Chebanse woman recalls time in Vietnam

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CHEBANSE – As a teenager attending Westville High School, Linda S. Earls couldn't wait to join the Army.

"That's all I ever wanted to do," she said.

She graduated in May 1964, and joined the Women's Army Corps in August. A few years later, she realized her goal of serving in Vietnam, and started recording her adventures in letters to her mother, Ruby Earls.

Now, those letters have been compiled into an easy-to-read book, "Vietnam – I'm Going! Letters from a Young WAC in Vietnam to Her Mother." The book has a photo of Earls on front, along with a photo of her mother as a young woman.

Ruby had saved all of her daughter's letters, and Earls started putting them onto the computer a couple of years ago. Her one regret is that her mother, who died 13 years ago, didn't have a chance to see the book.

Earls, who now lives on a farm near Chebanse, retired in 1988 as a first sergeant.

"I've always been adventurous," she said. When she joined the Army, she served three years in Texas, but her heart was set on going overseas.

She tried to re-enlist for Vietnam, but was told there were no slots open.

"I was a career soldier, very patriotic," she said. "If there was a war going on, I had to be there."

Instead, she re-enlisted at Oakland Army Base in California, as close as she could get to Vietnam. After the mandatory three months in that assignment, she volunteered and received orders to report to Vietnam in May 1968.

The book begins with Earls' excitement upon receiving orders to go to Vietnam, where she worked as a clerk-typist at first.

"Everyone thinks women over there were nurses," she said. "Six hundred of us who went were not nurses."

Donna Gash of Danville, Earls' cousin, hasn't read the book yet, but is eager to do so soon. She agreed that most people think the women in Vietnam were nurses.

"I think women didn't get their credit in the Vietnam War," she said. "This is a good story from the woman's point."

She noted that Earls supports women's rights, and goes to Washington, D.C., every five years for ceremonies at the women's memorial.

While she wasn't on the front lines, Earls did have close calls. One time, a rocket fired by the Viet Cong landed on the street outside her barracks. The office where she worked was often fired upon, but it was usually at night.

Besides the danger, she describes in detail the daily discomfort of living with the relentless heat, the red mud and dust, sky-high humidity and swarms of ants and other insects.

In her detailed letters, she describes the war as she saw it from her office window, nights spent in the bunkers, helicopter rides and the difficulties of obtaining needed items.

The letters detail the day-to-day happenings – the weather, activities, if there were incoming rockets. "I must have given her white hairs," Earls said of her mother.

Unlike families of today's soldiers who have e-mail and Skype, Ruby had to wait a week or so to find out what was happening in her daughter's life.

"I have never regretted I went," she said. She even returned with a cat, who lived to old age.

Earls served a year, until May 1969. After her return, she went on to many stateside assignments and twice served in Germany.

The 145 letters cover the time period from May 1968 to May 1969.

"My objective was to get my history out there. It needed to be preserved," she said. "It will be gone when I'm gone."

Earls said she doesn't know of any other book like this – that is, one written by a woman in Vietnam who was not a nurse.

In addition to reading about her adventures, Earls thinks people will get some history out of the book. Young people she's talked to are fascinated with that time, she said.

The 413-page book, which came out in June, was self-published through Xlibris, and contains several photographs.

After retiring from the service, she attended Kankakee Community College and received an associate's degree in automotive technology. She worked in the adult education division at the college for 16 years and is now in second retirement.

She resides on a 1-acre farm, and enjoys her cats, dogs, gardening, photography and riding her Harley.

Earls grew up on a farm south of Danville, and attended Union Corner Grade School. Her mother later lived on Cannon Street.

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