Claire Starnes, a Vietnam War veteran and New Hampshire woman who was born and raised in Maine and went to the Twin Cities’ St. Dominic High School, is wrapping up a statewide tour behind a book she helped write with other female veterans.

The book, “Women Vietnam Veterans: Our Untold Stories,” recounts the experiences of American military women who served in the Vietnam War.

Though veteran Donna Lowery’s name is listed on the front cover as the author, Starnes and other female Vietnam veterans helped write and edit the stories.

Since August, she has traveled to every corner of Maine. In October, she plans to hold more book signings in central Maine.

Name: Claire Starnes

Age: 74

Occupation: Retired, writer, veteran

What is your military background? I joined the Army in 1963 after I graduated from St. Dom’s High School. I worked in communications as a clerk and translator in the intelligence office, but I started to find the work boring. I wanted a chance to get out of the office. I didn’t want to be cooped up, answering phone calls, interpreting documents, stuff of that nature.

I ended up hearing about a job opportunity in Saigon teaching Vietnamese girls how to operate brand new production equipment for the command newspaper and unit magazines. However, once they were trained, some of us were out of a job.

After we finished training the girls, I learned about a job opening as a photojournalist for the command newspaper and magazine.

I told them I had never done this before, but that I knew English, how to write and how to take pictures.

After you left the military, what did you do for work? After I got back from Vietnam, I worked at the United States Continental Army Command Public Information Office in Fort Monroe, Virginia. I helped automate the production of the command’s newspaper.

Over the next 15 years, I worked for a lot of other newspapers and journals as an editor. I worked for the Casemate Chronicle, where I won the Army’s Keith L. Ware Award, the ADA Magazine, the Army’s Air Defense Artillery’s professional journal, and the Ordnance Magazine, which is the professional journal of the United States Army Ordnance Corps.

After that, I retired, though I’m still as busy now as I was when I was working.

What prompted you to start looking into the true number of women who served in the Vietnam War? After I retired in 1994, I co-founded the Vietnam Women’s Veterans organization. During one of our reunion/conferences in 1999 in Olympia, Washington, some of the other women veterans and I decided that we wanted to figure out the total number of women veterans that served in the Vietnam War.

The search for those women consumed my life for a while. For a year and a half, all I did was search and make phone calls.

Nobody really knows the true number of how many women served in Vietnam, since they didn’t keep statistics back then. Nothing was computerized. As time went on, it became harder and harder to find the women. A lot of their names changed due to marriage, or getting married multiple times.

When did you start thinking that you’d like to write a book about the women who served in Vietnam? When we were done searching for the women veterans that had served in the Vietnam War, we thought it would be nice to write a book that documents the experiences of the hundreds of women that we had spoken with and learned about.

In the book, it’s the women themselves who are talking and telling their stories. In some ways, it’s an anthology.

The hardest part about getting the book out was finding a publisher that would allow us to write the book how we wanted to write it. We changed the format two or three times before releasing it. They wanted us to cut down on the pages, or only wanted us to have 50 pictures in the book. They ended up compromising and allowed us to edit the book ourselves.

How did the idea for a book tour come about? After the book was released, I started touring the country to speak about the stories in the book, but mainly, I wanted to remind people that women veterans didn’t just work as nurses while in the military. I’ve been trying to promote the fact that there were women who actually had their boots on the ground in Vietnam. A lot of people are amazed when they hear that.

I’ve spoken with some male Navy veterans who have sworn to me that there were no women Navy veterans in Vietnam who weren’t nurses. My hope is that the book will teach people otherwise.

Claire Starnes, a St. Dom’s High School graduate and Vietnam veteran, has been touring Maine since August behind a book that she helped co-write with other women veterans. The book, “Women Vietnam Veterans: Our Untold Stories,” recounts the experiences of American military women who served in the Vietnam War.


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