Editor's note: This is part of a weekly series published each Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.
WARREN - Cheryl Heide defied everyone she knew when she joined the Army at the height of the Vietnam War.
Heide made a promise to a cousin, Ellwood Sovey, a Navy corpsman who was killed with the Marine unit he was attached to during the battle for the South Vietnamese city of Hue in the Tet Offensive, that she would go wherever he went if something happened to him.
Cheryl Heide of Warren talks in her apartment recently about her service in the U.S. Army.
''I told him if anything happened to him I would follow him,'' Heide said.
And in 1969 that meant Vietnam. Heide, who was only 17 when she joined the Army after graduating high school, met opposition from just about everyone she met.
''They thought I was crazy and that I was crazy to volunteer for Vietnam,'' Heide said.
Tribune Chronicle / Joe Gorman
Cheryl Heide of Warren talks in her apartment recently about her service in the U.S. Army. Heide joined the Army at age 17 and was sent to Vietnam.
That included her mother and father, who both served in World War II and urged her not to join.
''I went anyway,'' she said.
Following basic training, Heide was sent to Vietnam, where she was attached to the clerical staff of the U.S. 4th Army in Saigon with a dismal job. She was among a group of soldiers who handled the private effects of service personnel killed in action so they could be sent home
''It was their private things,'' Heide said. ''It was depressing.''
Heide said she could often tell what kind of person a soldier was by his belongings and what person they could have been had they lived.
''I could tell you their story,'' Heide said. ''I could tell you what he could've turned out to be, things like that.''
Heide and her comrades did what they could to mask their feelings working in such a job.
''We drank pretty heavily,'' Heide said.
She coped, but it was hard, she said.
''You never get used to it,'' she said. ''You never get used to death.''
Heide said there was never a time when she was wanting for work.
''There was plenty to do,'' she said.
Some of the other soldiers at the headquarters looked down on Heide and her coworkers, which made them a tight-knit group, Heide said.
She never thought of asking for another duty because she was too busy with her work.
''I was too busy to think about anything like that,'' Heide said.
After she got out of the Army, Heide said she had trouble getting used to normal life in the real world.
''Vietnam was normal to me,'' Heide said.
Woman in Vietnam were rare and Heide is involved in veterans causes, especially for women. She said it was a proud moment for her when the Vietnam Women's Memorial was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1993.
Although she said she wishes she had a different job in the Army, Heide said she does not regret joining or going to Vietnam.
''I just wanted to do my duty,'' Heide said.