Her mother didn’t even know she was serving in Vietnam.
It was a secret that Air Force Captain Jane Lombardi kept so her mom wouldn’t worry that she was in harm’s way.
Her service was noted in a special way on Saturday night, as brother Joe, along with multiple family members and friends, celebrated the dedication of a room at the Stanislaus Veterans Center on Coffee Road in Modesto in her memory. Along with Joe and Jane, the Lombardi siblings also include sister Mary and brother Tony.
A 1961 graduate of Escalon High School, Jane Lombardi went to Saint Francis Hospital School of Nursing in San Francisco right after high school graduation and graduated as a registered nurse in 1964. From there, she joined the Air Force and decided to go into training to be a flight nurse. She said she wanted to help soldiers in Vietnam and was subsequently assigned to serve with the 57th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron based at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
“It’s kind of amazing,” brother Joe Lombardi said of how the room dedication came about, noting that it was two of his friends from high school – Phil Moyer and Art Rossetti – that got the idea planted.
Moyer serves as the Event Center Coordinator for the Veterans Center and Rossetti has served as Lombardi’s financial advisor for several years. There is a monetary donation involved in having a room dedicated, and Lombardi agreed it was a worthwhile investment for the family to make the donation.
“We also play poker once a month,” Lombardi said, chuckling that he didn’t finance the room dedication with proceeds from his poker night with his friends.
“We invited all the family, many are from right around here, my wife’s family is from Fremont,” Lombardi explained.
A dinner and brief ceremony at the Veterans Center saw the room –which is designated by a special plaque – officially dedicated in Jane Lombardi’s honor.
“She was two years old than me,” Lombardi said of his sister, who passed away in November, 2016.
He said her interest in nursing began way back on the family farm, when she would tend to any sick or injured livestock and then expanded to wild animals as best she could.
“She was so organized and competent,” Lombardi added. “When the war was on, she said ‘This is what I want to do, I went to help the troops and bring them back’.”
That often meant dangerous missions to transport injured servicemen from Vietnam to hospitals elsewhere, working as a flight nurse aboard a C-141 Starlifter aeromedical support aircraft.
It was on one of these missions that Jane’s actions resulted in her receiving military recognition.
Information from the family indicates the mission occurred in late January, 1968, when she was assigned to fly a mission into Da Nang Air Base to evacuate the wounded while the base was under heavy enemy attack.
The Viet Cong had infiltrated the base and the medical evacuation team came under immediate fire.
“In spite of the harassment 38 patients, 26 of whom were unable to walk, were loaded aboard the large jet aircraft and flown to safety and medical care,” noted the commendation for Jane.
For her actions, she received the Bronze Star Medal, one of the first women ever to receive the medal for meritorious achievement, under fire, during a military operation involving conflict with opposing foreign forces.
She flew more than 70 missions in Vietnam, working to evacuate the wounded.
“She wouldn’t say much about that,” Lombardi admitted. “My mother did not know she was in Vietnam.”
His sister also shunned the limelight, failing to show for a scheduled appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show after receiving the medals and commendations for her military service.
“She wouldn’t be here tonight,” he added. “But it’s something that needed to happen.”
After her military service, Jane “lived a very quiet life,” Joe said, working as a charge nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital and married to an Air Force colonel.
Overseeing the ceremonies and accepting the donation on behalf of the Stanislaus Veterans Center was Vicki Patterakis, the Vice-President and Secretary of the Veterans Foundation of Stanislaus County.
Following the ceremony, family and friends in attendance enjoyed dinner and music, celebrating the life and legacy of Jane Lombardi.