Wednesday July 17, 2013 * Sandra Martin interviews Diane Corcoran

Published on website Thursday, June 8, 2023

Diane Corcoran 


Diane passed over to the great beyond on March 5, 2023 in Durham, NC surrounded by friends. I know she was greeted with open arms.

For a few days I’ve been going through IANDS files from when I volunteered at IANDS in Durham, a few days a week back in the early 2002-2003 etc.–focusing mostly for the NDE experiencers interviewers for media outlets. PR in other words. I came across this original interview that I’d done and thought I’d share it.

We had great success and almost every week I booked Experiencers as well as the President of IANDS Diane, on television, radio, podcasts, documentaries, etc. I needed a basic interview for media to show them what a compelling and fascinating story Diane Corcoran had lived. I wanted to show her determination, her devotion, her extraordinary history in the military in her words, so we set a date and I interviewed her on Wednesday July 17, 2013

This was the interview:

Diane Corcoran, R.N., Ph.D. is President and Chair of the Education and Research Committees of the International Association for Near Death Studies based in Durham, North Carolina. She is a retired Army Colonel, a veteran of Vietnam and Desert Storm and after retiring she established the Colonel Corcoran Military Fund.

How did you decide to become a nurse and then join the Army?

My mother was a nurse and she’d take me to work with her when I was young.  I just always knew that I was going to be a nurse. It was a given.

I joined the Army when I was a senior in nursing school. I thought it would be a good thing; join the army, see the world for a couple of years, and they paid a small part of my schooling.  Boy was I naive.

When I was in basic training in San Antonio, Texas, and there were 300 of us, all nurses, we were told that most of you will never go to Vietnam because there were many volunteers.  My first assignment was at Letterman Army base in San Francisco.  A beautiful city, exciting place to be and right in the middle of hippy days, bell bottoms and free love.

My first job at the hospital was with returning Vietnam patients. I loved my nursing work with all the returnees from Vietnam. It was fascinating.

Six months later my roommate volunteered to go to Europe because she definitely did not want to go to Vietnam.  I went with her to get her orders and while she was signing, I casually asked, “Do you know where I am going?” and he said casually replied, “You’re going to Vietnam August 17th.”  I was totally shocked; I thought we select few nurses were safe from Vietnam.

What was your experience in Vietnam?

On August 17th here I am on this big troop plane, the only female with over 400 men and it was awful. We arrived in Saigon and all these young soldiers were lining up on the tarmac for their particular troop. And there I was sitting in the middle of all these boys, all by myself perched on a trunk. I’ll never forget it; I kept asking myself, how on earth did I get here?

Eventually someone from the hospital came and got me. The hospital was right out of a movie, a long wire with a bare bulb hanging and terrible bunk beds for the wounded, and bombs going off everywhere. I didn’t know if we were being bombed or we were doing the bombing.

And after a couple of days, I got into the rhythm of the hospital, of Vietnam and of war.  I worked in neural surgery headquarters and it was a fabulous job. In the States I’d never have seen these kinds of injuries, nor been part of the organization and power to do the things I got to do. It was an incredible experience; the efficiency and quality of the work were the best.  I made a lot of professional relationships that I still have to this day.  That kind of nursing experience was like nothing you could get anywhere else – ever.

Then I was moved to pre-op and recovery where soldiers were brought in right from the field for triage-to sort them from the ones who were going to die and the ones we could help. It was serious work and none of us took it lightly.

How was this affecting you?

My brother was a pilot in the Air Force and every day when we got in the wounded, I’d think what would I do if he ever came in?  He was stationed in Thailand and was the pilot of a refueling plane. He was flying all over Vietnam air space-weren’t supposed to/were never there but the Air Force was there all the time.

Overall Vietnam was a fabulous clinical experience. I’ve never regretted going even though I was very young, it was worth it for me. I still have friends from those days.

When did you hear your first near death story?

It was the middle of the night and I was checking on patients in the recovery room.  A young soldier who’d had his arm amputated was looking agitated, excited and somehow, I knew he needed to talk. I went over to him and he looked at me intently and said: “I really want to tell you something but you have to promise that you’ll believe me.”

And it was my first experience with a near death experiencer.

In 1969 no one had written about the near-death experience.  No one knew what it was. And I didn’t either. But I knew enough about being a nurse and supporting patients plus I could see in his eyes that this was so important to him. I said, “Tell me.”  And he did.  I just supported him.  I told him “I understand that this really happened to you; I can see that this was an exceptional experience for you.”  And he seemed satisfied with that.

I wish I’d kept his name because I’d like to find him and see how he is and also to tell him about my journey. I feel that so many young men right now, today, coming from back from Iraq and Afghanistan had or are now having these experiences.

I do hope that there are nurses there to listen to them, but I know from experience that most are treated as bi-polar disorders and given drugs.

So, what did you do then?

After I’d heard from a few soldiers, about what came to be called, near death experiences and I was back in the States I started to give talks to other nurses in the military. At Military Medical Conferences, Nurses Conferences-I’d speak anywhere I could. I was driven, it seemed.

I’m not sure how I got away with it. I was totally focused on helping these young men. I believed that it was an actual experience and not drug induced or a hallucination or a dream.  I didn’t care what people thought. I was on a mission. I found out about Raymond Moody (he received his PhD from UVA in Philosophy and wrote a ground breaking book, Life After Life) and Dr. Kenneth Ring’s near-death research at the University of Connecticut and I knew I had to do something – so I did.

Have you had a near death experience?Lots of people have asked me over the years if I was a NDEr and I say, “Not that I know of, not that I remember, but when I was 4, I almost bled to death when I had my tonsils out.  Maybe I did. If so, I don’t remember it.”

How was your military career after you were back in the States?

And I kept talking, writing and lecturing and the higher my rank the more I talked. When I walked by the senior officers would say “there goes Diane – she just keeps talking and talking about death and dying.” But no one stopped me. I was just a Captain when I started to lecture on near death in the military and no one ever said stop.

In 2009 an Army nurse friend attended the IANDS conference in Durham for continuing education credit. I’d told her about near death experiences for years but she didn’t seem to hear me. It happens to a lot of people. After the conference she came up to me in tears and said “Diane, I am so sorry. I know you’ve tried to talk to me over the years and I didn’t get it. I realize now I would’ve had an entirely different experience when my dad died but I just didn’t know what was happening. I am so sorry I didn’t get it.”

She was a changed person. That is what can happen in our conferences when people listen to person after person talk about their near-death experience.

Your is changed but what about other doctors and nurses?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many knowledgeable or qualified nurses or doctors who understand. Even my friends who know and trust me have had problems understanding what happens in the near-death experience.

What is needed is a high-ranking champion from the military. First, we’d like to have a survey to find out how many soldiers have had a near death experience.  Second, we’d like the ability to teach in veteran’s hospitals about near death and what the signs are and how to help with an experiencer. As well we’d like to develop a separate IANDS organization for military personnel and their dependents that’ve had near death experiences.  We’d need a “safe place” for experiencers to tell their experiences without fear of losing their benefits or causing harm to their military careers.

Have you talked with other career military officers about this?

 Back a few years ago, a military officer I knew, a Commander (based in Germany) called me because he’d read an article I’d written for a military newspaper. He’d had a near death experience himself and had never understood it until reading the article. He was in a dilemma.  He was trying to train these young soldiers and when necessary, reprimand and punish them the Army way. Instead, now after his near-death experience, he says he wants to put his arm around their shoulder and say, its okay we’ll work it out together.

I told him that just isn’t going to work in the Army. Maybe if you were in a different situation, you might have more control, but definitely not in your chosen profession!

Why is it so difficult for men?

Men have a much harder time dealing with the aftereffects of the near-death experience. They are stressors because, as men, they are generally not taught to be affectionate, demonstrative and freely loving-especially to other men! To experience altruism and compassion to such a strong degree is a strange experience for most men, especially in the military.

What’s next?

In May (2013) a film was produced that provides an introduction to the near-death experience for nurses and doctors. We are working towards getting it in front of all the nursing schools and military hospitals.

Sandra Martin