Military Wife

growup09-117While interning at Charity Hospital in 1964, Gayle’s husband, James, volunteered for military service and received a Reserve Commission in the United States Army. Upon the completion of his internship, he was called up to active duty.

The first duty station for Gayle and James was at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where James was trained in military medicine. Following training, James was transferred to Fort Ritchie, Maryland. Gayle enjoyed teaching Spanish at Hagerstown High School, sponsoring the Spanish Club and frequently serving as a chaperone for students who were going out of town for athletic or scholastic competitions.

"Dust off" landing in Viet Nam

“Dust off” landing in Viet Nam

Things really changed for Gayle when James received orders in November 1966 to deploy to the 25th Infantry Division in Viet Nam on January 1, 1967. Gayle joined the ranks of so many military spouses who have had loved ones in harm’s way far from home.

The country was in turmoil during militar02-370those years. It was the first war that people at home watched “live” every night on television news shows. Our soldiers not only faced a “faceless” enemy in the jungles and rice paddies of Viet Nam, but also faced the derision of mobs of anti-war protesters when they came home. They did their duty for our country and then were spit upon by sign carrying hippies crying “Make Love, Not War!” and “Baby Killers”.

First doctor getting to a wounded soldier.

First doctor getting to a wounded soldier.


James in entrance to V.C. tunnel.

Gayle knew that her husband was assigned to the 25th Medical Battalion at Cu Chi, and later transferred to the 65th Combat Engineer Battalion. Whenever she would hear “Elements of the 25th Division were ambushed near Cu Chi today…” she would get a lump in her throat and wait for the phone to ring or a car to arrive bringing a military Chaplain to give her some bad news. Families who have loved ones in harm’s way never forget this type of fear.

While James was “in country”, Gayle returned to the University of Florida to live with her sister and begin work on her Master’s degree. militar09-200Gayle arrived early for class one day after having stopped at the post office to pick up her mail. She had just received a letter from James and sat down to open it. He wrote to her everyday and since soldiers in the field couldn’t carry stamps with them, all mail arrived from Viet Nam with “free” written across the top right hand corner of the envelope where a stamp would usually be. The letter included several pictures, including one of James standing in a tunnel discovered within the perimeter of his base camp at Cu Chi.

Another graduate student happened to see the envelope and the photographs that were lying on the desk while she read the letter. He asked if she knew someone in Viet Nam and Gayle answered that her husband, James, was stationed there. When he asked her why her husband had not gone to Canada to escape the draft she replied, “Because he was doing his duty.” The student turned away in disgust and said, “Well then, I hope he doesn’t come home.”

James and General Westmoreland at the Harrell home in Stuart.

James and General Westmoreland at the Harrell home in Stuart.

Fortunately, James did return home safely. The time Gayle spent supporting him and his service to our country taught Gayle the real meaning of “Duty, Honor, Country.” Supporting a loved one in uniform and taking care of the home front, while a loved one is “in country,” made Gayle a better person. It taught her the importance of serving a cause greater than herself.