Diane Carlson Evans was raised on a dairy farm in Minnesota. When she graduated high school in Buffalo, Minnesota, in 1964, she received the local American Legion’s annual citizenship award.
After attending the Army Student Nurse program in Minneapolis, Carlson volunteered to serve as a combat nurse in Vietnam, from 1968-69.
“I was 21, right out of college, and I was assigned first to the (burn unit) 36th Evacuation Hospital in a beautiful place (Vung Tau) right on the South China Sea beach,” Carlson Evans told Leo Adam Biga in a 2010 interview regarding the Lauro play "A Piece of My Heart." “I didn’t feel the war there as much as I did when I was transferred up north, to Pleiku, in the central highlands jungle near the Cambodian border. I was with Two Corps supporting the 4th Infantry Division, in the 71st Evacuation Hospital.
“The war was very different there. The 4th Infantry had something like a 75% casualty rate.”
First Lt. Carlson was head nurse in the post-surgical unit. The patients were on respirators, blood transfusions and chest tubes, and it “was very hard to see so many young men” with such horrific wounds.
“We had to deal with patients dying on us and, in triage, we had to deal with setting aside dying patients to attend to the most salvageable ones,” she related.
Pleiku was only about a 10-20 minute helicopter ride from the field of action, and came under attack many times.
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“We got to know the difference between the outgoing artillery and the incoming rockets and mortars that would fly in and hit our hospital, sending shrapnel everywhere,” Carlson Evans told Biga. “We were not only worrying about our patients — we had concern for our own safety.”
After her tour in Vietnam, Carlson Evans went on to complete a total of six years in the Army Nurse Corps.
In 1984, Carlson Evans co-founded the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project. It took seven years of testimony before three federal commissions and two congressional bills for Evans and her supporters to garner permission for the memorial, honoring the 11,000 military women who served in Vietnam and the 265,000 who served around the world during the Vietnam era.
With the help of thousands of volunteers – plus the public support of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and the American – and the corporation which underwrote the project, funds were raised to complete the effort.
The Vietnam Women's Memorial was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1993, with remarks from then Vice President and Vietnam veteran Al Gore. Sculptor Glenna Goodacre’s 7-foot bronze statue – featuring three women and a wounded soldier – now stands on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Since the dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial in 1993, Carlson Evans has remained active in the veterans community. She's a member of two national American Legion committees. Diane and husband Mike Evans (also a veteran) have parented four children and came to Helena about 20 years ago.
As Founder and President of the Vietnam Women's Memorial Foundation, Carlson Evans speaks nationally about the experience of women in wartime. Last year, she was awarded the 2018 American Legion’s Patriot Award.