Vietnam flight nurse speaks at VA flag ceremony
A Vietnam veteran who flew on more than 100 combat missions during two tours as a nurse gave guests at an annual flag raising and wreath ceremony on Tuesday an idea of what her military life was like in a war-torn land thousands of miles away from her hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Sims spoke at a flag ceremony to honor America’s heroes at the Lahontan Valley VA Clinic. According to clinic director Lesley Quinley, the facility hosts a tribute to past, present and future heroes and to support the military men and women who serve overseas during the holiday season.
A color guard from Naval Air Station Fallon raised the flag, while Emily Scott, a Navy Junior ROTC student from Churchill County High School placed the wreath. Lt. Cmdr. Brian Jacobson gave the invocation, while representatives from U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, Congressman Mark Amodei and Gov. Brian Sandoval also spoke.
Sonia Sims, who graduated from a vocational high school in 1965 and Mount Sinai Hospital School of Nursing in June 1968 with a degree in nursing, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force that same year.
Her first duty assignment took Sims to Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas, where she learned more about the medical field and then to Lackland Air Force Base in 1970 where she was trained as a flight nurse. At the end of the year, the Air Force assigned her to the 57th Air Evacuation Operation at Clark AFB, Philippines.
“Everything I had came with me to Bergstrom Air Force Base,” said Sims, who hailed from a family of 10 siblings. “They told me I was an officer and then a nurse. Of course, I always thought I was a nurse first,” she said to some laughter. “They taught me if everyone was wiped out, I would command a platoon.”
Being involved in the evacuation of wounded soldiers from Vietnam is etched in Sims’ mind.
“I remember Vietnam …it was the most exhilarating, most rewarding nursing job I ever held, and the men and women of all races didn’t have the problems we have in the states today because we were together in the combat field.”
Medical evacuation flights originated out of Clark and almost anywhere in South Vietnam. Sims said an average flight consisted of transporting about 120 patients divided between those who needed to remain on litters (stretchers) and other patients who stayed up in their seats. She said many passengers were afraid to fly because it was their final flight home.
“They didn’t want anything to go wrong with the plane,” she added.
Sims told a story of how many evacuations began. Once the C-140 transport jet arrived to load patients, she said military personnel had to check for grenades that may have been strapped on the litters or placed in boxes.
“Believe me, we did find a few that were attached to stretchers,” she said. “Before we took off, we had to remove those — not me — but somebody did.”
Many flights that departed Vietnam headed toward Clark AFB and then Japan and sometimes Hawaii.
Sims said her father did not want her to join the military, yet when she thought about leaving the Air Force two years later, he insisted she stay in.
Not only did Sims talk about her career but she also touched on current affairs. She said Americans live in a world of unrest, but she advised her audience that everyone needs to be kind, understanding and compassionate.
Sims, who now lives in Yerington, left the Air Force as a major and obtained college degrees in ministry and social work. She now speaks to groups about her life as an Afro-American female veteran and the changes she has noticed over the years.