Minutes before 6am, Army nurse Martha Green woke with a jolt to a thunderous explosion half a mile away. It was the steamy morning of June 8, 1969, and she was in her bed at Chu Lai base at the height of the Vietnam War. Green's husband returned with tragic news: A Soviet-built rocket had struck the hospital, and Sharon Lane, 25, a fellow nurse from Ohio, had been killed instantly. "The news struck me like lightning," said Green, who'd chat with Lane while stationed on the same shift. "She was a very sweet, quiet young woman. The sadness was really palpable." Today, Lane is immortalized in books and statues: Among the roughly 11,000 American women stationed in Vietnam, Lane was the only one killed by hostile fire during the decades-long war, per the AP. Seven other women died in accidents and illnesses.
Among the hundred or so nurses at Chu Lai, Lane stood out. She was shy, several years older than most, and had volunteered to go to Vietnam instead of being ordered there. Her biographer, Philip Bigler, calls her "a symbol" of nurses at war. This Memorial Day, her friends and colleagues' thoughts drift back to that fateful day in June of 1969. But some would rather forget. Cannon Sample was a hospital corpsman who was in Lane's ward when she was killed. Forty-eight years later, he still has nightmares about that morning. "He doesn't go into details," said his wife, Joy Sample, by phone. "It's just bits and pieces." Still, every year, a group of veterans gather at her grave to pay respects to Lane, vowing to keep her memory alive. "Oh yes," says Pat Powell, leader of the veteran's association. "Until we die." Click for more on Lane. (Read more Memorial Day stories.)