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When I Die I'm Going to Heaven 'Cause I've Spent My Time in Hell: A Memoir of My Year As an Army Nurse in Vietnam

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When she was 18, she joined the Army to finance her nursing education. With less than six months of nursing experience, she was assigned to the 24th Evacuation Hospital in South Vietnam. True tales of the war that are by turns horrifying and humorous, told with an eye for detail, by a woman who was in the thick of it.


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When she was 18, she joined the Army to finance her nursing education. With less than six months of nursing experience, she was assigned to the 24th Evacuation Hospital in South Vietnam. True tales of the war that are by turns horrifying and humorous, told with an eye for detail, by a woman who was in the thick of it.

30 review for When I Die I'm Going to Heaven 'Cause I've Spent My Time in Hell: A Memoir of My Year As an Army Nurse in Vietnam

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    Wow, just wow! Barbara Kautz was a young 18 when she enlisted in the Army to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. When she had 6 months of nursing experience under her belt, she found herself heading to Vietnam, having been assigned to the 24th Evacuation Hospital in South Vietnam. Settling into Long Binh for the year required before she could request a relocation, she witnessed the horrors of war while working alongside the heroes who fought to keep not only service men and women alive, but also Wow, just wow! Barbara Kautz was a young 18 when she enlisted in the Army to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. When she had 6 months of nursing experience under her belt, she found herself heading to Vietnam, having been assigned to the 24th Evacuation Hospital in South Vietnam. Settling into Long Binh for the year required before she could request a relocation, she witnessed the horrors of war while working alongside the heroes who fought to keep not only service men and women alive, but also innocent bystanders, as they suffered the result of bombs, shrapnel, fires, chemicals, and a myriad of other things that could snuff out their lives in an instant. I devoured this book. I lived it, I stood with her next to infants, children, fathers, mothers, and of course those fighting on the front lines and felt her pain, her frustration, her tenacity, her tenderness, her care, and (at times) her shaken hope that all could still be well, somehow, somewhere. An excellent and uncensored look at what it was like to be in a nurse's uniform and serving in Vietnam. I highly recommend you pick up this book and clear up a few hours of your time because you won't want to put it down.

  2. 5 out of 5

    RN

    Thank you for your service! This is an excellent book written by a young ( at the time) woman who gets her nursing degree paid for by the Army, and then pays our country back by serving her tour of duty in a evac hospital in Vietnam during the Vietnam war. She tells about her fear about being a new nurse in an Army hospital, being in a strange country surrounded by war. She shares about the doctors and nurses she works with and makes friends with and the patients that came through the hospital t Thank you for your service! This is an excellent book written by a young ( at the time) woman who gets her nursing degree paid for by the Army, and then pays our country back by serving her tour of duty in a evac hospital in Vietnam during the Vietnam war. She tells about her fear about being a new nurse in an Army hospital, being in a strange country surrounded by war. She shares about the doctors and nurses she works with and makes friends with and the patients that came through the hospital that left a lifelong impression on her.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Molly O'keefe

    Excellent research novel.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Dawson

    I never felt a good connection with the author on this one. It came across as too sterile unlike, “We Band of Angels,” by Elizabeth Norman. Granted, the circumstances are different but still, there didn’t seem like the author opened up her soul for readers to get a solid grip on the trauma she dealt with on a day-to-day basis. At the beginning, Barbara makes mention this the second version. Apparently the first one was full of errors. Well, I hate to say it, but I still came probable a dozen i I never felt a good connection with the author on this one. It came across as too sterile unlike, “We Band of Angels,” by Elizabeth Norman. Granted, the circumstances are different but still, there didn’t seem like the author opened up her soul for readers to get a solid grip on the trauma she dealt with on a day-to-day basis. At the beginning, Barbara makes mention this the second version. Apparently the first one was full of errors. Well, I hate to say it, but I still came probable a dozen issues that need to be cleaned up. Overall, it’s a quick read, but not a lot of depth.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Karen Petyak

    Poignant portrayal My sister was an Army nurse in Vietnam but chose never to speak much about her experiences. She's gone now but this book helped me understand, in a very intimate way, what she must have felt and seen there. I became a nurse because of her. Poignant portrayal My sister was an Army nurse in Vietnam but chose never to speak much about her experiences. She's gone now but this book helped me understand, in a very intimate way, what she must have felt and seen there. I became a nurse because of her.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jesus Gonzalez

    Awesome read Loved it loved it loved it. Finally a good book about nurses in Vietnam. I read this whole book in one sitting.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cath T

    Enjoyed the book thoroughly.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Richard Propes

    This was a quick read on a quiet, chilly Saturday afternoon. Written by a graduate of the Walter Reed nursing program, this is the story of Barbara Kautz's year serving as an army nurse in Vietnam. The book is essentially a series of stories about Kautz's time in Vietnam, starting right about the time of her nursing graduation and moving through her entire year. The reflections range from significant and memorable cases she encountered to stories about the relationships she formed there to some This was a quick read on a quiet, chilly Saturday afternoon. Written by a graduate of the Walter Reed nursing program, this is the story of Barbara Kautz's year serving as an army nurse in Vietnam. The book is essentially a series of stories about Kautz's time in Vietnam, starting right about the time of her nursing graduation and moving through her entire year. The reflections range from significant and memorable cases she encountered to stories about the relationships she formed there to some experiences that reflected upon the potential for sexual harassment and assault. The book is largely written in the first-person and Kautz's detail recollection is strong. While certain stories don't particularly connect, others are incredibly riveting. The book's Kindle version, which I read, was hindered by sub-par editing (for a professionally published book) with quite a few typographical errors, missing words, and grammatical concerns that should have been caught and addressed over a year since the book's initial release. It would be hard to quibble with the book's subject matter. It's a valuable book and resource and if you're into military history, particularly women's history, this is a tremendous book to read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David

    Author Barbara Kautz writes of her experiences as a US Army Nurse in Vietnam during the war. She initially joined the army as a way to finance her education through Nursing College. The title of her memoir, When I Die I'm Going to Heaven 'Cause I Spent My Time in Hell, came as something one of her coworkers had said and describes the daily activity and the environment of the 24th Evacuation Hospital in South Vietnam. What we get from this book are her stories of success, failure, losses, despair Author Barbara Kautz writes of her experiences as a US Army Nurse in Vietnam during the war. She initially joined the army as a way to finance her education through Nursing College. The title of her memoir, When I Die I'm Going to Heaven 'Cause I Spent My Time in Hell, came as something one of her coworkers had said and describes the daily activity and the environment of the 24th Evacuation Hospital in South Vietnam. What we get from this book are her stories of success, failure, losses, despair, and even humor. She also describes life as a US Army Officer with all the rules, regulations, and jealousies over who got promoted before someone else, and living conditions as women members of the US Army in a combat zone. As a Vietnam Era Vet myself I was never in Vietnam but was at a base in another country providing direct support for the aircraft going in and out of country. Maybe that's why I find this and other books about the US involvement in the Vietnam War so interesting. If you're looking for another perspective on the War in Vietnam without descriptions of the actual fighting, this may be the book for you.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Robert DeZurik

    I was a trained medic. I stated that I was a trained medic. I did my basic in 1962 and corpsman training at Fort Sam Houston. Because I was in the National Guard, I went home after. The regular Army men (min of two years active duty) went on to either West Berlin or to Vietnam. To this day, I regret not encouraging some of the men to keep in touch. Barbara's book reminded me of how important it was to keep in touch. Well written. Thank you for waking me up, although I am 79 yrs old. I was a trained medic. I stated that I was a trained medic. I did my basic in 1962 and corpsman training at Fort Sam Houston. Because I was in the National Guard, I went home after. The regular Army men (min of two years active duty) went on to either West Berlin or to Vietnam. To this day, I regret not encouraging some of the men to keep in touch. Barbara's book reminded me of how important it was to keep in touch. Well written. Thank you for waking me up, although I am 79 yrs old.

  11. 5 out of 5

    joyce phillips

    Four winds Wonderful story and one that needs to be told to all the youth of today. The toll that war takes on all serving members cannot be explained but this book gives one a glimpse of that. The bonds of fellow compatriots are lifelong no matter how long one served with them. Well done

  12. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    An interesting introduction to a nurse's life in Vietnam. She was not in a combat zone, however, and I wanted to read about the experience of a combat zone especially during the TET offensive because my sister went through that. If you have a book to recommend that would cover this experience, I would appreciate your recommendation. An interesting introduction to a nurse's life in Vietnam. She was not in a combat zone, however, and I wanted to read about the experience of a combat zone especially during the TET offensive because my sister went through that. If you have a book to recommend that would cover this experience, I would appreciate your recommendation.

  13. 4 out of 5

    George Bowers

    For the rest of us This book is the most moving and telling of nursing accounts of Vietnam written. I am confident of this assertion, as a long-time nurse and reader about Vietnam, who just missed it and regrets it from this perspective. Thank you.

  14. 5 out of 5

    J.P. Willson

    Review to follow...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Viktor Lototskyi

    Memoirs of the US nurse who spent a year during a Vietnam and written memoirs 40 years after. It's really interesting how compared even to War Doctor, it's not as gritty or intense as you might expect, but rather, except a few rare exceptions, a warm story of day-to-day life. For me, it shows how's life, through the years, fades the bad, keeps the good, blurs the rest, to make sense of what happened, merge it in and keep going. Memoirs of the US nurse who spent a year during a Vietnam and written memoirs 40 years after. It's really interesting how compared even to War Doctor, it's not as gritty or intense as you might expect, but rather, except a few rare exceptions, a warm story of day-to-day life. For me, it shows how's life, through the years, fades the bad, keeps the good, blurs the rest, to make sense of what happened, merge it in and keep going.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ronnie

    This book was referred to me by Helene.It's a Vietnam Book..written by a vet who grew up much like the rest of vets of that time in the chaos and turbulence of 70's. It is quite readable. It's by a nurse for nurses and those that aren't.....There are sections in there that are mimics of other books re war and providing care for the wounded. In one section she writes of the sense of "What are we to do?" when providing necessary medical care for the enemy soldier....much like the nurse who spoke a This book was referred to me by Helene.It's a Vietnam Book..written by a vet who grew up much like the rest of vets of that time in the chaos and turbulence of 70's. It is quite readable. It's by a nurse for nurses and those that aren't.....There are sections in there that are mimics of other books re war and providing care for the wounded. In one section she writes of the sense of "What are we to do?" when providing necessary medical care for the enemy soldier....much like the nurse who spoke at the Denver Convention this May of having to make moral decisions " of when your patient is a terrorist".....That in a nutshell....is the difficult vortex of decisions....moral right or wrong....caring for humans regardless of what their fealty is...much like the soldiers British and German who held a cease-fire in the trenches at Christmastime during WWI....I have read a multitude of war books......I do so because War-making is too much serious business to be left to the generals and politicians of any and all countries......Too many people suffer collateral damage....War sometimes needs to happen...especially if the offending party/country has done the grievous thing even though it has been roundly admonished. It also has to be acknowledge that the occurence of is the result of both side failing to come to an agreement. The writer is spot on....It is a mature book...You can feel the author/character growing in the stories....It is a good complement to many War books....Civil War...WWI & WWII.....Korean..............and finally there are anecdotes that help tie-in other events that occurred in and around there....The Cambodian Incursion.....The Tet Offensive........The cast of characters.....Nixon....Abrams..I could go on and on..........As it has been said and written many times......the book on Vietnam and the other Wars hasn't been written yet........Please read this book....you will not regret it .RJH

  17. 5 out of 5

    Connie J Wilson

    True Wonder Women Super Heroes I was a child during the Viet Nam War. Our view of the conflict was Walter Cronkite and the evening news. I married a Viet Man vet. Divorce happened after twenty years. He left a huge part of himself in Viet Nam. But he brought back PTSD and Agent Orange. He's remarried and we have our kids. Viet Nam wasn't just Cronkite and the evening news. Thank you Nurses, Soldiers, Superheroes! Awesome book. Thank you for your service to our country. True Wonder Women Super Heroes I was a child during the Viet Nam War. Our view of the conflict was Walter Cronkite and the evening news. I married a Viet Man vet. Divorce happened after twenty years. He left a huge part of himself in Viet Nam. But he brought back PTSD and Agent Orange. He's remarried and we have our kids. Viet Nam wasn't just Cronkite and the evening news. Thank you Nurses, Soldiers, Superheroes! Awesome book. Thank you for your service to our country.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mickenzie Jensen

    A very enlightening look at Vietnam nursing I found this book both interesting and informative. I have reads many memoirs about the Vietnam war told by soldiers and pilots, but this is the first I have read told from the point of view of a nurse. I plan on reading as many as I can find now that I have discovered this amazing, too often overlooked, point of view.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nicketa Fox

    Love a good biography/memoir This book took me a while to read. I found a few stories quite good, but it was written quite boringly and I found I struggled to get through it or want to read it. Still the ladies mentioned in this story as well as the author did the world, not just America, a service so I thank 5em and I’m glad that she was able to tell her story.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Barb Blieu

    Great! Being just a little too young to participate in any of the service or even the protests about this war, I appreciate hearing of some of the challenges of that time. Helps me to understand one of my Uncles that served there just a little but more. Thanks, Ms. Barbara!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Paul Shaw

    Interesting to see the other side of war Lots of books have been written about the fighting in Vietnam, this one takes you to the life and death if the hospital's that were there. Ideal if you want to learn more about the rear areas and the hard work of the medical staff Interesting to see the other side of war Lots of books have been written about the fighting in Vietnam, this one takes you to the life and death if the hospital's that were there. Ideal if you want to learn more about the rear areas and the hard work of the medical staff

  22. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Moller

    Inspirational and informative I grew up during the Vietnam war but I only remember little. I was eleven when the war ended. This is a journey of a nurse sent to that place who comforted and cared for those sent there also.

  23. 5 out of 5

    jax

    I loved the honesty of Barbara - this must have been a very hard book to write. Most people would want to forget the sights and sounds of war but Barbara has shown that within the horrors there is caring and someone there to help.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Missy black

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Easily one of the most interesting memoirs I've read in a while. I myself am a nurse,and can not even fathom being sent only 6 months out of school into such a volatile and chaotic place as neurosurgical in Vietnam. Well written,and captivating. Easily one of the most interesting memoirs I've read in a while. I myself am a nurse,and can not even fathom being sent only 6 months out of school into such a volatile and chaotic place as neurosurgical in Vietnam. Well written,and captivating.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ronald K. Woods

    A casual read from someone who gave a year to serve others. Not extraordinarily informative but I don’t think that was her intent. I think she wanted to tell us what the war was like for her. And she did that flawlessly. Thank you, Ms Kautz, for your service. I enjoyed reading your story.

  26. 5 out of 5

    ED Anthony

    Excellent read..insight into another slice of the Vietnam war that we seldom have chance to remember....

  27. 4 out of 5

    Amy Bovaird

    Review of When I Die I’m Going to Heaven ‘Cause I’ve Spent my Time in Hell Barbara Kautz’s memoir, When I Die I’m Going to Heaven ‘Cause I’ve Spent my Time in Hell chronicles a year of the author’s life in Vietnam as an army nurse toward the end of the war. She arrives as a 22-year-old and leaves at 23, but ages much more during that period. I picked up this book because my brother-in-law served in that war and I still don’t know much about it from him. It seems to be a time that insiders think Review of When I Die I’m Going to Heaven ‘Cause I’ve Spent my Time in Hell Barbara Kautz’s memoir, When I Die I’m Going to Heaven ‘Cause I’ve Spent my Time in Hell chronicles a year of the author’s life in Vietnam as an army nurse toward the end of the war. She arrives as a 22-year-old and leaves at 23, but ages much more during that period. I picked up this book because my brother-in-law served in that war and I still don’t know much about it from him. It seems to be a time that insiders think outsider couldn’t possibly understand, which is what this author said when she returned. This memoir gives readers a glimpse into what life was like as a young nurse taking on twelve-hour shifts in a brain trauma unit in the midst of one of our most problematic wars. The vignettes come across as honest admissions —and quite outwardly detailed – recollections. Her memories are mostly chronological but once or twice she jumps to a later time and then goes back to an earlier period. There are also some minor proofreading errors throughout the text, but this doesn’t take away from her story for me. It’s still a powerful account and fascinating to read of her experiences. The book moves quickly with a combination of description and raw but well-crafted, sometimes gritty dialogue. The author brings out both strong and weaker leadership roles. On the whole, she seems reserved and quiet, but enough of the rebel emerges during her time there to show other facets of her personality. At times, Kautz seems like a journalist, almost blunt, presenting the facts about some patients’ conditions and ordeals. Then she stops and leaves the reader in a vacuum. What happened? She doesn’t know aside from the fact, they leave. Though I was starting to care about that patient, as seen from her eyes, neither of us can know the end result. Or sometimes she states what happens but doesn’t delve into the emotion. “I put my head down and cried” means so much more than the words depict. It’s like a smoke-screen in which even years later the author cannot harness the emotions her younger self goes through. It somehow touches me. It was neat to read about the R&R trip she and two other nurses took to Hong Kong halfway through her tour of duty. What wonderful details she remembers! I really got the feel for her age and exuberance and the change of pace. The photographs the author includes at the end of chapters really enhance her stories. I love seeing her at that age, in front of the places she talks about and with the people she still cares about – her ward, the hospital layout, the helicopters, her close friends, getting promoted, etc. You can see pride, vulnerability. Eagerness. The experience becomes so much more real to the reader. I am reminded of my younger self and the pivotal experiences I’ve gone through. I loved this memoir! Kautz adds her authentic voice and experiences to embody that turbulent period in history. I so admire her work with traumatic brain patients in the midst of their combat duty. I highly recommend this book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    DonnaJo Pallini

    Interesting memoir. I cannot imagine going through the things she as a nurse experienced. But, the editing was terrible.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jan Johnson

    War Stories I have never read anything about Vietnam. My daughter is a nurse so I picked this up. What an eye opening story. I was in college during that terrible time and remember bits and pieces and watching Mash. Thank you for the opportunity to read this book

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mike Billington

    This is a very personal memoir and because it is it does what few books about wartime do: It reminds us that war is not about honor and glory and saving the world for democracy, at least not for those who fight it. Instead, author Barbara Kautz reminds us that war is dirty, dangerous, and often heartbreaking. She reminds us that it is hard work, is often boring, and is all about doing the job under extraordinary circumstances day in and day out. I should note here that I owe a tremendous debt to t This is a very personal memoir and because it is it does what few books about wartime do: It reminds us that war is not about honor and glory and saving the world for democracy, at least not for those who fight it. Instead, author Barbara Kautz reminds us that war is dirty, dangerous, and often heartbreaking. She reminds us that it is hard work, is often boring, and is all about doing the job under extraordinary circumstances day in and day out. I should note here that I owe a tremendous debt to the nurses who served in Vietnam and during that era whether they were in country or not. When, as a rifleman in the 9th Infantry Division´s Mobile Riverine Force, I was wounded it was the nurses in Dong Tam and Vung Tau who initially cared for me. It was the nurses in Japan and later in St. Louis and then at Fort Knox who made sure that I would have full use of my right arm again so that I could return to Vietnam as a light weapons infantry advisor to the ARVN 25th Division. The doctors operated on me but it was the nurses who cared for me; they were the ones I saw every day. Is this a perfect book? From a literary perspective it is not. There are bound to be those who do not like the author´s style and there will be those who will lament that it does not delve too deeply into the emotional toll of serving in a combat zone. From a human perspective, however, it is very nearly perfect. Those that have not spent a year or more in a combat zone cannot fully appreciate how nearly impossible it is to ward off the numbness that comes from constant exposure to pain, suffering, and the frustration that arises daily when you realize that no matter what you do you simply cannot save everyone. As Kautz notes toward the end of this memoir, she was awarded a Bronze Star for meritorious service at the end of her tour but felt that she didn´t deserve it because, after all, she was only doing her job. That´s a common feeling among many veterans and is, I believe, a direct result of that sense of numbness that you develop when exposed to the daily trauma of life in a combat zone. Simply put, war is not about medals and glory; it´s about your brothers and sisters in arms and having to move on when some of them don´t make it. It´s about beating back the tiredness, the aches and pains, the loneliness, and the hopelessness that are daily companions during a combat zone tour and then getting the job done. I applaud Kautz for her service and applaud her again for having the courage to write such a personal, and honest, memoir.

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