Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

June 10, 2014

The nurse who gave local vet a hand

47 years later, Jim Vines able to hug and thank the Army surgical nurse who repaired his hand


Mineral Wells Index

— By TODD GLASSCOCK



The 19-year-old American soldier came into the 12th Evacuation Hospital in Cu Chi, Vietnam, with wounds almost everywhere over his body.

Shrapnel from an American artillery round had fallen short on Oct. 18, 1967, and left the young soldier in critical condition. A surgeon patched his belly wound, the most serious of the 19-year-old’s injuries. It was a surgical nurse, however, who would patch the soldier’s hand.

“I never saw names, just bodies and wounds,” said Sarah Blum, who was a guest speaker Saturday at the fifth annual updating of the Vietnam Memorial Wall at the National Vietnam War Museum in Mineral Wells.

Blum was one of four guest speakers, during which the names of four Vietnam veterans added to the national memorial last year were added to the local replica this year. Next year, 14 more names will be added to the local wall.

Blum said she didn’t learn the 19-year-old’s name on the operating table, either, but the wound to his hand would stand out in her mind, largely because the surgeon told Blum the young man was a baseball pitcher, and the wounded hand was his pitching hand.

“You sew up his hand,” the surgeon ordered her.

The surgeon had to treat the other soldiers who had come in he told Blum. She argued with him, telling him she wasn’t skilled for such a surgery, but the surgeon outranked her, so she had no choice but to make the attempt.

“I remember sweating,” she said of prepping for the surgery. To complicate matters, a plague of red locusts had swarmed into the hospital grounds and someone had inadvertently let some of the insects into the operating room, one of which landed on the soldier’s wounded hand. The locust was removed and Blum sewed up the soldier’s hand.  

Other than knowing the soldier was a baseball pitcher, she learned little else about him – until about 47 years later when she received a call from him.

AmVets Post 133 commander Jim Vines was 19 when he was wounded Oct. 18, 1967, by a short artillery round in Cu Chi, while serving with the 25th Infantry Division. A nurse at the 12th Evacuation Hospital had sewn up his hand.

Vines writes a veterans affairs newspaper column and spoke to Blum after he had written a column about sexual abuse in the military. In 2013, Blum published “Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military” that addresses the issue.

Vines discovered something else they had in common – their service in Vietnam, attached to the 25th Infantry Division. It was then he realized Blum, now a psychotherapist in Seattle, Wash., was the nurse who had sewn together his pitching hand.

Her efforts to repair his wounded hand enabled him to hold the hands of dying vets and hold the hands of his children, and most importantly to “put the wedding band on my wife’s hand,” he said to those attending the wall update Saturday.

After Vines introduced Blum, a retired Army captain, he saluted her and they then hugged.

“She’s my guardian angel,” Vines said.

The other three guest speakers this year were retired U.S. Army Col. Mark Franklin, retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Mant Hawkins and U.S. Navy Capt. Gil Miller, currently the commanding officer at NAS-Fort Worth.