SANTA FE, N.M. — The Vietnamese baby has disappeared from the bronzed arms of the American Army nurse.
No political statements are allowed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall in Washington.
"I had thought of the baby as part of the casualties of the war," said sculptor Glenna Goodacre, touching a tiny model of the infant that was eliminated from her original design for the Vietnam women's statue.
Instead, a kneeling woman stares down at a soldier's helmet. "You see despair in the empty helmet," Goodacre said in her Santa Fe studio.
"The kneeling woman has become the heart and soul of the statue," said Diane Carlson Evans, who led the decade-long battle for a women's memorial.
The larger-than-life bronze sculpture includes three other figures: a nurse seated on a pile of sandbags cradling a wounded soldier whose eyes are bandaged, and another woman in fatigues, standing, her gaze turned hopefully toward the sky.
The memorial, to be dedicated on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, will be the first monument in the nation's capital honoring women's military service.
From its first public showing on the state Capitol grounds in New Mexico, the statue will start a whistle-stop tour across the nation Aug. 28 to more than 20 cities in 14 states. Vietnam veteran Frederick W. Smith, president of Federal Express, has donated a truck and driver. The Pentagon City shopping mall in northern Virginia will be the last stop.
"There are veterans all over the United States who will never get to Washington, and the grass roots is what made this statue happen," said Evans, a former captain in the Army Nurse Corps who served at Vung Tau and Pleiku in 1968 and 1969. "The powers that be in Washington did everything to stop us.
"The wall of names could have stood alone. It was complete," Evans said. "But when I first saw a picture of the all-male sculpture there, to me, someone was missing. Our statue will complete the Vietnam Memorial."
About 11,000 American military women--average age about 24--served in Vietnam during the 12-year war. All were volunteers, 90% were nurses. Of the 58,191 names inscribed on Maya Lin's black granite wall, eight are women. All eight were nurses: seven Army, one Air Force.
But because they were not men in combat, women veterans say, they have been treated as if they never went to war. So they engaged in their own combat after the original Vietnam Memorial was expanded beyond the wall to include a heroic-size bronze statue of three infantrymen, installed in 1984.
Inside Goodacre's handsome adobe-style studio, nestled in the dusty high desert in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the battlefields and rice fields of Vietnam seem a million worlds away.
During the war, Goodacre, now 53, was a young housewife having babies in her hometown of Lubbock, Tex. She knew no one who served in Vietnam.
Goodacre said she had never heard of the 1990 design competition for the statue. Her Vietnam saga began in Santa Fe when former Vietnam nurse Anne Cunningham of California visited the Fenn Gallery here, founded by decorated Vietnam fighter pilot Forrest Fenn.
Cunningham was charmed by Goodacre's creations, especially by "Puddle Jumpers," six happy, hand-holding children running and leaping, three of them suspended in midair.
Cunningham urged Goodacre to submit a design.
"I dropped everything to do it," Goodacre said. Her entry was received on deadline day.
It didn't win, but merited an honorable mention. "I forgot about it," Goodacre said. Meanwhile, in Washington, the sculpture approval process became mired in its own Vietnam-on-the-Potomac quagmire.
Six months later, Goodacre was asked to submit a maquette, a small model of her planned piece--but without the Vietnamese baby.
"I dropped everything again. You had to believe in fate that it was all to evolve into this," she said.
Without a child to hold, the second standing figure in the group seemed purposeless. So she became the kneeling figure.
"After all that poor third woman has gone through, so many discussions about her and changes," Goodacre said, "she is the favorite of the veterans. One nurse sighed, 'Oh, that's me.'
"My whole premise was that not everything be spelled out," Goodacre said. "I covered the wounded soldier's face so he would be anonymous, so he could belong to any mother, any wife, any daughter."
Diane Evans said she feels as if she's fought in a second Vietnam War. Now living on a Minnesota farm with her husband and four children, she founded the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project, which is still raising private funds for the $4-million memorial.
Evans led her fellow women veterans into battle against the Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, the Interior Department and Congress.
The tenacious women never retreated from their target: Area I, the central monumental core on the Mall, beside their brother soldiers.
Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, helped break ground for it in late July.