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Voices of Arizona: Vietnam War nurse describes 'hell on Earth'

KJZZ brings you news from throughout the state. The most important stories impact everyday Arizonans. Voices of Arizona brings you the real people behind the headlines.

When a then 20-something Patricia Little-Upah arrived at the 93rd Evacuation Hospital not far from present day Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, things were fairly quiet.

"It wasn’t like being in a war zone, we didn't have a lot of patients. Then at the end of January, the Tet Offensive hit," said Little-Upah.

Tet would be a turning point in the Vietnam War. But For Little-Upah, who was a nurse, "It was like hell on Earth in Vietnam."

And for two months, everything was 24/7.

"The choppers, the helicopters never stopped. You're either bringing in mass casualties or you were shipping soldiers out that you had stabilized … because you had to turn over the beds as quickly as possible to make room for the new casualties."

And many of them were young men in their late teens. 

"You saw your siblings in them. You saw young men that you could be dating if it were a different situation, or, you know, so there was a very personal connection," Little-Upah said.

Hear more about her journey this Sunday at the Franciscan Renewal Center when the play, “A Piece of My Heart,” about women in Vietnam is performed. After, Little-Upah will join a panel discussion with other female veterans. 

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KJZZ senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.