Helena Independent Record: Diane Carlson Evans nominated for Presidential Medal of Freedom by Tester

by Phil Drake

Sen. Jon Tester, chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said Monday he nominated former U.S. Army Capt. Diane Carlson Evans of Helena for the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her contributions to the country both during and after her time in uniform.

Evans served as an Army nurse for six years during the height of the Vietnam War and is the founder of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation, which established the only memorial dedicated to honoring military women on the National Mall.

Evans, reached by phone, said while she’s honored by the nomination, she has already been honored, and that was by the dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

“My reward stands on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.,” the 77-year-old Evans said in a telephone interview Monday. “It’s what I stand for.”

She said she has been able to ward off previous attempts for such honors and had known about grassroots efforts to get her nominated, saying local residents Ron and Donna Greenwood had told her.

“After my husband Ron and I watched Diane Carlson Evans deliver the keynote address at the 30th anniversary celebration of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, he said to me ‘Diane deserves The Presidential Medal of Freedom.’ I agreed,” Donna Greenwood said in a news release.

“Thus a grassroots hometown campaign was born to honor this amazing American leader, and we’re glad Senator Tester is leading the charge in DC to nominate Diane. No one is more deserving of this award. We are proud to call her our friend and our hero,” she said.

A still-reluctant Evans said Monday she could not “a stop a moving train or a ship that has sailed.”

Tester, D-Montana, said it was his honor to nominate Evans.

“Ms. Evans put her life on the line serving this country, saving countless lives of her fellow servicemembers. And after that service, she dedicated her civilian life to serving and honoring her fellow women veterans. She represents the very best of Montana and our country, and this would be a well-deserved honor for a deserving veteran.”

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to those who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Tester wrote Monday in a letter to President Joe Biden, urging him to honor Evans’ work with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He noted her outstanding service to the nation in uniform and as a civilian, and highlighted the lasting impact of her work to ensure women Vietnam veterans were represented and recognized for their sacrifices.

It was not immediately known as to when a decision on granting the medal would be made.

Evans served as one of the 10,000 U.S. military women volunteers who served in the Vietnam War. After leaving uniform, her struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder combined with a hostile environment for Vietnam veterans inspired her to found the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project in 1984 with the aim of securing a Vietnam women veterans a place of honor and respect in Washington, D.C., Tester’s office said.

She spent 10 years pushing Congress, the Commission of Fine Arts, and the public in order to secure the memorial, a site on the mall, and private funds to build the sculpture.

The Vietnam Women’s Memorial was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1993. This memorial illustrates the contributions of women and nurses in the Vietnam War and created an essential space for healing and reflection, not just for those who served in those roles but also those who survived because of them.

Evans said Monday she’d consider the medal a great honor but would only accept it on behalf of her sister veterans “because they are the deserving ones.”

She said the young nurses went to Vietnam with the mission of “bringing young soldiers home to their family.”

If granted the honor, she hopes it will amplify the service of the Vietnam nurses.

“All of my sister veterans deserve the Presidential Medal of Freedom as far as I am concerned.”

Others have supported her nomination.

“Diane and I have been friends for years and she’s always been one of my heroes for her service in Vietnam. She worked so hard and was key in getting the Vietnam Women’s Memorial on the National Mall – it would not have happened without her,” said Maj. Gen. Gene Prendergast (retired), former Montana National Guard adjutant general.

Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins said: “Her founding of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial project and advocacy for its establishment showcase her profound commitment to recognizing the sacrifices of the brave women who have honorably served this nation, including herself.”

Lowell Long, commander of the Department of Montana American Legion, said her service extended beyond her time as an Army nurse during the Vietnam War to ensuring her 10,000 fellow women Vietnam veterans received recognition for their service.

“She is an American hero who is truly worthy of the honor of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and The American Legion cannot imagine a more worthy recipient,” he said.

Others nominated for the medal by Tester include:

  • Harry W. Colmery, World War I veteran and author of the G.I. Bill. This nomination was ultimately unsuccessful during the Trump administration.
  • In 2016, Tester recommended Elouise Cobell as a posthumous candidate for the medal for her work in improving economies of tribal communities and role in her successful tribal trust land lawsuit against the Department of the Interior. President Barack Obama awarded her the medal in November 2016.
  • In March 2008, Tester recommended Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow for the medal. Obama awarded it in August 2008.