Hostile Fire: The Life and Death of First Lieutenant Sharon Lane, byPhilip Bigler, Vandamere Press, Arlington, Va., 1996, $21.95.
Hostile Fire is the straightforward story of the only U.S. Army nurse to be killed in Vietnam as a direct result of enemy action. First Lieutenant Sharon Lane was fatally wounded by fragments from a Russian-made 122mm rocket that was fired into the American base at Chu Lai in the early morning of June 8, 1969. She had been in-country only 51 days. Seven other Army nurses died in Vietnam during the war, but all as the result of accidents and other causes. Even though the United States’ social order was in upheaval due to opposition to the war in Vietnam and other fundamental societal changes, the regard for and treatment of female nurses was much the same as it had been in World War II. Lieutenant Lane’s death was one of those things that was not supposed to happen.
Philip Bigler spent four years researching and writing this book, and he has done an excellent job in both areas. He is a good writer who has great respect for his subject. The larger events of those times–the American political scene, the progress of the war, the geopolitical maneuverings–are deftly woven into the story of Lane’s middle-class American life, showing how an average individual can be swept up in the tide of history. At no time does the author attempt to glamorize Lieutenant Lane, and for this he deserves credit. She volunteered for duty in Vietnam because she wanted to do something worthwhile, and this is reason enough to mourn her death and honor her memory.
A larger-than-life statue of Lieutenant Lane was erected in her hometown of Canton, Ohio, on the grounds of the Aultman Hospital on Memorial Day 1973. It bears the inscription, “Born To Honor/Ever At Peace.” Her name, of course, is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Washington, D.C.