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Woman remembers service in Vietnam in video, museum interview

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An exhibit called “Through a Different Lens: One Woman’s Experience,” about longtime Las Cruces resident Frances F. Williams’ civilian service during the Vietnam War, was supposed to open to the public at Branigan Cultural Center in March 2020, but then state public health orders closed museums across the state.

No one got to see the exhibit because of Covid-19, so Williams put together a five and a half minute video at https://vimeo.com/514404777 about the exhibit, which includes many photographs that Williams and others took while she was in Southeast Asia.

You can also watch a City of Las Cruces Museums System interview with Williams about the exhibit at www.facebook.com/LCMuseums/videos/3740837659284014.

“I was called by the Pentagon (in early 1968) to see if I would be willing to go to Vietnam (as a volunteer) because there was a great deal of difficulty getting supplies out to the field to the soldiers,” said, Williams, 92, who worked for the U.S. Army at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) for 37 years and has lived in Las Cruces for 67 years.

“The computer system used was on a contract and the company was not exactly aware of the Army supply system,” Williams said. “I agreed and was sent to the 14th Inventory Control Center in Long Binh, Vietnam, but was housed in Saigon.

“Three weeks after I got there, the Tet offensive (Jan. 31-Sept. 23, 1968) began and all hell broke loose. I was being shot at from the Catholic church in Saigon by snipers while waiting for my bus to take me 26 kilometers away to my workplace.

“After I was able to report to work, I found out that there was the 24th Evacuation Hospital, taking in the wounded from the field, stabilizing them, then sending them to Japan. Since I was only working 12 hours a day and a workaholic, I went over to the hospital to volunteer with whatever I could do. I was a gofer, a letter writer and had many experiences with the soldiers, nurses and doctor I worked with.

No one knows how bad combat is until you see it up close and personal as I did. 

“I also met a famous New Mexico artist, Michael Naranjo, who I wrote a letter for to his family, and then wrote a personal letter to them as well. Michael, a Tewa Indian, is from the Taos Pueblo, and has become an internationally famous bronze artist and also is sculpting in marble. His famous Eagle Man statue is in the courtyard between the Branigan Cultural Center and the museum. The letter his family wrote back to me is one of the displays at the exhibit. To see those young men in the flower of their lives, wounded, hurt, physically and mentally, was an experience that I will never forget. Every now and then those pictures come into my head, triggered by some incident, and I feel the tears welling up. 

We may not have belonged in Vietnam, as many critics say, but, by God, when our troops are deployed anywhere, they deserve our support and commitment. Going on this mission was one of the best things I have ever done, and in the exhibit, I focused on the people and children of Vietnam who also suffered.  U.S. soldiers were so kind to the kids and that is another story that has not been told. God Bless our troops wherever they serve and God Bless America.”   

“This tells a story that I don’t think has ever been told about Vietnam,” Williams said.

During her career at WSMR, Williams served as director of civilian and military equal employment opportunity programs and also oversaw budgets and human resources for the instrumentation directorate. She also has experience as a professional mediator as well as an instructor in employment law. Williams helped start Temple Beth El and has volunteered for, among other things, the city and state housing authorities, the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women, the Vietnam War Memorial Committee and with WSMR museum and historical foundation. Williams ran for mayor of Las Cruces in 2003. She was a charter member of the New Mexico Ethics Commission, serving a two-year term that ended June 30.