Embrace a Veteran: Retired Army nurse continues to donate her time

Embrace a Veteran: Retired Army nurse continues to donate her time

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - After 20 years and stints serving as a nurse in Vietnam and Desert Storm, a retired Army lieutenant colonel's service is hardly over.

"The first scud that went over, a piece of it landed in our compound," said veteran Amy Johnston.

She's talking about some frightening memories from her time in Iraq. There were happier moments captured in pictures between the battles in Vietnam and the Middle East.

Johnston has dozens of pictures and dozens of stories, most of which focus on giving soldiers a second chance.

"(I) always wanted to be a nurse, then I wanted to be an Army nurse," she said. "You know what they say - have an adventure and travel the world. Well I did."

That adventure started with Vietnam.

"We took over what was supposed to be an Air Force barracks and they turned that into the hospital," Johnston said.

The patches she wore are still protected in plastic and serve as a reminder of the lives she saved and those she couldn't.

"It affects you very greatly, actually, because it's a sad thing," Johnston said. "We lost a lot of young men there. We didn't get to know them but we still knew what they could have been or would have been and it was hard. I mean, we had each other to talk to - the nurses had each other to talk to - but you know when we came home nobody wanted to hear about that. So it's not like today, where there's all kinds of help ready for you, but it was hard. It's something we either talked about it briefly or didn't talk about it all."

After a brief break to get her bachelor's degree in nursing, Johnston also got married and raised a son, Robert. She knew she had more to give, so she re-enlisted and was deployed to Iraq for Desert Storm in 1990. She was there for roughly eight months.

Johnston knew no boundaries when it came to saving lives. Most of the people she saw were Iraqis who had surrendered.

"No, no. It's helping a human being," she said. "It didn't matter, it didn't matter."

She kept people alive, and gave away her knowledge.

"That's what I enjoyed doing was mentoring the young nurses when they came in ... and I still hear every now and then from some of them who are now like lieutenant colonels."

Johnston's continued desire to serve brought her to the Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center in Little River, where she's volunteered three days a week since 2009.

"I love my veterans and it's a good feeling, a really good feeling, and we get a lot of them coming back and saying, 'Thanks for helping me get back on my feet' and things like that," she said.

It was an anonymous volunteer at the resource center who reached out to WMBF to nominate Johnston. Her response sums up perfectly her strong yet compassionate demeanor.

"I gotta find them and give them a big hug and a big punch in the stomach," she said. "I should be nominating them because they are out here too with me."

Volunteers at the center gave out nearly $70,000 in aid to veterans last year. So far in 2018, $7,000 has been distributed.

WMBF News and Embrace Hospice want to hear from you. If you know a veteran we can feature, nominate them here.

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