“In The Shadow Of The Blade” – Saving “Baby Kathleen”

The 2004 documentary In The Shadow Of The Blade follows the journey of a restored Vietnam War UH-1H Huey across the United States to document the stories of Vietnam veterans and their families. These stories provide an extraordinary opportunity for understanding and healing, which for decades, alluded those who served in Vietnam.

Among the stories told in the film, one stands out as a lesson in hope, persistence, and “doing the right thing.” It’s the story of “Baby Kathleen,” the South Vietnamese infant who survived against all odds. Without the servicemen who found her in the arms of her dead mother, the helicopter pilot, and servicemen who flew her to a field hospital, and without the doctors and nurses who tended her wounds, Baby Kathleen would be yet another civilian casualty of the Vietnam War.

Georgia’s own Donna Rowe tells the story of “Baby Kathleen” in the documentary. Donna served as the triage nurse captain at the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon during 1968-69. One day, a helicopter radioed they had a severely wounded infant on board. As there were other hospitals in Saigon and the triage room was overflowing with wounded, Vietnamese civilians were last on the triage list. Despite protocol, Donna made a decision to take in the wounded baby girl.

Not sure the infant would survive, she buttonholed a Catholic priest on the way to surgery, demanding he baptize the baby. Making do with water from a spigot, and with Donna, and the two men on the gurney’s sides as witnesses and God-parents, the priest baptized the girl, Kathleen Fields. Donna chose the name Kathleen from a song her father used to sing to her, and Fields for the name of the 3rd Field Hospital.

Baby Kathleen survived her wounds and stayed at the 3rd Field Hospital – again against the rules – until an American soldier wanting to adopt Kathleen cut through the red tape and bureaucracy to do so. “Kathleen” made her way to the United States to live with her adopted family.

Thirty-three years later, Donna told “Kathleen’s” story to a reporter whose article led to finding “Kathleen” in California, Donna met “Kathleen,” her adoptive parents, and her children. They remain friends today.

Sid Orr tells the story of a man walking along a beach where thousands upon thousands of starfish had washed ashore. He sees another man picking up a starfish and throwing it back into the sea. The man continues, one-by-one throwing starfish back. The man walking along the beach asks the other, “what possible difference can you make. Look at all these starfish.”

The other man picked up a starfish and tossed it back into the ocean and said, “Made a difference to that one.”

Among the wounded and dying of the Vietnam War, Donna Rowe and her colleagues made a difference to “Kathleen.”



Huey picture courtesy David Whitworth

Terry Garlock – “The Story of baby Kathleen,” The Citizen -November 19, 2015

Laura Raines – “Memories of an Army nurse,” Atlanta Journal Constitution – June 11, 2011