Peggy McPherrin has served as a nurse at the West Palm Beach Medical Center for 25 years. During this Women’s History Month, she shares this intriguing story about nurses serving at war, a photo, and then a drawing based on the lost photo.
Pictures tell us stories. In some instances, the story comes to us immediately, but in others it may be years before the story is revealed.
Ten years ago, while I was working at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center, a nurse who served in the Vietnam War gave me a beautiful framed picture of a nurse. I thought it was Florence Nightingale, as did my co-workers.
A drawing of the photo of a U.S. nurse lighting a candle as she serves in Vietnam.
For eight years, the picture hung in my office, visible to patients when they checked in at the outpatient orthopedic unit. In April 2013, a Veteran, checking in for her appointment, walked over to my office and asked, “Whose picture is this?” When I said, Mine, the woman asked me where I got the picture, and I told her that a Veteran nurse from the Vietnam War gave it to me years ago.
“I am the woman in the picture” she replied.
I was flabbergasted. After all these years, could it possibly be her? I could tell she was clearly shaken up and in disbelief over what she saw. As I sat down with her, she told me the story behind the picture.
Candles were the light “to find our way back”
Elaine was a young operating room nurse serving a tour of duty in Vietnam. She had just finished her shift, was exhausted and still in her scrub attire. Fellow nurses were having a party and asked her to join them. The woman said she was tired, but they convinced her to stay with them.
They were lighting candles, placing them in wooden holders and sending them down the canal. One of her fellow nurses snapped a picture of her and later gave her a copy. Many years after the war, the nurse who took the photograph commissioned an artist to draw a picture of it.
In 1993, the picture was displayed during the dedication of the Women’s Memorial in Washington, DC. Elaine was there for the dedication. Seeing the picture after all the years was a very emotional moment for her.
It was also very emotional for her to see the picture hanging in my office. I could see the emotion in her eyes as memories of war-time experiences came back to her.
Anniversary was too overwhelming
The next day was the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and we were having a ceremony in our atrium. I invited her to attend and she said she would try. But I think the picture and anniversary of the war were too overwhelming.
Elaine has tried to find the actual photo, stored away in her attic. She said she has been going through the boxes, but while she has come upon many other things, she has yet to find the picture. She will keep searching for this photograph.
Peggy McPherrin is a nurse at the West Palm Beach Medical Center. She is retiring in May and will be donating the framed photo to the Woman’s Clinic at West Palm Beach.