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'Thanks For Taking A Chance On Me': Vietnam Era Vets Found Love In The ICU

A photo of Doug and Helen Lovern
Doug Lovern

Doug and Helen Lovern met while serving in the Air Force in the early 1970s. They worked night shifts together in the intensive care unit while stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base near Bossier City, Louisiana.  

“When you’re working shifts like evenings and nights, you’re on your own,” Helen said. “Just a nurse and a corpsman and all these horribly sick people. You have to be able to trust each other and really work well together. I think we gelled pretty well in that way.”

That wasn't always the case in the ICU, she recalled. 

"Not all of these girls and guys were someone you wanted to work with or could even trust," she said. "A lot of these guys and girls came out of basic with two weeks training. The nurses had to really train the corspmen in what had to be done. A crash course in reading electrocardiograms is not something you can do really easily."

Doug and Helen connected, both professionally and personally. Long shifts together gave the two plenty of time to chat. Doug had his eye on Helen for a romantic relationship, but knew he had a lot of competition, as hundreds of men on base were vying for the attention of a handful of women.  

“The ratio was probably 500 to 50, 50 being the women,” said Helen. “There was no night you would ever have to think about not dating. There were many nights you’d have to get back quick to go on your second date.” 

And there was another obstacle: Helen was an officer, Doug was enlisted. Outside of the ICU, they weren’t supposed to socialize. 

“Here I am, just a two-stripe corpsman,” Doug said. “I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to get this second lieutenant officer to go out with me.”  

"I didn't date any enlisted people, and I wouldn't have, because I wasn't supposed to," said Helen.

Decades later, Helen still maintains Doug tricked her into a first date. But the trick worked, and that first date led to a first kiss. Their relationship blossomed, yet they were both aware of the need for discretion, travelling out of town whenever they had time off to avoid being seen together near the base.

“We were trying to be very careful not to let anyone know we were dating, but it turned out everybody knew,” Doug said. 

Three months later, he proposed to her. Today, the couple lives in Durham. They look back fondly on their military service, and their not-so-secret romance.

"Thanks for taking a chance on me," he told her. "Thanks for saying yes, not only to the date, but to the marriage thing."

"I certainly am glad that I did what I wasn’t supposed to do," she replied.

This conversation was produced by North Carolina Public Radio WUNC as part of StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative, and made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. 

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