents, flights back to the world via Guam, Yokohama, Tripler Hospital, etc.

      • ROSALIE SMITH

        Hi Ron, Lt. O’Malley’s first name is Lynn. I saw her at 35th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

  7. Pete Kocmalski

    ‘Improbable connection’ also works for me. Just 2 days ago, for the first time in 43 years, I was face-to-face with Paul Tresca, another OR Tech in Chu Lai at the time. I’m from NJ and Paul is from just west of Philly, so we met at the USS New Jersey in Camden and took a tour of BB62. In the fall of 1968, we watched the New Jersey off the coast of Chu Lai as she fired shells from her 16-inch guns over our heads into the mountains. We thought it would be a fitting place for our reunion.

    I guess meeting Paul and seeing the ship got me ‘nostalgic’ for my Army days, so I did a few searches on the 312th Evac, one of which landed me here. What’s startling to me is that I had not thought of the grenade incident with the new arrivals for about 43 years. But when I read the account above, I remembered the incident and our anger over it as if it were yesterday.

    • I’ve heard my fair share of stories of the war from my father growing up, but it is really cool to hear it from another person who actually shared the experience with him. Thanks a lot for sharing and an even bigger thanks for serving our country!

      • Paul, just noticed your post. I could tell you a few war stories about your ‘old man’ myself, plus I have several embarrasing pictures of him. I’m still hoping to get together at least one more time with him and Clark Kinser while we’re all still extant. If it happens, maybe you could join us.

  8. Rosalie (Winkler) Smith

    Pete, I came across this site only recently and see your post from last year. There is a 312th Reunion planned for June 8/9, 2013 in North Carolina. I have info if you are interested. I was stationed at 312th/91st March 69-70, working on Orthopedics and Vietnamese Wards and then ICU.

    • Rosalie,
      There were 2 Vietnamese wards, I was there in 69-70.
      If you have chance coming back VN, I will volunteer to guide.

    • Rosalie, my name is Fred Perez and worked on the Vietnamese Ward with Sharon Lane , it’s been a long time but never forgotten: I have been looking for a lab tech named “Mathew Miller Davis” usually went by Matt., if you happen to know anything about him please forward it to me

      • Jesse D Pollard, I was assigned to the 312th/91 Evac hospital from June 1969 to November 1969 as a Spec 5 med tech living on the first floor of the 2nd barracks. One memory stands out. Some how we were under a poison gas attack. I helped organize the soldiers to get mask from the supply room and to take extras to the hospital ward. Fortunately, the hospital was not in any danger. I also instructed some our men to take masks to the guard post over looking the beach. I do not recall whether any investigation took place related to this incident. I later was reassigned to the 71st Evac in Pleiku. I discovered this site while searching for info about the 312th, Vietnam..

  9. Barbara Caldara

    Hello All,
    Barbara Caldara here, I was one of the nurses who worked in R&E and primarily on the night shift and then I was transferred to ICU. I am looking forward to seeing you all in NC this June.

    • Would one of you that’s going ro the reunion do me a favor a pour a bit of whiskey out for my brother Tom Farmer? 43 years ago today. Still hurts like shit

      • Pete Kocmalski

        Clark Kinser and I worked with Tom and were just talking about him a few weeks ago. Small consolation, but his death still bothers us, too. Tom was the ‘kid’ among the OR techs and a terrific young man. Paul Tresca also worked in the OR at the time and is headed for NC. I’ll pass on your request; I’m sure he’ll oblige.

      • Barbara Caldara

        I am sorry for your loss, I didn’t know your brother, but I will surely comply with your request! Peace to you.

      • clark kinser

        I remember Tommy so well. I nick named him the “rookie”. He was so funny and jumpy too. I’d sneak up behind him and run my thumb up the back of his leg. He’d jump up!!! He was from pueblo co I beleive. i am in durango now. I loved your bro and so did Pete. So much promise.
        Clark Kinser

      • Clark Kinser

        Mr. Farmer,
        Today I was in Angel Fire Colorado at the Viet. Memorial. The site has bricks one can buy to honor those who served. It is a really beautiful place and I wanted Tommy to be remembered. The bricks line the area. You should go there (google it). I wanted you to know Tommy is there. I also bought one for my friend Frank Howard. I hope you get this.

  10. Whiskey WILL be poured for Tommy the Rookie Farmer at the 312th Reunion next month in Clemmons,NC. He was a great guy ! Paul Tresca

  11. Pete Kocmalski

    Actually, the date of Tommy’s death is incorrect. The Vietnam Wall shows May 24, 1970, forty-three years ago. But I’m certain that the year should be 1969, since we all returned stateside in August, 1969. We lost Tom Farmer 44 years ago.

    • The date is correct, May 24, 1970. I was working in the OR, with Tom, the night that he died. I arrived at the 312/91st on June 12, 1969.

      Bob Dardenne

      • Pete Kocmalski

        Sorry, Bob, but you are incorrect, as is the date on The Wall. It is not possible that Tom’s death occurred in 1970 because Paul Tresca, Clark Kinser, Ron Haines Ed Delgado and I all returned stateside in August, 1969, as did the rest of the Winston-Salem contingent. All of our tours were 1968-1969.

        If you arrived in June, 1969, you could not have possibly known Tom Farmer (at least not in Chu Lai). You might be remembering Sharon Lane’s death, which occurred on June 8, 1969, just a few days before the date on which you say you arrived. Other than Tom and Sharon, we did not lose any other personnel attached to the 312th in my time there.

        Trust me on the date — my DD214 verifies it. I remember both events vividly. Paul and Clark can back me on the dates.

  12. Rosalie (Rosie) Winkler Smith

    Prayers to you F.Farmer for the loss of your brother. I will raise a glass in his memory at the reunion. BTW, I remember you Paul Tresca as the “barber” on the Vietnamese Ward.

  13. I served at this facility in 1968-69, remember working with Lt O’Malley and Lt Winkler, Just searching the web never know what you will find some 40 years later.

  14. Jesse D. Pollard November 8,2013. I worked in the clinical lab from June 1969 to November 1969 prior to being transferred to the 71st Evac

  15. I have many “fond” memories of the 312th Evac. I was there July through December of 1969, having spent the previous 6 months at the 91st Evac. in Tuy Hoa. I was a half-ripe First Lieutenant ANC and worked in ER and Triage. My most vivid memory is of one night while sitting in the O Club watching the original True Grit starring John Wayne, the Viet Cong began “walking” their rockets across the hospital compound in hopes of hitting the Americal HQ next door. Everyone hit the deck when a rocket exploded just outside the O Club. No casualties, but I never finished watching True Grit. Can someone please tell me how it ended?

    • Rosalie (Rosie Winkler) Smith

      Hi Joe, I remember you. An incredible story here. I lost contact with some nurses who were at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Dedication in 1993…Googled Lynn O’Malley’s name for an address and was amazed to find this site. I have a few pics of you at Jerry Blake’s DEROS party. Nice to see your name on this site. I worked on the Ortho and Vietnamese Wards and ICU and was known as Rosie, rather than my given name of Rosalie.
      If you are on Facebook there is a page for the 312th Evac. We had a reunion in June 2013 in Winston Salem area of NC. Quite an event to see so many of the Reservists who were the 312th. Take care. I have contact info for several nurses from the 312th/91st if you are interested.

  16. Unbelievable: I just came across all of this and some tears have fallen

  17. My father was in Chu Lai I believe in 69-70. Was his second of 3 tours,,He retired in 1980 with 24 years service,,,I was honored to lay him to rest in Arlington National Cemetery last August. As many Viet Nam Vets my father never spoke much of his tours,,even when I would ask him,,,I really would like to know more about Chu Lai If any one knew my Dad,,,Dale M Dillow
    I think he was a SFC during this time,,,
    Thank you to all those who served
    James M Dillow

  18. So glad to find this site. I have just gotten back from Austin Honor Flight for Purple Heart recipients and was thinking of Lt. Lane and how fortunate I was to have known her, as well as a number of the names above. I was the Liaison for the Americal Division from Feb. – Aug. 1969, You all were a great group of wonderful people.

  19. Edith Owen Wallace

    Edith Owen – My husband, SFC Robert Owen, was a wardmaster at Chu Lei Hospital from 1969 – 1970. When he came home he briefly mentioned they had lost a nurse in a mortar attack – I just remember how tired he was when I picked him up at MC Chord – he developed cancer and died in 1976. Would love to hear from anyone who served with him.

  20. Jesse D. Pollard

    Jesse D Pollard, I was assigned to the 312th/91 Evac hospital from June 1969 to November 1969 as a Spec 5 med tech living on the first floor of the 2nd barracks. One memory stands out. Some how we were under a poison gas attack. I helped organize the soldiers to get mask from the supply room and to take extras to the hospital ward. Fortunately, the hospital was not in any danger. I also instructed some our men to take masks to the guard post over looking the beach. I do not recall whether any investigation took place related to this incident. I later was reassigned to the 71st Evac in Pleiku. I discovered this site while searching for info about the 312th, Vietnam..

  21. anyone at the 91st Evac in Chu Lai at the time of Feb 20th’71 to Apr ’71. Im looking for a ICU nurse(capt/Lt?) who was crucial in saving my life in the early morning hrs when she stopped by after I had left the ICU unit after my first of two emer surgerys(total 67 units of blood). While talking i started to hemorrage and back to ER for #2 reopen. If this nurse hadnt stopped I would have bled out im sure of it. I have what i can from the NPRC and my med rocords Im sure she is on these pages somewhere. We corresponded for a short time i have lost those letters to time. I recall she was from St louis not far from Michigan .Its been over40 yrs and I’d like to have any responses from anyone who was at the 91st at this time period. she had dark hair in a tite bun on the short side. thanks!

  22. Hi . Just discovered this site and read all the comments. Does anyone remember general surgeon named Jasper Perdue or J.B. Perdue? He is my Dad and was in the 312th out of Winston-Salem in 1968 and 69. I was 3 months old when he went to Vietnam and 16 months when he came home and I was born in May of 1968. Just curious if anyone remembers him. Thanks!

    • Of course, I remember your dad, He was a great person and a talented surgeon, we nurses could always count on him!

    • I remember your Dad very well. I scrubbed with him many times. He was remembered last week at a lunch with Frank Howard, John Petree and Dennis Wicker. I was in Winston Salem visiting. Our information is incorrect for we thought he had passed away. He was really a fine man and a great surgeon. So easy to work with. He was one of my favorites for sure.
      I know you are a proud son and should be.
      Clark

      • Paul J. Tresca

        Hey , Billy Clark ! I remember Dr, Perdue as well. He was a very low keyed , humble and very talented surgeon. Taco Delgado , Butch Tucker and I worked on many of his procedures. A true ” Ace ” !

  23. Wonderful ‘boxie’, Dr. Perdue, a pleasure to be around. I wish I had a dollar for every one of his cases in which I scrubbed. For some reason, the phrase “New Perdue U” sticks in my head. Probably something Kinser or Tresca came up with.

    • We came to Louisburg, NC where he was from in 1970 and he was the only surgeon here at local hospital for 27 years. Not sure if he would even be interested, but do ya’ll ever do reunions?

      • We had a reunion in Winston-Salem area a few years back, the first time we nurses got together with the hospital personnel. Most of the nurses were from other places/units and were attached to the 312th to increase the number of nurses! One of the doctors that also came was Ray Laragia, I’m pretty sure your dad would remember him!
        Barbara Caldara

  24. Hi. I shared your comments with my Dad on Christmas. He was thrilled that all of these people remembered him. He’s not great with names anymore, but did tell me the whole story about the nurse who was killed, which is how I discovered this site to begin with. Thanks again for the responses!

  25. Happy Verteran’s Day to you all!! Thank you for your service!!

    • Chris I just now saw your Happy V day to all of us. How is your Dad doing? Great man.
      Clark

      • Chris Perdue

        He is doing well. 81 years old now. Still misses being a Doctor, but enjoys working in his yard and things such as that.

  26. Clark Kinser

    Great! As long as he is still active I’ am happy for him. I’m 72 and am very active here in Durango area. Take care Chris.
    Clark

    • Hi. Just wanted to let you all know that My Dad, Dr. J.B Perdue passed away on December 11, 2020 after a brief illness. He died peacefully at home in his sleep with family and his beloved dog by his side.

  27. Chris, thanks for letting us know. I’m sorry for your loss.

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