Sharon Lane embarked on a career in nursing, only to see her career tragically cut short by a rocket blast at a Vietnam hospital far from her home near Canton, Ohio.
On June 8, 1969, Lane became the first, and only, American servicewoman to die as a direct result of enemy fire while serving as a US Army nurse during the Vietnam War. (Seven other American nurses also lost their lives while serving in Vietnam)
She grew up in just south of Canton in North Industry, graduated from Canton South High School in 1961 and graduated from Canton's Aultman Hospital of Nursing in 1965.
Lane worked at Aultman Hospital for two years, and then attended Canton Business College for several quarters. She left business school to join the U.S. Army Nurse Corps Reverses in April, 1968.
Lane completed basic training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. In June of 1968, she reported for duty at Fitzsimmons Army General Hospital in Denver, Colorado. She worked in the tuberculosis ward at Fitzsimmons until receiving a promotion to 1st Lieutenant in August of 1968 and transferring to the hospital's cardiac Intensive Care Unit and recovery room.
On April 24, 1969, the young nurse arrived in California at Travis Air Force Base with orders for her next assignment.
Five days later, she arrived in Chu Lai, Vietnam.
Lane worked five 12-hour days each week in the Vietnamese Ward, accepting an assignment that was physically and emotionally difficult for many nurses. She spent a sixth day of each week tending to the most critically wounded American soldiers in the Intensive Care Unit.
In a letter dated June 4, 1969, Lane assured her parents that all was quiet at the hospital as her unit (the 74th Battalion) didn't experience being hit by mortar fire for a couple of weeks. She wrote about the heat, a movie she missed, the soldiers she cared for and her upcoming assignment to night shift at the hospital before signing off with a cheerful "see you sooner".
Four days after writing that letter, Sharon Lane was dead.
Lane was finishing her shift at the 312th Evacuation Hospital in the early morning of June 8 when a 122-mm enemy rocket struck the hospital, killing two and wounding 27 others.
Lane died instantly as shrapnel ripped through her aorta just a month shy of her 26th birthday.
After memorial services at Chu Lai, Lane returned home for burial with full military honors on June 14, 1969, in Canton, Ohio.
Lane received many honors after her death, including military awards like the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
In the early 1970s, the Canton community raised money to erect a bronze statue of Lane in front of the Aultman Hospital where she started her nursing career. It was one of the first Vietnam memorials built in the United States.
Lane's name is also the only woman's name out of 3,095 names engraved on a 125-foot-long black granite wall dedicated in 2009 at the Ohio Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Park in Clinton, Ohio to honor those from Ohio who lost their lives in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
I learned of Lane and her place in history when I saw her nursing uniform on display at Canton's William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum during a special exhibition on life in the 1960s. Her mother donated the uniform to the museum in 2010, and the exhibition I saw marked its first time on public display.
Want to learn more about Lane? Check out Hostile Fire: The Life & Death of First Lieutenant Sharon Lane by Philip Bigler.
Thanks to the Canton-Stark County Convention & Visitors Bureau for their assistance with planning our visit to Canton and arranging for comped media passes to the museum.
© Dominique King 2012 All rights reserved