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Helen A. Vartigian Collection

Helen A. Vartigian, MSN, RN (1941-2014) was born in Troy, NY, raised in Watervliet, and lived in Cohoes after retiring from the U. S. Army Nurse Corps at the rank of Major.  This collection


Finding Aid for the Helen A Vartigian Collection, 1966-2007 (MC77)


Compiled by: Yvonne Kester, MSIS student, University at Albany, SUNY, February 2014

VOLUME: 5.5 cu. ft.
ACQUISTION: The items in this collection were donated to the Bellevue Alumnae Center for Nursing History Archive by Helen A. Vartigian in several accessions spanning 1994-2007.
ACCESS: This collection is open to the public by appointment.
COPYRIGHT: Please consult the repository for information about duplication or publishing of any materials from this collection.
INDEX TERMS: U. S. Army Nurse Corps; Fitzsimmons General Hospital; Vietnam; 12 Evac Hospital; Cu Chi;  Russell Sage College, Plattsburgh State University;
PREFERRED CITATION: Helen A. Vartigian Collection, 1966-2007 (MC77), Bellevue Alumnae Center for Nursing History Archives, Center for Nursing, Guilderland, NY


Table of Contents

Scope and Contents Note

Series Descriptions

Box and Folder List

Series 1: Scrapbooks, Photo Albums, and Autograph Book (1966-1993)

Series 2: Textiles (1967-1974)

Series 3: Awards and Achievements (1967-2007)

Series 4: Photographs and Slides (1966-2007)

Series 5: Artwork (1970-2007)

Series 6: Vietnam Women’s Memorial Memorabilia and Veteran’s Affairs (1993-2007)

Series 7: Papers and Correspondence (1967-2007)


Biographical Sketch

Helen A. Vartigian was born in 1941, in Troy, NY, at St. Mary’s Hospital. She was the second of four girls, but her older sister died as a baby, so she was effectively the oldest child growing up. Helen’s mother was a teacher and her father worked for the Sheriff’s Department and moonlighted.

Although she briefly thought she would like to become a lawyer, women in those days generally went into teaching, nursing, or secretarial work. When she was a teenage, Helen was trained as a “Rosette,” something like a Candystriper, but she learned how to take care of patients on a basic level. In her sophomore year in high school, Helen decided to become a nurse. After graduating from Catholic Central High School, she went to the SUNY College at Plattsburgh and worked at Leonard Hospital in Troy before enlisting with the Army Nurse Corps in the spring of 1966. Helen says she was a child of the Kennedy Era, and did not ask what her country could do for her—she asked what she could do for her country. This is why she signed up.

After training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, Helen was assigned to Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver, Co. In September of 1966, she decided to volunteer to go to Vietnam. She was assigned to the 12th Evacuation Hospital in Cu Chi before it was even built, and arrived there just before Christmas, 1966. In Cu Chi, Helen became Head Nurse of Orthopedics and earned the rank of Captain.

After her service in Cu Chi, Helen went on to work as a Clinical Staff Nurse at the 6th General Dispensary in Brunssum, Holland, and as Clinical Head Nurse at the United States Army Hospital in Casteau, Belgium. Later, she joined the SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) Medical Center as Assistant Clinical Head Nurse on a multi-service ward. For her leadership, professional skill, dedication, humor, compassion, and sense of civic duty while serving in these capacities, Helen was awarded the Army Commendation Medal in 1970.

From January 1971 to June 1972, Vartigian worked at Valley Forge General Hospital in Phoenixville, PA first as a staff nurse in Intensive Care and Recovery Room and then as head nurse of Urology and Plastic Service. Helen remained in the Army until 1986, honorably retired at the rank of Major.  Following completion of her military career,  she worked as health surveyor for the New York State Department of Health, retiring in 2003.

Since 1993, when she decided to come to terms with her war experiences, Helen has been a tireless advocate and educator as a veteran, and she has always worked hard to give of herself as a citizen and as a nurse. In January 2013, Helen was commended by former New York State Senator Eric Adams for her efforts to aid those affected by Hurricane Sandy[1]


Scope and Contents Note

The Helen A. Vartigian Collection (MC77) consists of military uniforms; scrapbooks; photo albums; framed posters and artwork; awards and commendations; correspondence; travel memorabilia from 1968 to 1980 (including items from Denver, Colorado; London, England; Ireland; Munich, Sittard, Heidelburg, and Wurzberg, Germany; Holland; The Netherlands; Paris and Normandy, France; Madrid, Spain; Luxembourg; Basel and Luzern, Switzerland; Brussels and Flanders Field and Mons, Belguim; Rome and Florence, Italy); photographs and other materials relating to the 12th Evacuation Hospital in Cu Chi, Vietnam, 1966 to 1967 (including pictures of the Bob Hope Show, Christmas 1966 in Cu Chi); materials and photographs relating to the Vietnam Women’s Memorial dedication in November, 1993; and materials relating to veterans’ affairs and Helen’s work to educate her fallow citizens about the war experience.

Some notable items in the collection are 5 dress uniforms and one set of everyday fatigues; a large “parchment” from the Wolfhounds (27th infantry regiment serving in Vietnam) admitting Vartigian to the “Omnipotent Order of Kochak as a Regal Barker,” as well as a plaque naming Vartigian an honorary Wolfhound; Luis P. Carranza numbered prints of his work titled, “When I Have Your Wounded;” a framed poster, “Not All Women Wore Love Beads in the Sixties,” by the 2003 Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation; a copy of the World War II U. S. Army Nurse Corps recruitment poster, The Touch of a Woman’s Hand,” featuring a picture of Private Albert Gomez, infantryman from Brooklyn, NY; and a wide array of mementos from Vartigian’s travels overseas, including items from her trip on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1970. This collection also contains eight hours of oral history.

Series Descriptions

Series 1: Scrapbooks, Photo Albums and Autograph Book (1996-1993)

Scrapbooks and photo albums used as scrapbooks, containing mementos and pictures of Vartigian’s time in Cu Chi, Vietnam, Europe, and the United Kingdom. Also,k an autograph book that is mostly empty, but notably contains autographs of Jonathan Winters (“To the pretty Cap’n Helen”) and Charlton Heston (“Best to you Helen”), as well as the 1967 Miss America, Jane Jayroe.

Series 2: Textiles (1967-1974)

Five dress uniforms (one with a cover) and one set of Army fatigues. One cloth wall hanging pinned with many souvenir (travel) medals in the style of military decorations.

Series 3: Awards and Achievements (1967-2007)

Many plaques and framed certificates of recognition for Helen’s work as a nurse, as an advocate for veteran’s affairs–including her support and leadership in making the Vietnam Women’s Memorial become a reality. Honorary memberships in the “Wolfhounds,” the 27th Infantry Regiment in Vietnam, and a Boy Scout with whom she hiked 20 miles in 1968.

Series 4: Photographs and Slides (1966-2007)

Many loose photographs and slides, taken by Vartigian and others, covering a wide range of subjects, including those taken at Cu Chi, Vietnam, and on travel in Europe.

Series 5: Artwork (1970-2007)

Original artwork from friends and prints of artwork related to Army Nurse Corps and military.

Series 6: Vietnam Women’s Memorial Memorabilia and Veteran’s Affairs (1993-2007)

Contains a photo album documenting Vietnam Women’s Memorial Dedication in 1993, newspaper articles regarding her involvement in veteran’s affairs and healing wounds of war a Women’s Memorial 1998 Special Edition Calendar honoring women in military service, and a publication of The Nine Times, a self-published newsletter of the Capital District Nurses Association [now known as the Northeast New York Professional Nurses Organization (NNYPNO)] containing information about Vietnam, the 12th Evacuation Hospital at Cu Chi, and poems and stories.

Series 7: Papers and Correspondence (1967-2007)

Contains various papers, including poems and stories written by Vartigian, correspondence from officials in the United States Army, and correspondence from friends congratulating Helen on her recognition by the Foundation of New York State Nurses.

Box and Folder List

Series 1: Scrapbooks, Photo Albums, and Autograph Book (1966-1993)

Box 1

Scrapbook, 1996

Photo Album, 1966-1967

Photo Album/Scrapbook, 1968

Scrapbook, 1968-1970

Autograph book, c. 1966-1970

Loose Photo Album Pages, 1980

Series 2: Textiles (1967-1974) (hanging)

Army Fatigues, 1967

Dress Uniform, 1968

Dress Uniform, 1970

Dress Uniform, 1972

Dress Uniform, 1973

Dress Uniform with cover, 1974

Wall Hanging, 19790-1975

Series 3: Awards and Achievements (1967-2007)

Box 2


1.Diploma, US. Army Medical Field Service School, 1966

2.Wolfhound Recognition Parchment, 1967; Wolfhound Plaque, 1967

3. SHAPE Medical Center Certificate of Recognition, 1970; Diploma, Master of Science, Russell Sage Colleges, 1974

Series 4: Photographs and Slides (1966-2007)

Box 3

Personal Slides

  •     Military, 1966-1968
  •     Vacations, 1966-1968
  •      Entertainment, 1966-1968
  •      Nursing, 19709-1974

Souvenir (Commercial) Slides

  •    Copenhagen: “I” and “Grundvig’s Church,” c. 1970-1972
  •    Denmark: “Royal Castles of Sealand,” c. 1970-1972
  •    Tokyo: “Modern Tokyo,” c. 1970-1972
  •    The Vatican, c. 1970-1972
  •    Rome, c. 19709-1972

Series 5: Artwork (1970-2007)

Oversize Box 1

“Bellybutton Warmer,” c. 1970

Framed Clara Maas Tribute, First Day of postage stamp issue 1976

James Davis Nelson framed print, “12th Evac Hospital, Cu Chi, RNV, 1966-1970,” c. 1980

Original cartoon/artwork by Vince, c. 1986

Luis P. Carranza print, “When I have Your Wounded,” 114/1000 and 117/1000, 1989

Framed reprint, World War II poster, “The Touch of a Woman’s Hand,” c. 1990

Framed poster, “Not All Women Wore Love Beads in the Sixties,” 2003

Mounted poster, “Not All Women Wore Love Beads in the Sixties,” 2003


Series 6: Vietnam Women’s Memorial Memorabilia and Veteran’s Affairs (1993-2007)

Box 4

Photo album, 1993

  1. Times Union, B1 and B8, “Vietnam Nurse Opens Door to Hidden Pain,” 1996
  2. The Communicator, pp. 13 and 15, “Nurse’s Wartime Photograph Featured in 1998 National Women’s Calendar,” 1998
  3. Women’s Memorial Special Edition Calendar, 1998
  4. Daily Gazette, p. B1, “Forum Participants Recollect Traumatic Vietnam War Experiences,” 1999
  5. Times Union, pp. B1 and B4, “Vietnam Survivors Forge Bonds: Sage College Course Allows Healing Through Sharing,” 1999
  6. Troy Record, pp. A1 and A6, “Wounds Unwound,” 2003
  7. Troy Record Supplement, The Wall That Heals, p. S6, “Local Woman to Salute Vets’ Courageous Achievements,” 2003
  8. Altamont Enterprise, 1 and 20, “They Also Served: Nurses in ‘Nam,” 2005
  9. Troy Record, p. 4, “Sage Nurses Honored on a ‘Wall of Fame’,” 2007

Series 7: Papers and Correspondence (1967-2007)

  1. Correspondence, 1967
  2. Correspondence, 1974
  3. Correspondence, 2007





[1] Eric Adams. “January Constituent of the Month: Helen Vartigian.” Eric Adams’s Blog. January 7, 2013. (accessed February 26, 2014).

Index code: MC77

Finding Guide: