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Katy veteran only woman on honor flight

October 8, 2018

The U.S. Army military recruiter was right when he told the 22-year-old young woman that she would travel if she enlisted.

Sonja Edgington of Katy served a total of 15 years as nurse in the U.S. Army, including a year in Vietnam, two years in Hawaii, a year in Denver, three years in Germany and four years in Louisiana.

Her service to her country in Vietnam also opened the opportunity for her to travel to Washington, D.C., as part of Honor Flight Houston’s first All Vietnam Veteran Honor Flight on Oct 19-20. She is the only woman veteran among the 28 veterans and three staff members, who also are Vietnam veterans, participating in the flight. According to the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation, an estimated 11,000 military women were stationed in Vietnam during the war. Ninety percent of the women, who were nearly all volunteers, served as military nurses.

“They were not sending women into combat at that time,” said Edgington, 74, who’s lived in the Katy area for 34 years. After learning about the honor flight a year ago from Jessica Nelson, president/executive director of Paws for Heroes, Edgington applied and learn about a month ago that she had been accepted.

“I think this is a wonderful thing they do for the vets. I think it’s really great. I’m really honored that I was picked to go. I think it’s going to be emotional especially when I get to the Vietnam Memorial. I think it will be really wonderful.” She will be accompanied by her sister, Jennifer Klueh of Mobile, Ala.

Edgington went to Washington,D.C., in high school and when she lived in Charlottsville, Virginia, they would go up to the capital every now and then. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial weren’t there when she last visited the city.

She attended school and grew up in Laurenceville High School in Illinois. Living in a small town in Wisconsin with two roommates, recruiters came to their house and gave their spiel. “The three of us decided to join. Then one backed out. They told us we could have any assignment we wanted and travel. Pay was not that great but there were bonuses like housing. We thought it would be fun and exciting.”

Joining the military in 1967, she was sent to Vietnam the next year. She started out working at a convalescent facility at Cam Ranh Bay, where she stayed for a few months. They she was transferred to an evacuation hospital at Củ Chi. Veterans were brought there from the battlefield where they had surgery and as much medical care as possible. They would stay two or three days until they were well enough to transfer, she said. “They would go back to Japan or The States for their full recovery.”

“Vietnam was all kind of a blur, it was so busy,” she recalled. She worked mostly nights and remembers one New Year’s Eve clearly though.

“When you went to the restroom, you went to the barracks. They locked them at 10 p.m. It was early in the morning and I needed to go to the bathroom. I went to the outhouse with my flashlight. (Flashlights had red lights so the enemy wouldn’t see them.) I laid the flashlight down. Something did not look right. I shined the light. There was a man laying under the seat. I thought someone was dead. I ran back to the (hospital) ward and a corpsman went out. I later learned that the Viet Cong had tunnels under Củ Chi. It was very scary.”

After her service in Vietnam, Edgington left the army but then decided to go back. Receiving a grant/scholarship, she earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing at the University of Virginia. Her last assignment was four years at Fort Polk in Louisiana. She and her friends would come to Houston from Fort Polk and she saw the billboards advertising the relatively inexpensive housing in the area, which is how she ended up settling in Katy. She spent the bulk of her medical career in Houston 22 years in neonatology at Houston Methodist Hospital at the Medical Center.

karen.zurawski@chron.com

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