There is no need to talk here about how dangerous a place Vietnam was during the long war there. Every one of us who did time there knew that we were no longer in “The World” we had known and grown up in and that we were going to be in that hell for at least a year if nothing untoward happened to us. We lived in survival mode for most of that time as we moved and had our being in the presence of death 24/7/365.
Most of us were volunteers, but about 25 percent were drafted. We were from all of the five Armed Services—yes, including the Coast Guard. Over 2.5 million out of some nine million servicemembers on active duty during the Vietnam era served in Vietnam.
There were no “front lines” anywhere in Vietnam. Those who were in combat units met the enemy on the field of battle, but those who were in supply, maintenance, hospitals, and other non-combat MOSs were often just as vulnerable to enemy artillery, mortar attacks, and assaults by enemy sapper units. The whole country, every square inch of it, was a dangerous place to be.
But there was a small group of young women who were not military who volunteered to go to Vietnam just to help keep up the morale of the men fighting there. They were all college graduates, and they had to offer a full year of service in Vietnam as American Red Cross Recreational Supplementary Workers, otherwise known as “Donut Dollies.”
Donut Dollies were civilians; they did not have to be there. Indeed, it would not have been unreasonable to think that they were a bit crazy to do that, but there were over 600 of these brave and dedicated young women who “did their time” in hell just for the sake of those of us who were there on orders. The videos that are included here will introduce you to who they were and what they did for the troops in Vietnam.
The Donut Dollies were usually around 21 years old, so they were our contemporaries in age. They came from towns and cities just like our own. They were civilians working for the Red Cross. They wore distinctive powder blue uniforms and they traveled to wherever the troops were by truck, chopper, tank, boat, or jeep—whatever was needed to get them out to some of the more remote outposts.
The Donut Dollies had a mission: a simple but very important mission. It was to, even for a few moments of precious time, bring a little of home, a bit of cheer, a listening ear to the troops that they would visit. Their visits were brief, usually only for an hour or two, but they did bring a few moments of “back in ‘The World’” feelings to those men in the units they visited.
Donut Dollies were never supposed to be in harm’s way. But in Vietnam, everywhere was in harm’s way. They did not escape the surprise artillery or mortar attacks that could hit anywhere at any time. Three of these dedicated and brave young women were killed in Vietnam, and yet young women still volunteered to be Donut Dollies throughout the war.
Because of where I was stationed and because of what I did with my Recon unit, I don’t remember seeing any of the Donut Dollies while I was in Vietnam in 1968. But many Vietnam veterans have fond memories of seeing Donut Dollies while on their tours in Vietnam.
At least one Veterans group has seen fit to honor these young women with an honorary lifetime membership. You will see that the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), particularly VVA Chapter 649, has done so with the approval of the national organization. These young women deserve such an honor, as they were there in the thick of it with us, albeit in a profoundly unique way. They saw and experienced much of what we did.
The Veterans Site would like to add its respect, honor, and thanks to all the women who chose to serve in Vietnam as Donut Dollies. Your presence was appreciated more than can be expressed. Thank you for your heroic service to those of us who fought the good fight in Vietnam.