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The Women

Quick Recap & Summary By Chapter

The Full Book Recap and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary for The Women by Kristin Hannah are below.

Quick(-ish) Recap

The two-paragraph version: Frankie McGrath is a young woman from a wealthy family who enlists to serve in Vietnam and becomes a skilled surgical nurse over the course of two tours of duty. She becomes close with a doctor, Jamie, who is killed. She falls in love with a navy pilot, Rye, but he is killed just before returning home. When Frankie return home, she struggles to assimilate. Her service to her country is dismissed -- as being un-ladylike and because she was a non-combat veteran. She has a mental breakdown, but with the support of her friends and fellow former nurses Barb and Ethel, Frankie is able to find her footing as a surgical nurse again, reconcile with her parents and begins seeing a nice man.

However, when the war ends and the POWs arrive home, she realizes Rye is alive -- but that he was married and with a child the whole time. Distraught, Frankie goes on a downward spiral, getting suspended from work and taking pills, while she starts secretly seeing Rye who insists he will leave his wife. Frankie finally realizes Rye has been lying when his wife delivers their second child, and Frankie accidentally overdoses on pills. Frankie is taken to a treatment facility and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. When she leaves, Frankie starts over in Montana, buying a farmhouse which she turns into a ranch called The Last Best Place to serve as a refuge for women who served in Vietnam. In November 1982, she attends the unveiling of the Vietnam War Memorial and sees Jamie there who apparently survived his injuries.

In Part One, in May 1966, Frances "Frankie" Grace McGrath, 20, is a young woman from a wealthy family with a decorated military history whose brother Finley is about to ship out to serve in the navy in the Vietnam War, along with his best friend Rye Walsh. Finley is killed in action, but Frankie decides to enlists as a nurse. She attends Basic training and ships out in March 1967. She befriend two fellow nurses, Barb and Ethel. Frankie eventually becomes a surgical nurse, working with surgeon Dr. Jamie Callahan. They become close, but just before his tour of duty is complete, Jamie's helicopter is shot down and he is killed.

Soon, Frankie is reassigned to more dangerous location and is becoming an increasingly capable nurse. While Frankie's tour of duty is due to be complete in March 1968, she sees that her skills are needed there and decides to re-enlist. At a party, she is reunited with Rye Walsh, who is now a respected navy officer. Rye is initially engaged but breaks it off to be Frankie, and Rye decides to re-enlist so they can be together in Vietnam.

In March 1969, Frankie finally heads back to California after her second tour of duty comes to a close. Rye is due home in 27 days as well. Frankie struggles to reassimilate back home, plagued with nightmares from the war and the realities of hostile war protestors. She alienates friends and her parents are embarrassed of her war record. She is devastated to learn that Rye has been killed in action. After she gets fired from her hospital nursing job, she has a mental breakdown and leaves home after fighting with her parents. Frankie goes to the VA for help with her mental health, but is turned away since she wasn't in combat. Finally, Frankie calls Barb and Ethel in desperation. Ethel decides to move Frankie into the bunkhouse at her father's farmhouse so Frankie can have some time to figure out the next phase of her life.

Part Two opens in Virginia in April 1971. Frankie, now 25, is doing well and working as a surgical nurse. She's been staying with Barb and Ethel in the bunkhouse they remodeled into a two-bedroom cottage. Frankie is in D.C. with Barb attending anti-war protests when she learns that her mother has had a stroke. Frankie finally goes home and reconciles with her parents.

Frankie gets involved with an organization dedicated to bringing home prisoners of war, and begins seeing Henry Acevedo, a psychiatrist and anti-war protestor. When she becomes pregnant, they agree to get married. However, when the war ends and the POWs arrive home, she realizes Rye is alive. When she miscarries, she ends her engagement with Henry. Frankie begins to take a lot of pills, her work life begins to suffer and she gets suspended from work. Meanwhile, she begins secretly seeing Rye, who assures her he plans to leave his wife.

Frankie doesn't realize Rye has been lying until she learns his wife has just given birth to their second child. Distraught, Frankie accidentally overdoses on pills. In response, Frankie's parents check her into a treatment facility run by Henry, who tells her she has probably been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder from her time in Vietnam.

Frankie spends the next few months in treatment. She then decides to leave and start over, purchasing a dilapidated farmhouse in Missoula. She takes in Donna, another nurse struggling with PTSD from Vietnam. Together they rebuild the property a ranch called the Last Best Place that serves as a refuge for women who'd served in Vietnam. The book ends with Frankie attending the unveiling of the Vietnam War Memorial and seeing Jamie there who apparently survived and is divorced now.

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Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

Part I
Part II

Part I

Chapter One


In May 1966, Frances “Frankie” Grace McGrath, 20, is dressed up for an opulent bon voyage party at the upscale McGrath family estate. It’s situated on Coronado Beach, between famed Hotel Coronado and the Naval Air Station North Island, near San Diego.

Her older brother, Finley McGrath, is leaving soon to serve in the Vietnam War after having graduated from the Naval Academy. Finley’s best friend, Joseph Ryerson “Rye” Walsh, happily celebrates with him.

Generations of the men in their family had all served in various wars, with Grandpa Francis McGrath having been awarded a medal and grandfather Alexander awarded a Purple Heart — the exception was her father Connor McGrath who had been disqualified from service, to his shame.

Frances’s mother, Bette McGrath (née Alexander), is “old money” and Connor was once employed by Bette’s late father, but has since tripled the family’s wealth through California real estate development, beginning with his early successes building affordable housing for returning veterans, which he considers his contribution to the war effort.

Frnakie is in her father’s office, looking at a wall of family photos and memorabilia, when Rye Walsh walks in. When asked about the lack of women represented on the wall, Francis notes that it’s a “heroes’ wall” celebrating their family’s military record. Rye responds that “Women can be heroes” which leaves Francis momentarily flummoxed.

Later, when the party is over, Francis muses over Rye’s comment and considers her own future and what she might someday become. Marriage and motherhood had always been the assumption. When she talks to Finley, she expresses concern for his safety in the war. He reassures her, attempting to hide his own fears.

Chapter Two

Over the next six months, Frankie takes extra courses to graduate as a registered nurse and starts working the night shift at a nearby San Diego hospital.

Tonight, Frankie does her rounds and attends to a patient who has returned from Vietnam after losing his legs. He talks about a nurse in Vietnam who had helped him get through the initial shock. Thinking of her own chance to be a hero and her family’s reverence for military service, by the time Frankie leaves that night, she has decided to enlist as a nurse in Vietnam to help serve the war effort.

She first visits the Navy’s recruitment station, but she’s told that she needs two years of experience before she can enlist with them. The Air Force recruiters say the same thing. Finally, Frankie goes to see the Army recruiters, who soon have her enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps as Second Lieutenant Frances McGrath.

Chapter Three

Back at home, Frankie announces the news to her parents, explaining that Basic training will begin in three weeks. To her surprise, her parents are not pleased to hear the news. Her father also opposes on the grounds that only the men in their family are supposed to serve and that they are a “Navy family”.

The conversation is interrupted by the doorbell and they find two naval officers at their door. The family is informed that Finley has been killed in action after being shot down in a helicopter.

Distraught, Frankie’s mother begs her not to go to Vietnam, but Frankie is sure of her decision. Frankie promises her mother that she will come home from the war, but her mother tells her that those were Finley’s last words to her as well.

Chapter Four

By March, Frankie has completed and excelled at Basic training. On the plane to Vietnam, she is seated next to Captain Norm Bronson. As they descend into Saigon, the plane is shot at and Frankie hears a bomb detonate in the distance. A bus takes her to a Jeep which then takes her to her temporary living quarters. After taking a sip of water, Frankie is advised not to drink the water there. She wakes up in the middle of the night with stomach pains.

The next morning, Frankie reports to the Colonel and is assigned to the Thirty-Sixth Evac Hospital, a 400-bed hospital roughly 60 miles from Saigon. She takes a helicopter there, bullets showering them in the process. Frankie will be one of nine female nurses there, plus some male nurses and army medics. There’s also several doctors and four surgeons.

On the ground, she is greeted by First Lieutenant Patty Perkins, a surgical nurse. She gives her rundown. Patty also gives her some pills for malaria and diarrhea and then quickly leaves Frankie in a small room with three plain cots where Frankie will be staying.

Chapter Five

Hours later, two women enter to the room, introducing themselves. Ethel Flint, 25, is a red-headed ER nurse originally from Virginia. Barbara Sue “Barb” Johnson, 25, is a Black surgical nurse. The women explain that none of Frankie’s clothes are really appropriate over here and offer her an oversized t-shirt and jean shorts instead.

The women take her to over to be introduced to the other people there. They make introductions as bombs explode in the distance. Jamie Callahan, a surgeon, reassures Frankie as she flinches at the sounds, and he offers her a shot of whiskey to take the edge off.

Chapter Six

Frankie awakes feeling ill after having taken two shots of whiskey the night before. She goes in search of food, making her way to the mess hall for some food, but vomits it up immediately afterwards.

She checks in with Major Wendy Goldstein at 8:03 AM and is chided for being three minutes late. She’s told she’ll be reporting to Lieutenant Flint in the ER for today and get her assignment tomorrow.

At the ER, they are dealing with a mass casualty (referred to as a “MASCAL”), and unarmed medevac helicopters (referred to at “Dust Offs”) bring in injured soldiers who have been med-evac-ed from the field. Medics run in and out in the haze of screaming, smoke and shouting. Ethel quickly instructs Frankie to go hold the hand of one of the soldiers, Private Fournette, who is dying. Before he passes away, Fournette inquires about his friend, Private Stevo Grand, and Frankie lies, saying that she has spoken to Stevo who is asking about him, too.

In the evening, Ethel finds Frankie crying by the sea, and advises her not to go out alone for her own safety since “not all soldiers are gentlemen”. They chat, and Ethel explains that she decided to enlist after the man she loved, George shipped out, but he died. Before that, she’d been planning to be a veterinarian like her father. They get a bite at the mess hall, and Ethel encourages Frankie to come to the Officer’s Club “O Club” for some music and dancing.

In the middle of the night, Frankie awakes needing to use the restroom. Against Ethel’s advice not to venture out alone, Frankie heads towards the latrines and runs into Jamie who is smoking outside. He’s upset and wants company. He says that a friend of his that he played football with in high school was among the injured soldiers today and begged him to save his life. Frankie tries to comfort him, and tells him about Finley, and Jamie walks her back to her place.

Chapter Seven

In the morning, Major Goldstein assigns Frankie to neurology doing the night shift. The Neuro ward is relatively calm and quiet, housed in a domed hut with specialized Stryker beds, each one surrounded by medical equipment like ventilators and monitors. Frankie reports to the doctor there, Captain Ted Smith.

He shows her one of the patients, a Vietnamese man, and he explains that they also treat villagers who are brought in. All the patients here are brain damaged and only there temporarily. As an evac hospital, their job is primarily to monitor, stabilize and keep them alive until they can be seen at Third Field Hospital.

At the Neuro ward, Frankie starts to hone her nursing skills, learning to change dressings and care for the patients. Despite their comatose states, Frankie tries to speak to and comfort the patients. Six weeks into her neuro assignment, she checks up on Private Jorge Ruiz, a radio operator who saved most of his platoon. Two of the men he saved come to visit him, and they thank her for taking care of him.

Later that night, Ethel and Barb take Frankie to participate in MEDCAP, the Medical Civic Action Program. It’s organized by Captain Smith and provides medical care to the locals.

They drive cautiously, well aware that the Viet Cong (Vietnamese Communist military) could be hidden away anywhere. When they reach the local village, they set up stations to provide medical care, spending the next few hours doling out a variety of medicines and performing check-ups. They communicate with the locals via hand signals.

Eventually, Frankie is interrupted by a young boy tugging at her arm. He leads her into a room where she finds a young adolescent girl with gangrene. Frankie calls for Captain Smith, and she assists while he amputates the leg. Afterwards, the boy offers her a smooth stone which she interprets to be a gift, and Frankie gives the boy her confirmation necklace in return. Later, Frankie reflects on the stone and thinks about the work she did that day in saving the girl’s life.

Chapter Eight

In May, Frankie receives a letter from her mother describing protests about the war taking place stateside. Meanwhile, Frankie has now been promoted to the day shift in Neuro.

Tonight Frankie has plans to attend the going away party for Captain Smith, who has been a stellar teacher and kind mentor to her. The party is being held at the Officers’ Club at Long Binh, a helicopter ride away. On the way, Frankie gets a glimpse of the beauty of Vietnam but also the destruction of the war.

When the nurses arrive, Jamie Callahan invites Frankie to dance. Jamie tells her that Barb and Ethel have been pressing for her to be moved out of Neuro to do more intense work, and Jamie suggests that she join him in surgery. He reassures her that he’s just looking for a “kick ass nurse”. Frankie agrees to put in a transfer request, but she suspects that Jamie has seduced many women and is concerned that she’s next on his list.

Frankie’s first day in the OR (operating room) is hectic. Her first patient has a frag wound, and the metal scraps need to be removed with the dead skin cut away. Six hours and many patients later, Jamie and Frankie finish stitching up a patient with a gunshot wound to the chest.

Afterwards, Barb encourages Frankie to join them at the O Club. There, Ethel congratulates her on her first day in surgery, but she also warns Frankie that Jamie is married and to be careful not to get a reputation. Frankie confronts Jamie about it, who shrugs it off. Frankie asks him about his wife of four years, Sarah, and son, Davy. He tells her that Sarah get pregnant the first time they had sex so they got married.

Frankie writes to her mother about wanting to be good at being a surgical nurse and loving her work. Her mother writes back about being concerned for her safety but also acknowledges that it would be nice to be good at something that matters.

Chapter Nine

In June, Patty’s tour of service is ending soon and she is trying to impart all of her knowledge on Frankie before it’s up. Jamie and Frankie are operating when another urgent case arises, and Jamie instructs Frankie to stitch the patient up by herself.

Late that month, monsoon season is in full swing. Frankie and Jamie have been operating side by side for hours upon hours each day. They have come to care for each other. One night, Jamie tells her how he wishes he would have met her first. Meanwhile, Frankie’s mother writes to her with news about the increasingly violent and fervent war protests.

In late July, Barb plans a MEDCAP trip to a local orphanage. There, someone asks Frankie to help a young local girl with burns and a fever who had been found in her dead mother’s arms. Afterwards, Frankie is upset and Jamie offers her some comforting words. Later, Frankie thinks about how the bombing of villages full of women and children hadn’t been reported in the Stars and Stripes newspaper.

Chapter Ten

August passes by, and soon it’s September. Frankie is operating on two hours of sleep when Ethel and Barb wake her up to take a naval Seawolf helicopter to go to Ethel’s going away beach party, being held along a riverbank near Saigon. An attractive pilot nicknamed Slim along with his co-pilot “Coyote” (Lieutenant Melvin Turner) take them there. There’s a speedboat there and Coyote offers to take Frankie out to waterski. Despite her fears, Frankie gives it a shot and after four tries, finds herself waterskiing.

Later that night, Ethel invites Barb and Frankie to visit her in Virginia sometime. Frankie is tipsy when Jamie, whose own tour in Vietnam will be complete in three months, asks her to dance. As she does, he kisses her neck, but Frankie reluctantly asks him to stop. The party is disbanded when the navy boys are called to action in Pleiku.

The next day, Ethel has left, and Jamie departs for a week-long R & R trip to Maui to see his wife, Sarah. He tells Frankie that he loves her (Frankie) before he leaves.

In the OR, Frankie works with Dr. Rob Aldean in Jamie’s absence. A helicopter lands and Frankie greets the patient, but quickly realizes that the injured soldier is Jamie. His left leg is gone, he has a serious head injury and he has a gaping chest wound — she’s informed that his helicopter was shot down on his way out.

Chapter Eleven

Following Rob’s attempts to save him, Jamie is now in Neuro, barely alive. Frankie tries to reassure an unresponsive Jamie and asks him to hold on. A helicopter arrives to take Jamie to hospital. Before they leave with him, Frankie takes the stone that the Vietnamese boy had given her and writes “You fight” on one side and her name “McGrath” on the other. She drops it in his duffel bag and whispers to him that she loves him.

As they move Jamie to the helicopter, his heart gives out and he dies. The mood in at the O Club is somber in light of Jamie’s death. Barb tells Frankie that her tour of duty will be up in December. Frankie writes to Ethel to tell her about Jamie’s passing.

Frankie is told to report to Major Goldstein who tells her that she’s been transferred to Seventy-First Evac in Pleiku. It’s near the Cambodian border in the deep jungle and there is heavy fighting. When she tells Barb about it, Barb offers to transfer with her. Soon a new nurse, Wilma Cottington shows up to take the empty cot in their room.

In Pleiku, the medevac hospital, as a mobile Army surgical hospital, is a collection of huts and temporary buildings. They are helicoptered in and greeted by Sergeant Alvarez. After a quick rundown, they’re dropped of at the hut they’ll be staying in with two cots.

Soon medevac helicopters arrive and the women are told to report to Lieutenant Colonel Harry “Hap” Dickerson in the OR. Frankie assists Hap while Barb is told to assist Captain Winstead.

Meanwhile, a mortar attack nearby causes the electricity to go out and the emergency generators come online. When it appears they camp is being targeted, they turn the lights off and they work in the dark by flashlight. The next ten hours of surgery proceeds this way with waves of injured men coming in.

Chapter Twelve

By now, the Army was shortening Basic training to get new recruits into Vietnam faster and there were around 450,000 American men serving in Vietnam overall. At the Seventy-First, when things got busy the nurses and doctors were often working 18 hours straight, often under blackout conditions or while under direct attack by rockets.

In an area known as “the Park”, the camp had a makeshift tiki bar and today Barb and Frankie make their way there. They look at the newspaper headlines which continue insisting that the U.S. is winning the war, but Frankie remembers how the newspaper had been saying that even back when Finley had died as well.

In mid-November, there’s a heat wave, contrasting from the constant rains from before. In a litter near the morgue, she sees a dead body of a young Black man next to a stack of body bags. In his helmet there is a photo of him labeled “Senior Prom 1966” with the message “Come home, Beez. We love you.” written on it. Frankie takes the photograph, telling herself she’ll bring it home to his family. Later at the Park with Barb, she thinks of how tired she is of watching people die as she has a drink.

Barb has a letter from her mother, describing how her brother, Will, came back from the war full of anger and has joined the Black Panthers.

Meanwhile, Barb and Frankie get a message from Coyote (Lieutenant Melvin Turner) inviting them to a bon voyage party at a club in Saigon with a C-7 waiting to take them there. The women decide to spend the day in Saigon, enjoying lunch at a French-style bistro and reeling at how different it is from the war-torn regions of the country.

At the club that night, Coyote introduces Frankie to his commanding officer, who he refers to as “Riot”. Frankie is surprised to see that it’s Rye Walsh, Finley’s friend, who recognizes her immediately. He greets her and then walks away.

Chapter Thirteen

Coyote tells Frankie that Rye is “tough as nails” and doesn’t talk much. He’s also rumored to be engaged to an Admiral’s daughter.

Coyote expresses interest in Frankie, but she brushes him off, focusing on how Barb is too drunk and needs to be taken back to their hotel. They return to the Caravelle Hotel and Barb goes to sleep, but Frankie is awakened by a phone call informing her that someone is there to see her. Frankie assumes it is Coyote, but is surprised to find Rye waiting for her at the rooftop bar. Rye asks her to dance, but she brings up his rumored fiancé. He apologies for his behavior and leaves.

The next morning, Frankie tells Barb about Rye and her crush on him back then.

In December, Frankie treats a young Black man Private Albert Brown for a buttshot wound. He asks for for a photo with him afterwards and she obliges. Immediately after, a helicopter arrives with a wounded man. A new nurse, Sharlene has arrived and is brought to tears at the scene. Frankie comforts her and takes control of the situation.

On Frankie’s birthday, there is a small party at the Park. Slim and Coyote both attend. Frankie continues to reject Coyote’s advances. He warns her that he won’t be there long and not to miss her chance with him.

Chapter Fourteen

On Christmas Eve, Frankie talks to Barb about how the American government is reporting lies to people. The news reported no American casualties the previous day, but they know that seven people died in OR One alone.

A helicopter shows up, which turns out to be Coyote and Rye inviting the women for a ride to chop down a Christmas tree. They all go back and set it up in Barb and Frankie’s hooch (their hut/tent) with decorations. When Barb and Coyote go to fetch drinks, Rye and Frankie end up alone and Rye expresses interest in Frankie, but again she turns him down on account of him being engaged.

On Christmas there is still a ceasefire and everyone enjoys a true holiday meal. Meanwhile, they also have a smaller going-away party for Barb at the Park now that her tour of duty is complete. In the morning, Barb is gone, leaving behind a note and a polaroid of the three women together.

Chapter Fifteen

Soon, Frankie receives a letter from Barb describing how she’s bored at her new hospital stateside and how veterans aren’t exactly receiving a warm welcome back at home.

In January of 1968, Frankie receives her DEROS (“Date Eligible for Return from Over Seas”), indicating when her own tour will be complete, of March 15. On the 31st of the month, a rocket hits the 71st Evac area. Frankie’s new roommate, Margie Sloan, is in a panic, but Frankie rushes both of them to the hospital. The new doctor, Captain Morse, is unsure at first but swings into action.

The attack is long and the hospital overflows with casualties that day. Rye shows up after hearing about the attack to check that she is okay. Frankie comes across a severely wounded soldier with three missing limbs who turns out to be Private Albert Brown, the man who had asked to take a picture with her a month before, and she watches him take his final breath. She promises to write to his mother, Shirley. When she returns to her hut, the door is in pieces on the floor.

The attack on January 31st is referred to in the American media as the Tet Offensive. The carnage involved made people really start to wonder what was going on since the government had been telling people that we were winning the war. To the public, LBJ claims there were only 249 American casualties, but Frankie knows what she saw.

With her DEROS approaching, Frankie worries that there are no nurses there with her level of experience. She also thinks that “as much as she sometimes hated the war, she loved nursing more.” In February, she writes to her parents and Ethel to say that she’s planning on staying in Vietnam. Her parents are strongly against it. Ethel, is now in veterinary school, is not surprised.

In March, Frankie finds out someone has brought to the officers’ attention that she hasn’t taken her R& R Time. She’s ordered to take it before beginning her next tour and is being set to a beachside hotel in Kauai to take a break.

Chapter Sixteen

The Coco Palms Hotel is idyllic and peaceful. She is relaxing on the beach when she realizes that Rye is there too. Rye turns out to the one who let the officers know Frankie hadn’t taken her R & R. Rye also tells her that he has broken off his engagement. Frankie agrees to have dinner with him that night, and then calls Barb and asks for her advice on whether to have sex with Rye and what to do.

That night, Rye admits that he had been interested in Frankie before, but thought she didn’t have anything in common with him, a poor kid from Compton. As they drink cocktails, they are approached by Edgar LaTour, an older U.S. Army Captain, who thanks them for their service. Afterwards, Rye takes her to a spot where he has a picnic dinner prepared for them. They kiss and Frankie pushes for them to go further, knowing they’ll be back in Vietnam in six days, and they have sex.

They spend the rest of the week together, with the last day spent in bed all day. He brings up how he knows she’s going home soon, but Frankie interrupts him to tell him that she renewed her commitment. He is adamantly against it, saying that the war is escalating and that they are losing. Finally, Rye decides he will “re-up” as well so they can be in Vietnam together.

Chapter Seventeen

Back at the 71st, Frankie gets a letter from Barb saying that her brother Will was killed in a police shoot-out with the Black Panthers, despite having surrendered. Meanwhile, in April, MLK is assassinated, and in June, Robert Kennedy is assassinated.

July 4, 1968, three escaped prisoners of war arrive at the hospital with two of the men carrying their friend, Fred who had a bullet in his chest. However, it’s too late for Fred and he dies. Immediately after, a village of Vietnamese locals are brought in with injuries from a Napalm attack. Frankie notes the increased used Napalm (“a jellied firebomb used in flamethrowers by the U.S. to clear out foxholes and trenches, and dropped in bombs by U.S. planes”) lately.

Upset from seeing in injuries, Frankie asks to use the MARS (“Military Auxiliary Radio System”) system to place a call to Rye that night, even though it is against the rules to use the system for personal use. She tells him about being upset over the attacks. That night, he sneaks into her room and holds her.

In November, Frankie is called to attend an emergency which turns out to be a party announcing her promotion to First Lieutenant. Rye is there too and they exchange “I love you”s.

Chapter Eighteen

March 14, 1969, Frankie is finally due to depart Vietnam. She writes Margie a goodbye note. Rye goes to see her off, with his own tour of duty to be complete in 27 days.

Soon, Frankie is back in California, dressed in her uniform. At the airport, protesters treat her with hostility. Taxis refuse to pick her up. She takes the bus instead and no one offers to help her with her bags.

At home, her father is surprised to see her and regards her stiffly. She hands her father the photo that Barb had given her of her, Barb and Ethel together for the “heroes’ wall” in their house. Frankie’s mother is more welcoming and explains that her father hasn’t been himself since Finley’s passing.

Chapter Nineteen

Once she’s had some rest, Frankie’s mother starts making plans for Frankie’s life to return to “normal”. At lunch at the country club, the sound of a loud crash causes Frankie to instinctively dive under the table, embarrassing her mother. A family friend, Dr. Brenner, reveals that Frankie’s father had told everyone that she had been studying abroad in Florence during her time in Vietnam.

Frankie continues to wake to up nightmares at night. Her parents comment disparagingly on the smoking habit she picked up in Vietnam and the coarse language she uses now. They don’t want to hear about her experiences at war and are embarrassed of her. Frankie notes how hypocritical it is that it “means nothing when a woman, a nurse, goes to war” but that they think it’s “glorious that your son goes to war”.

The atmosphere in the house continues to be tense. Frankie decides to call Barb and they come up with the idea of planning a party of Rye’s coming home up in Compton. She goes up to see his parents at Stanley and Mo’s Auto Repair, but his father Stan tells her bluntly that he learned three days ago that Rye was killed in action, shot down.

Frankie returns home, distraught. She tells her mother that a man she loved was killed, and her mother comforts her.

Chapter Twenty

Frankie continues to be unable to get out of bed for many days. Finally, one day Ethel and Barb show up at in her room, beckoning her to get out of bed. They encourage her to find something else to live for. Ethel talks about being in vet school and being back with her old high school boyfriend, Noah Ellsworth. Barb talks about being interest in an organization called Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Frankie considers how despite everything she still loves being a nurse.

The trio spends the next few days together. When they leave, Frankie goes to a small hospital nearby to apply to be a nurse. She’s assigned to the night shift as a probationary nurse working under Mrs. Henderson.

Frankie knows she will feel frustrated by the menial tasks she’s given to perform and tries to mentally prepare herself to work her way up. Still, a few weeks in, a man, José Garcia, asks for help with his wife, Elena, who is a patient there. Despite knowing she is supposed to call for help, Frankie decides to handle it herself.

Chapter Twenty-One

By June, Frankie has now been home for three months. The morning’s headline reports that a nurse, First Lieutenant Sharon Lane, was killed by enemy fire in Vietnam. Despite not having known Sharon, Frankie feels connected to her, and the news upsets her. Her mother has arranged for her to go see an old schoolmate of hers, Becky Gillihan, that day.

Frankie arrives at Becky’s house to learn she’s at a wedding shower. She feels out of place in the crowd of debutantes, sorority girls and rich men. She makes a scene when Becky thinks she’s joking about having served in Vietnam.

At the hospital that night, Frankie calls for a doctor when a patient with a gunshot wound comes in. When no one responds and the patient starts to turn blue, Frankie springs into action to do a tracheotomy to save the young man’s life. Frankie is proud of herself afterwards, but she gets fired for being a “loose canon” and exposing the hospital to liability.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Frankie returns home with her uniform covered in blood and her parents are concerned at first, but then they bring up the incident at Becky’s. Frankie argues with her father again about him lying about her being in Florence and about him being unable to be proud of her for serving in the war. Finally, Frankie leaves the house in a rush, taking Finley’s photo from the heroes’ wall as she leaves, but drives erratically and gets into a car accident.

Not knowing where to go and knowing that she needs help, Frankie goes to the Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic and waits outside until they open. They let her meet with a doctor and she quickly tells him about how she’s been struggling since coming back from Vietnam. However, he merely asks if she’s menstruating and doesn’t consider her a veteran because she wasn’t in combat.

Desperate, Frankie calls Barb for help and soon Barb and Ethel fly into town. Ethel’s father has a farmhouse and she’s decided that Frankie should move in there while she figures out what she wants to do next in life.

Part Two

Chapter Twenty-Three


Frankie is now 25. Over time and under the care and compassion of her friends, Frankie has been able to hide or minimize her outbursts and grief. In Vietnam, the war continues with the stories of its atrocities continuing to spread.

Over the past 18 months the women had been living in the bunkhouse and re-modeling it into a two-bedroom cottage, and in the evenings they hand out by the fireplace. Barb, who works as a bartender, has become an active member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War as well as being a champion for other causes such as the Equal Rights Amendment. Ethel is in her third year of veterinary school, and she and Noah are considering marriage.

Meanwhile, Frankie has been working as a surgical nurse with a specialization in trauma surgery. She enjoys riding horses at the farm, which she finds meditative.

After her shift, Frankie goes to visit Barb at the tavern she works at. Barb tells her that VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) has a big protest planned in Washington and wants Frankie to join them. By now, the tide had fully turned against the war. Journalists had stopped trusting the numbers the government was reporting on the number of casualties in the war and the troops were reporting real numbers back. Frankie just wants to forget the war though and isn’t interested in getting involved, but she agrees just this once to attend the protest, knowing that the war and its mass casualties is wrong.

In D.C. for the march, they find themselves jostled by the sea of male veterans. When they insist that they’re also veterans, the men insist that there aren’t women in Vietnam, forgetting about the nurses entirely. Still, Frankie and Barb continue to march. A group of Gold Star Mothers show up to place wreaths on their sons’ coffins, but they’re denied entry and the image gets splashed across the media. Two days later, the protest continues. Decorated soldiers throw their medals on the Capitol steps. Frankie gets tear-gassed. At one point, she’s stopped by a young man who is associated with the League of POW/MIA Families — he’s selling bracelets to raise funds to help bring prisoners of war home.

Frankie meets Henry Acevedo, 38, fellow protestor. He invites her to get a drink. He is a psychiatrist from Southern California who is there to protest the war, and he mentions he has a number of patients who were war vets. Afterwards, Frankie meets up with Barb and admits that she was glad to have attended the protest.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Frankie asks Barb to go with her to fundraiser to help bring POWs home, being organized by navy wives with missing husbands. At the luncheon, Anne Jenkins gives a speech explaining that many POWs are simply reported as being killed in action or missing in action with little effort to bring them home. The women say they need people to help write letters and do interviews in order to bring attention to their cause.

Frankie goes to talk to Anne afterwards who mentions that she knows Frankie’s mother, Bette. When she gives her condolences regarding Bette, Frankie learns that her mother recently had a stroke and is currently hospitalized.

Frankie is soon headed home, and heads straight to the hospital ICU to see her mother. She finds her father at her bedside.

A few days later, they are able to take Bette home. Her father seems to have softened following the episode with Bette. He admits to having had difficulty processing his grief after Finley’s death. He also admits that he and Bette had fought after she left, with Bette accusing him of being unkind to Frankie. He tells her that there’s a cottage near their home that Bette had insisted they fix up for when Frankie came home for her to have someplace of her own to stay in. Her father also offers her a set of car keys.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Now living in the cottage, Frankie reaches out to the League of Families in San Diego to get involved and is invited to help with their letter-writing efforts, reaching out to politicians and newspapers.

In late June 1971, Frankie goes to the local shopping center to sell bracelets and distribute flyers to help raise awareness about their cause in trying to get POWs home. She’s joined by a woman named Joan whose husband is a POW in Hoa Lo. There, Frankie runs into Henry Acevedo again who is with his nephew, Arturo. Arturo says that he’ll be attending the naval academy soon, though Henry disagrees with his decision. Henry makes a donation to their cause and they leave.

In July, Ethel writes to tell Frankie that she and Noah have eloped.

Chapter Twenty-Six

As the war rages on, the Winter Soldier Investigation happens exposing many atrocities of war. Lieutenant William Calley is sentenced for the My Lai massacre, and America invades Cambodia.

July 4th, 1972, Bette is throwing a party and Frankie is expected to attend. At the party, her father makes a toast to “all the men who serve”. Frankie feels a surge of anger, but is interrupted by the presence of Henry Acevedo who is there as a board member of a therapeutic center Bette has done fundraising for. When the sound of a firecracker causes Frankie to hit the ground, she is embarrassed and asks Henry to walk her home. When they arrive, she invites him in. She admits to him that her heart still belongs to someone else, but she sleeps with him.

That summer, she continues to see Henry. In August, they attend a VVAW march at the Republican National Convention at Barb’s behest. Three veterans in wheelchairs are brought inside and interrupt Nixon’s speech, and the story dominates the airwaves the next day.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

In December, Frankie goes to the doctor after feeling unwell and is told that she’s two months pregnant, despite being on birth control. Four days later, during her shift at work, they operate on a Vietnam veteran who has gastric cancer and the doctor finds it curious given the man’s young age, 30.

At her birthday celebration that night, she tells Henry about the pregnancy and Henry asks her to marry him. Frankie is reluctant, but he convinces her to say yes. Henry asks her father for his blessing, and he agrees.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Frankie writes to Ethel and Barb to invite them to be her maid and matron of honor. Frankie and Henry decide on February 17 as the date for their wedding, and they begin to set up a nursery for the baby.

In January 1973, Frankie is at her parents house with Henry when Frankie asks her father once again why her photo isn’t on the heroes’ wall. He responds that her wedding photo will be displayed instead and asks her to drop the subject. Before Frankie can respond, Henry shares the news that Nixon has signed the peace accord and that the war was over.

In February, the week before her wedding, the first wave of POWs are due to arrive home. Frankie watches as the news covers the returning POWs coming out of the plane in Manilla, to be headed stateside, and is shocked to see Rye step out and salute the crowd. Frankie knows she has to see him before she can get married.

The next day, Barb and Ethel join Frankie in San Diego to greet Rye at Air Station Miramar when he lands. She doesn’t tell Henry about it. Frankie calls out to Rye when she sees him, and she sees he has a limp. But she is shocked to see him being embraced by a tall, curvy woman and a young girl who appears to be his daughter. They realize that he must’ve been married the whole time.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Frankie is heartbroken from the betrayal, but tries to pull herself together before the wedding that weekend. However, there’s a clenching in her stomach and she realizes something is wrong. At the hospital, Frankie learns that she’s had a miscarriage. Her mother tells her about the baby that she once miscarried.

As she recovers, Frankie decides that she can’t marry Henry. She tells Barb and Ethel to go home since there won’t be a wedding. When Henry comes to see her, she tells him the truth — that Rye was one of the POWs and that she’s still in love with him.

Chapter Thirty

For a while, Frankie is inconsolable, taking extra shifts at work to avoid doing anything else. She starts taking various pills, some for sleep and others to stay awake to work. Frankie is in a daze one day when a gunshot wound comes in, but she gets kicked out of the OR when she is clearly out of it and not fit for work.

The next day, Frankie goes to the beach and sees Rye with his family — his wife, Melissa, and their daughter, Joey. Despite knowing better, she ends up following them home as they leave. She watches them get into the house, but speeds off when she sees him looking directly at her.

She accidentally misses her shift at work that night.

Frankie is soon called into the director of nursing’s office to discuss her recent behavior. Mrs. Stone expresses concern and suggests that Frankie should have taken more time off following her miscarriage. Despite Frankie’s protests, Frankie is put on leave.

Barb calls and tells her that she’s met a guy, an ACLU lawyer named Jeremiah “Jere” Maine. As they chat, the doorbell rings and Frankie finds Rye standing at her doorstep. He tells her that he married his wife two months before he shipped out, partially because he wanted someone waiting for him and partially because she’d been pregnant. Rye said he figured they’d get a divorce when he returned, but when he managed to get word out that he was alive, Missy kept writing him and became his lifeline.

Rye tells Frankie that he’ll leave Missy if she still wants to be with him. They kiss and move into the bedroom.

Chapter Thirty-One

Frankie and Rye spend that summer together, despite him not having left his wife yet. He tells her that he’s talking to a lawyer and working things out but doesn’t want to risk losing custody of his daughter. Meanwhile, Frankie is tired of hiding their relationship and lying to everyone about the fact that she’s on leave and that she’s seeing Rye and taking even more pills.

In August, she and Ethel attend Barb’s wedding. As they talk about love, honor and commitment, Frankie makes a promise to herself to end things with Rye. When she sees him next, she tells him she can’t do it anymore, but he gets down on one knee and proposes so she gives in.

In November, Frankie meets with Mrs. Stone and tells her that she feels she’s ready to return to work. A week later, Frankie is expecting to meet Rye at the wedding dress shop, but he fails to turn up. She leaves for her shift instead. At the end of the shift, she learns that Melissa Walsh is at the hospital, and she has just had a baby.

Frankie runs into Rye, but turns and runs away, taking two Valium. She heads for a bar. After a few drinks, she drunkenly leaves — and drives her car into a bicyclist.

Chapter Thirty-Two

Frankie awakes in the hospital, and thankfully learns that the bicyclist, Bill Brightman, is doing fine. She’s charged with a DUI. Frankie knows she needs helps and goes to the new VA center to attend group therapy for Vietnam veterans. However, they ask her to leave, saying it’s only for veterans who saw combat.

Frankie doesn’t know what to do, and she reaches out to the man she collided with to apologize. She then goes home and takes some pills.

When she awakes, Frankie is in an ambulance after having taken too many pills. She’s brought to a psychiatric ward for a mandatory hold following what her father has taken to be a suicide attempt.

Chapter Thirty-Three

When Frankie’s head clears, she’s taken to see the director of the psych ward, Henry. He reassures her that she’ll be assigned to a different therapist, but tells her that her mother has signed her up to stay at the treatment facility for 8 weeks to start. Her overdose on pills means that she’ll lose her nursing license, at least for a while. He also tells her that he’s engaged now, to someone named Natalie.

As they talk, Henry says she likely has post-traumatic stress disorder from her time in Vietnam. Frankie says that she didn’t see combat and that people like the POWs were tortured. However, Henry points out that trauma isn’t a competition and that she was working in a dangerous area. Additionally, POWs come home to be treated as heroes in a way that other Vietnam veterans often were not.

He then introduces her to Dr. Alden who will be her therapist. She spends the next week pouring out her feelings to him. When Barb comes to visit her, Frankie tells her the truth about what’s been going on with Rye.

Chapter Thirty-Four

By February of 1974, the world had changed and moved on from the war — “Vietnam veterans disappeared into the landscape, hiding in plain sight among a populace that either held them in contempt or considered them not at all”.

Henry and Dr. Alden agree that Frankie is ready to leave the treatment center. She has spent her time dealing with her internal turbulence over her feelings for Rye, but more importantly her time in Vietnam overall. Her parents come to pick her up.

By the Summer of 1974, Frankie has gotten her driver’s license back though not her nursing’s license yet. She tells her parents that she’s moving. She plans on selling the cottage they gave her to use to money to start a new life. Her parents are concerned, but don’t argue.

After the sale goes through in August, Frankie and Barb take a road trip to help Frankie decide where to start over. In Missoula, Montana, a FOR SALE sign at a dilapidated farmhouse catches her eye. It’s beautiful and remote. Frankie thinks about how it’s somewhere she could really breathe.

Chapter Thirty-Five

In September 1982, Frankie receives an invitation to a reunion for the 36th Evac Hospital to commemorate the unveiling of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. happening in November. Frankie thinks back to how shamefully the Vietnam veterans were treated and how in the late 70’s it had come to light that the use of Agent Orange during the war had given many veterans cancer.

Seven years ago, Donna, a nurse who was also struggling after leaving Vietnam, had showed up after being given Frankie’s name by the VA. Frankie had taken her in and Donna had stayed ever since. They both now worked as nurses at the local hospital.

Since then, they’d rebuilt the farmhouse into a ranched called The Last Best Place, which became a refuge for women who had served in Vietnam. There is a heroes wall there, filled with photos of women who served.

Frankie goes to Washington to attend the reunion on November 13, and she meets up with Barb and Ethel. They attend the unveiling of the memorial. Frankie’s parents attend as well, wanting to see Finley’s name on the memorial. Frankie’s father tells her about his guilt over how he treated her when she returned from the war.

Frankie is looking for Jamie’s name when he approaches her. She is shocked to see him alive. Jamie shows her that he still has the stone that she gave him, telling him to fight. He’s divorced now.

The book ends with Frankie reflecting on how remembrance matters and how it’s important that people know abut the women who served. She thinks to herself, “We were there.”

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Bookshelf -- A literary set collection game