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Histology in the Vietnam War

Monday is Memorial Day, a day in the United States dedicated to honoring our veterans. Many within the histology community have served their country, so to honor that service, we asked two of them to share their stories in this special Memorial Day post. (Check out last year's Memorial Day post for more stories from our veteran histology community!)


William Barlow

I graduated from high school and flunked out of junior college in 1967. The Vietnam conflict was raging at the time, so I thought, well, only two choices, either get drafted or join up. I chose the latter and it turned out to be the best decision of my life. After basic training I attended medic training, then aeromedical training (fancy words for flight surgeons). My training was all at different bases in Texas.


My permanent station was Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, NV. Nellis was a Tactical Air Command Base. Nellis is home to the Thunderbirds, a USAF Air Demonstration Squadron. My duties were to assist at the front desk for sick call for all flying personnel and their families. My duties expanded to filling out physical exam forms and readying a squadron for deployment as far as medical supplies go.

I was always looking for the easy way out, so in September of 1971, with Vietnam winding down, I took a 3 month early leave and attended the 2 year lab technology program at the Franklin School of Science and Arts in Philadelphia, PA. I interned and started working at Riverside Hospital in Wilmington, DE and attended seminars at the AFIP. I then attended a histology course for HT certification at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital with Dezna Sheehan. I spent the next 23 years of my career at Riverside. Since then I spent several years at Kennedy Hospital in Cherry Hill, NJ; worked for a med lab in Wilmington for a year; transferred to consult pathology in Philly, then worked for Ameripath which became Quest Diagnostics. My lab now is the Institute for Derm Path in Newtown Square, PA. I suppose I will have to retire soon after 42 years, but I love dermatopathology so I have no plans to do that just yet.


Diane Sterchi, NSH President

During this time of the year surrounding Memorial Day, I reflect back to the time I was serving in the United States Navy as a Hospital Corpswave (Medic for better understanding). It was during the Vietnam era and I was the supervisor of a surgical floor in the Naval Hospital stationed in Portsmouth, Virginia. I met many wounded sailors and Marines and took care of them. I think about how they suffered mentally and physically, fighting in a war that most civilians felt was unnecessary. I too marched against the Vietnam War and saw my friends (men) were being drafted to fight, some were volunteering and I realized that marching against it was not going to stop it. So I joined.


Not only do I think of the military of the Vietnam era but the men and women that served during all of the wars. I always felt honor to meet those who fought in any war during my tour of duty. I tried to respect and honor their service and bravery since I did not have to go to Vietnam or any war but I would have if ordered without reservation. I had a hard time understanding this hate for the war after I went in the service but after seeing those wounded soldiers and the horrible treatment, they received from civilians for serving their country, I now understood how stupid I was for joining those marches.


But lucky me, I had the chance to experience this first hand. I had a person spit on me at the airport because I was wearing a uniform. Time has changed this and there is a new meaning to Memorial Day and the military is finally getting the respect they deserve.


Now from the negative to the positive; This is the time to celebrate those who have died and those who are currently serving. I would join the Navy all over again. It was rewarding and a great experience with good and bad…..but mostly good. My favorite holidays are Memorial Day and the 4th of July. I am very patriotic and not shy about it. I cry every time I visit DC and pass by the memorials. I even recognize some of the names.


As a side note: When I was in the service, there was not a special rating for histotechnologist. Today the Navy has a special rating for Histotechnology.


This is my husband and Liz Chlipala's father (96) who was in Hawaii during the pearl harbor attack. They were dressed to attend a military ball and Liz's father was a VIP at the ball. My husband was sent to the Marines for 2 years since the Navy supplies medical service to the Marines. He too was a Corpsmen.

This is a picture of me after bootcamp. 1969

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The National Society for Histotechnology is a professional member organization for individuals actively involved in the histology profession. NSH has over 3,000 members worldwide, and is the leading provider of histology focused continuing education.  

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