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Carol Sundling - Air Force Flight Nurse

Rape.  The act every girl fears from childhood.  I’d known that officer for months and liked and respected him.  His sudden act of violent aggression had come as a complete surprise.  Of course, I couldn’t report it.  How could I?  A single, twenty-two-year-old blonde living in a man’s world, I’d been to a party, and I’d been drinking.  I know it sounds stupid in this day and age, but I felt then as though I were to blame for the incident, somehow I’d triggered the lust natural to all men.

When he’d finished and left, I sat alone in my room consumed with guilt, shame and embarrassment.  I remembered the biblical expression, “pride goeth before a fall” and hated myself for my hubris, for thinking I could call the plays and set the boundaries in a man’s world. 

  • The horror and violence that was Vietnam had finally found and assaulted her own person.

So much for my last remaining emotion – arrogant self-righteousness.  Now, it was out the window, too, and there was nothing I could do about it.  Who the hell would buy my story?  I was a lieutenant and he a major, a high-profile staff officer with influence and connections.  In the air force of 1970, my complaint wouldn’t even rise to the level of laughable.  Nothing I could do, I kept the incident to myself for decades.  I tried never to think of it again, but forever after, for me sex was tied with drinking alcohol.  I couldn’t have sex without drinking first.

  • This violent trauma neurologically paired sex and alcohol in Carol Jean’s brain, which influenced subsequent behavioral patterns.

After that, I stopped paying attention to what happened around me.  I really didn’t care.  I flew every day.  I tended to torn and mangled young boys – stop the bleeding, clear the airway, that sort of thing.  I did my duty, but it was sleepwalking with a purpose.  I couldn’t physically disconnect from that place, so I did it mentally and emotionally. 

Occasionally, I had a vague recollection of myself when I first arrived in Vietnam – a giggling little girl who laughed and blushed and was shocked by the most trivial incidents.  Clearly, that person was gone forever.  I’d have to conjure up another set of memories to fit the person I’d become and just forget altogether about the old Carol Jean, the small town girl who loved to fish with her father.  

The night before I returned to the States, the VC tunneled under the wire at Cam Rahn and blew the ammo dump.  When that ordinance went off, all hell broke loose.  I ran to check on the female nurse quartered next to me, and just when I opened her door, the concussion from a huge blast shattered her window, and glass hit me in the face.  I was lucky, a lot of bleeding, but my injuries were hardly more than scratches.  No problem, I thought.  I was going home in the morning.  I’d never have to wear a flak jacket and helmet again.

They threw a party for me the next afternoon.  Nice, but I’d been to plenty of going-away parties for other people, and I knew them for just another excuse to get drunk and escape for a few hours.  Fine with me, but I wasn’t deluded enough to believe their conviviality had anything to do with my departure.
When the wheels of that freedom bird left the runway and we headed out over the South China Sea, everyone on board erupted in a thunderous roar.  That’s the only thing I remember of the flight home.


1. Time to Toughen Up
2. Pissed off at God
3. The type of men they were
4. A bad night
5. Rape.
6. New location, same environment.
7. The right choice
8. My own needs
9. Not all wounds are visible