SHELDON, Iowa | Kathleen Osterman's parents, Jim and Marye McKenna, of Storm Lake, Iowa, were World War II veterans. Jim McKenna, of the U.S. Marine Corps, flew reconnaissance missions for the U.S. Navy at Guam; Marye was a U.S. Army nurse in San Francisco.
The couple farmed and raised eight children at Storm Lake and sent them all to St. Mary's High School in town.
Kathleen, the third child in the family, was at St. Joseph's School of Nursing in Sioux City when her parents' financial situation wobbled briefly, due to an agricultural calamity at the time.
"I enlisted in 1968 and, in 1969, the Army paid for my final year of education," Osterman said, alluding to her motivation. "I graduated and then owed the Army two years."
Osterman, then known as Kathleen McKenna, went through basic training in San Antonio, Texas. She then trained as an operating room nurse in Denver, Colorado, for 16 weeks. Following a short stint in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, where she had to parachute from a plane before graduating, Osterman found herself flying to Vietnam, for a one-year tour of duty as an operating room nurse serving at Da Nang.
"It was a hot spot as the Navy was there," she remembered. "We had incoming rockets. I remember going into bunkers to wait it out."
Osterman stepped off the plane, dropped her gear and went to work. She assisted with an amputation on her first day.
"In all my training, I'd never seen an amputation done before," she said. "That was my first case in Vietnam."
The soldier survived, thanks in large part to the quick and dedicated duty of those serving him, all the way from the field to post-op.
"The enlisted ranks, the ranks of doctors and nurses, it was so incredible working with all of them," Osterman said.
The assortment of instruments, for example, to treat a soldier in surgery would cover what's called a Mayor tray at the hospital at Da Nang. The tray, according to Osterman, was about the size of a cookie sheet.
"You'd have the instruments on that tray that you needed to take the bullet from a soldier's head," she said. "We used to say that 'in the world' (which meant, civilian world), you'd have a huge assortment of tools."
Osterman and her fellow operating room nurses often worked seven days per week, 12 hours straight each day, early on in her tour of duty. And while the work pace slowed a bit in 1971, she wouldn't trade the frenetic pace for all the education in the world.
"I knew I'd learn more in that time than in years of practice in a civilian setting," she said.
Communication with her parents was sparse at the time. Osterman spoke with her mom and dad just once during her overseas service. The phone call took place when Osterman was on a break in Hong Kong in May 1971, eight months after she had landed in Vietnam.
"Mom used to write a couple of times per month," she said. "My dad wrote three or four times while I was in Vietnam. I also wrote letters home to them."
A brother, Michael McKenna, served in the Iowa Army National Guard at the time. He wasn't overseas, though.
"Our family was for the military," she continued, noting how she didn't have much of an idea U.S. public opinion was largely divided on the Vietnam War. Osterman said she was there to put her skills and training to work, to do what she could to save soldiers' lives and help them heal from their wounds.
"I was never scared while I was there," she said. "And when it came time for me to leave, I was sad, even though I had counted the days and crossed off each day in a calendar in my room."
Sad to leave? "You make relationships in wartime," she concluded. "You get really close while working with people who share that common cause. We had a great team caring and doing all they could for our soldiers.
"Yes, when my helicopter took off, I was sad," she said.
Osterman, though, had no desire to return. And, to this point, she hasn't revisited Vietnam.
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Kathleen Osterman does a plank in a studio at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon, Iowa. Osterman, a Vietnam War veteran who served as an operating room nurse in Da Nang, teaches yoga classes in Sheldon and Sibley, Iowa, where she resides. The Storm Lake, Iowa, native served 23½ years with the U.S. Army and Army Reserves.
Veteran Lois Wright walks her dogs, Rocco and Leah, in front of her rural Moville home in late October. Wright served in the U.S. Navy in information technology and is currently commander of the Wink-Sparks American Legion Post No. 303 in Moville, Iowa.
Veteran Lee Ann R. (Parker) Muilenburg works as a certified nursing assistant in the intensive care unit of Mercy Medical Center-Sioux Cit. Muilenburg enlisted in the army in 1981 when she was 17-years-old.
Veteran Angela Miller is shown at the USD Barnes & Noble bookstore that she manages on the campus of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. Miller served in the U.S. Army and comes from a military family, noting how she's an "Army brat, Army soldier, Army wife and Army mom."
Veteran Roberta Pendleton, 99, leans on her walker while sitting for a photo in her Sioux City apartment. Pendleton, whose maiden name was Stock, served as a Navy WAVE from 1942 to 1945 and left the service as a full lieutenant.
Army veteran Jen Steele rolls a bowling ball down a ramp at Regency Square, where she is employed as director of life enrichment. Steele enlisted at age 17 after seeing news footage of the 9/11 terror attacks and said leadership skills learned in the military made her able to do the job she has at the retirement community.
Army veteran Cynthia Aden handed out American flags along the parade route at a combined VFW and American Legion entry in the University of South Dakota's annual Dakota Days homecoming parade. Aden served in the Army from 1975 to 1978 and is Clay County, South Dakota's, veterans service officer.
Veteran Nadine Ruden clutches a Quilt of Valor in the sewing room of her rural Hinton, Iowa, home. Ruden estimates she's created about 20 quilts, but prizes the Quilt of Valor that a friend had made for her. Ruden served as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve from 2008-2017 and was deployed to Germany for a year treating wounded soldiers.
Mapleton, Iowa Mayor Donna Shaw said her military uniform continue to her pride. A 21-year U.S. Navy veteran, she said all young people should spend at least one hitch in the military because it will teach them discipline, determination and the importance of teamwork.
Vera Varner, 84, co-owns a Pronto gas station in Ida Grove, Iowa. The Air Force veteran worked in the Pentagon in the 1950s as a teletype operator.
Molli Griffin, pictured in her classroom at Kingsley-Pierson High School, where she teaches biology and agriculture, served a one-year tour of duty in Iraq as a member of the Army Reserves. Griffin, who discharged from the Reserves this summer after 15 years of service, is raising a puppy for Partners for Patriots, an organization that provides service dogs for disabled veterans.
Army veteran Ranae Reed plays with Valentine, her 11-year-old German shorthair dog, at her home in Sioux City. Dogs were an important part of her service while deployed in the DMZ in Korea -- both as companions and as unofficial guard dogs. Reed served from 1980 to 1995 as a nuclear, biological and chemical defense specialist.
Navy veteran Marjorie Culligan is shown with her poodle, Allie, during an interview in her Sheldon, Iowa. Culligan, 93, is a Navy veteran of WWII and Korea.
Lynette Kiger left her hometown of Akron in 1975 to join the U.S. Air Force, which provided her with an abundance of opportunities she wouldn't have had otherwise. She returned home in 2014 and joined Akron EMS, a volunteer ambulance service that serves the town of nearly 1,500, and became the group's director in 2016.
U.S. Coast Guard veteran Mary Lou Guthridge, of Moville, Iowa, is shown with her motorcycle on Oct. 4 at Stone State Park in Sioux City. Guthridge is an American Legion chaplain and Legion Rider. She was one of the veterans featured in the "Women in the Military" exhibit that is retired Wednesday in a reception at the Betty Strong Encounter Center in Sioux City.
Veteran Virgina Linneman helps residents play Uno on Friday at Pleasant Acres Care Center in Hull, Iowa. Linneman, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, keeps active in the community though the Sioux County Veterans Affairs Commission and by volunteering at the care facility.
Veteran Brenda Miller at her rural Hinton, Iowa, farm. Miller served in Saudi Arabia when her U.S. Army reserve unit was activated. She is currently the chairwoman of the Plymouth County Veterans Affairs Commission and has served as a poultry superintendent at the Plymouth County Fair.
A runner and a walker of the nature trails that surround her Sergeant Bluff home, Woodbury County Commission of Veteran Affairs executive director Danielle Dempster said her own stint in the U.S. Army was just the beginning of her service to fellow veterans.
Veteran Margaret Jessen talks about her service as a Marine during World War II. Bored living in Homer, Neb., after her high school graduation, Jessen said she enlisted in 1944 because she "wanted the action."
Vicki De Witt, a retired member of the 185th Air Refueling Wing, is shown in her home near Lawton, Iowa on Wednesday. De Witt served in the Army Reserves and Air National Guard during a military career that spanned 31 years.
World War II veteran Claire O'Brien sits in her Sioux City home on Thursday. O'Brien, 95, logged more than 2 years, 6 months of service after enlisting with the U.S. Naval Reserves W.A.V.E.S., which represents Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. After the war, O'Brien returned to college and spent her career as a high school teacher and counselor.
She did, however, return to military service. After her honorable discharge in 1971, Osterman went to work as a nurse at Mercy Medical Center in Denver, Colorado. One year later, she entered the U.S. Army Reserves and stayed another 21 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
Along the way, she earned a master's degree from the University of Notre Dame. She recruited nurses for Mercy Medical Center in Denver, then became a director of nurses at Sheridan Memorial Hospital in Sheridan, Wyoming, where she met her future husband, Bruce Osterman, a banker. The couple wed and had two children, Tim Osterman, now of Remsen, Iowa, and Meghan Owen, of Houston, Texas.
The Ostermans moved to Sibley, Iowa, in 1985. Kathleen Osterman served as the school nurse at Sibley-Ocheyedan for 23 years, a position that allowed her to segue from acute to more of a preventative role on the health-care spectrum.
"I loved being the school nurse," she said.
In 2009, she began teaching yoga at the Osceola Community Hospital in Sibley. She branched out and began teaching the discipline at the Lifelong Learning Center on the campus of Northwest Iowa Community College in 2010. Osterman, who turned 70 on Wednesday, educates anywhere from one person at a time to a dozen or so.
In that sense, her training, lifestyle and careers have come full circle. While sitting on a pair of blocks in her yoga "classroom" at NCC's Lifelong Learning Center, Osterman said, "You know, some military bases began incorporating yoga into exercises in recent years. To my knowledge, they're still doing it."