Photos of Peggy Akers as a nurse during the Vietnam War, her blonde hair in ponytails, flash across the screen in her "Warriors for Peace" video profile.
But most of the 42-minute film simply shows the 69-year-old Portland resident talking, angled to the camera. The old photos, the braid in her graying hair, her soft-spoken, yet passionate countenance – they all focus the image of a kind, diligent, then-20-something intensive care unit nurse treating dying and severely wounded soldiers.
"I feel a great responsibility, being a Vietnam veteran, in sharing … what war does to people, what war does to families," she says in the film by Regis Tremblay, a fellow member of Maine Veterans for Peace, which demonstrates, advocates and educates to end war as national policy and stop the arms race, among other goals.
While studying at Columbia University in New York, Akers protested the war before joining the Army Nurse Corps as a junior. The Army paid for two years of her schooling; she thought the war would end soon.
She was on active duty from 1969 to 1972 and worked at Army hospitals in Qui Nhon and Chu Lai, Vietnam, from 1970 to 1971, receiving a Bronze Star along the way.
While many nurses left the profession after serving in the conflict, Akers has continued to work as a nurse ever since. She's now a part-time nurse practitioner at social service agency Preble Street's Teen Center clinic in Portland and come summer, works at the Seeds of Peace youth camp in Otisfield, which brings together young people from regions in conflict to learn how to advocate for peace.
Until recently she also was a part-time nurse practitioner at St. Mary's Health System's B Street Community Center in Lewiston, where many of the patients are immigrants from Africa who have sustained injuries from wars in their former countries.
SERVED from 1969 to 1972 in the U.S. Army; achieved the rank of captain.
BASED at Fitzsimons Army Hospital, Aurora, Colo.; 67th Evacuation Hospital, Qui Nhon, Vietnam; 91st Evacuation Hospital, Chu Lai, Vietnam; Madigan General Hospital, Fort Lewis, Tacoma, Wash.
RECEIVED the Bronze Star.
The former Army captain returned to Southeast Asia in the 1980s to work as a nurse at a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. Inspired to become a nurse practitioner, she moved to California for school and met her husband, Dick, a naval architect.
Richard Clement of Pittston, president of Maine Veterans for Peace, called Akers in an email a "tireless fighter for peace … not someone who comes to her activism after a career is over and has time on her hands – she has lived it at least since her time in Vietnam."
Her daughter, Annie, 31, of Portland, went to peace rallies growing up in the San Francisco area, where Akers first got involved with Veterans for Peace. As a Portland teenager, Annie traveled with her mom to New York City and Washington, D.C., for demonstrations.
They now work together at the Teen Center, where Annie is a social worker.
"It's been ingrained in me since I was a baby that when you see injustice, you do something about it. You don't walk by," said Annie, whose brother, Diego, 26, persuaded Akers to get a Maine veteran license plate to go with the peace stickers on her car.
When Akers spots a veteran at, say, an airport, she introduces herself as a former Vietnam Army nurse.
For her, she said, these moments are about connection, hugs and "the yearning for peace."