Ensign-O'BrienMary O’Brien Tyrrell grew up in Superior, Wisconsin. She was one of seven children in her family. She joined the Navy Nurse Corps midway through her four-year nursing program at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. In August 1964, she and a fellow nursing student traveled to Greenwood, Mississippi, to provide medical care to the African American community during Freedom Summer. They arrived on the day the bodies of slain civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were discovered in the ditch in Philadelphia, Mississippi. They spent a month working in the ghetto in Greenwood, returning home in time for classes that fall. Mary began her fulltime work in the Navy Nurse Corps after she graduated in 1965. She volunteered to go to Vietnam, but was told she was too young. Instead, Navy officials told her she could go to USNHGuam, MI, if she extended her duty an extra six months, which she did. She arrived on Guam in June 1967 and left in December 1968. While there, she served as head nurse on the D-2 U.S.N.H., which became the Air Evac Unit, a concept that she initiated shortly after arrival. During her eighteen months of service on Guam, she and her colleagues cared for 18,000 wounded servicemen, most of whom were Marines. After she returned from Guam, she learned to be silent about her experiences during the war…until she began writing poetry in 1984.

Pic-of-MaryMary currently lives in St. Paul, where for the last eighteen years she has assisted older people to publish their life stories in limited-edition hardcover books to distribute at a family book-signing party. She recently wrote a book instructing others how they might do the same service for their community: Become a Memoirist for Elders: Create a Successful Home Business.

A message from Mary:

To all my fellow veterans:

Thank you for your service. My three-and-a-half years of active duty are one of the highlights of my life. My only regret is that Vietnam was not the final war for the U.S.A. I had hoped that it would be.


Source: Heikkila, Kim (2011). Sisterhood of War: Minnesota Women in Vietnam. Saint Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press