Powerful on many levels, "Vietnam Nurses" (9 p.m., WE) may be too graphic and wrenching for some viewers.
Dana Delany, who came to prominence portraying nurse Colleen McMurphy on "China Beach," provides the narration to this hourlong documentary. The 1988 pilot movie to "China Beach" (7 p.m., WE) airs right before this special.
"Nurses" includes first-person recollections, period footage and personal snapshots. The women, now in their late 50s and early 60s, share stories of their different paths to the war zone. Many joined the military to help pay for their nursing studies. None expected to go to Vietnam or serve in a forward combat area. All of them were idealistic and patriotic.
Diane Carlson Evans describes her emotionally reticent Minnesotan father hugging her and saying, "I have three sons, and I'm sending my daughter off to war."
Massachusetts native Maureen Adducci remembers her first day in Vietnam, arriving at the field hospital just ahead of helicopters carrying mutilated men. She would be on her feet in a bloody, chaotic operating room for her first 24 hours in the country.
All of the women describe the steady onslaught of wounded; they recall separating the treatable from those certain to die, comforting the wounded and hearing soldiers' last words. They recall the difficult necessity of keeping their emotions in check and of their strange position of being some of the very few American women in a war zone.
The women mix painful recollections with small details. Adducci recalls the smell of her first day and the song playing on the radio ("Bridge Over Troubled Waters") on the day she left Vietnam.
The women also describe their long, difficult transition back to civilian life. Like many combat veterans of the era, they were sent home without much orientation or debriefing and expected to adjust to civilian life by themselves.
For several of the women, the transition would take decades. The stoic Evans intimates that she left her devout Lutheran faith on the operating-room floor. She also intimates that despite a steely facade and a devoted husband and children, suicide was often in her thoughts. She would go on to organize efforts to help raise awareness of the role of nurses in Vietnam. In 1993, the Vietnam Women's Memorial was dedicated.
¢ Exiled by the imperious Flower, Tosca lingers on the outskirts of the Meerkat circle. Her only hope is to join forces with a rogue male on "Meerkat Manor" (7 p.m., Animal Planet).
Tonight's other highlights
¢ The Chicago Bears take on the San Diego Chargers in NFL preseason action (7 p.m., CBS).
¢ Danny and Mike become calendar heartthrobs on "Las Vegas" (8 p.m., NBC).
¢ Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst star in the 2002 comic-book adaptation "Spider-Man" (7 p.m., Fox).
¢ Professor Kern falls under scrutiny on "Kyle XY" (8 p.m., ABC).
¢ A victim's bulging bank account seems fishy on "Law & Order" (9 p.m., NBC).