Monday, October 28, 2013

October: Our Month For Honoring American Women in Vietnam: Part V

American Red Cross Patch

Although they went by many names (some not appreciated, some hangovers from World War II and Korea and some used derisively by soldiers) the women of The American Red Cross (SRAO) Supplemental Recreational Activities Organization volunteered to serve their brother-soldiers and contribute in their own way to the effort in a war that no one of their generation really understood. Some have settled on the nickname "Donut Dollies" and found comfort in that association.

In the most notable group of civilian women who served in Vietnam there were three outfits:
the American Red Cross (ARC), the United Services Organization (USO), and the Army Special Services.

Most of the early groups of women who went to Vietnam set out to be a part of something they believed to be important-standing behind their nation. In the early days, the volunteers were girls who had been born as the "point" of the Baby Boom- right after WW II and were raised on John Wayne, General George Patton, the Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima and all the fantastic red-white and blue of their country- America. Volunteering to do their bit made sense and was, they believed, in the tradition of those women who volunteered by the thousands during World War II both at home and abroad. They would quickly learn how much the world had changed in those 20 years.

Originally established in 1882 by Clara Barton, the Red Cross provides, to this day, service to civilians and military during times of war or other crises such as natural disasters. 
"The ARC was sent to Vietnam by Congress in 1962 to assist the increasing number of American military in the country. General William Westmoreland, the military commander at the time, requested the service of the ARC workers. He considered them of great importance to the  morale of the men. Of the twelve-hundred women who worked for the ARC in Vietnam throughout the war, 627 were part of the Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) Program, or better known as the Donut Dollies. In addition to the Donut Dollies, there were also women in the ARC who worked in Service to Military Hospitals and Service to Military Installations. In the peak year, 1968, there were 480 ARC staff who assisted an average of 25,550 men each month in the clubs, and 2,300 cases each month in the hospitals."-a
The women who were a part of the ARC (SRAO) volunteered. Most of them were just out of college in their early 20s. All of them had college degrees. None of them had experience in war, and were not provided with any training to protect themselves in the case of an attack. Because there was no front line, per se, in the war in Vietnam, danger was everywhere. More often than not, their billets were situated in camps and compounds vulnerable to attacks. Many stories have been related where the Red Cross housing might be located near a helicopter pad or some other important area- the idea being that the enemy would never attack a structure with red crosses painted on the roof and walls. But they would. The enemy would wait for nightfall and run around madly tossing sappers (percussion bombs) into the open windows of Red Cross quarters knowing full well that any GIs nearby would run to help the women- and then the infiltrators would blow up the helicopters. This was an incident that occurred in An Khe sometime between the summer of 1969 and summer of 1970 as told to us by a volunteer stationed there who dove under her bed when she heard the explosions. The enemy was not there to kill Donut Dollies, he was there to blow up helicopters.

"Donut Dollie" engaging soldiers in the field in a game
intended to take their minds from the war-if
just for a few moments.
Joann Puffer Kotcher's Memoir

More often than not, soldiers in the field especially, would ignore or ridicule the efforts of these women who had risked life and limb- without protective gear like helmets and flak jackets, riding in helicopters, jeeps and troop trucks to reach their destinations. 
One can imagine that trying to balance the silly games and Kool-Aid and snacks with death and destruction was not a simple task- for the soldiers OR the Red Cross volunteers. Their charge, at all times, was to BE CHEERFUL no matter what.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

The young American women who volunteered, whether with a civilian organization, such as the Red Cross or as Army Special Services and USO personnel connected with their brother-soldiers because they were roughly the same age. They might share a cup of coffee in the morning, swap a few laughs and then- whoosh off the boys would go on their helicopters out into the field. Sadly, many would not return. If they survived but were wounded, more often than not,  medevac choppers would carry them off to a hospital in another area or to a US Navy hospital ship offshore. Some times they would come back- but most of the time they would not. These volunteers would never see those guys again. Their buddies often did not see or hear from them again either.

In some instances, Red Cross girls would go to hospitals and MASH units to visit fellows who had been wounded, guys they had shared some stories of home with, guys who'd shown photos of their girlfriends back home only to find the young soldier had lost both of his legs. Or had his face half blown off. Any of a million different kinds of injuries. They could not cry. They could not show emotion. They could not tell the soldier how bad they felt. They had to keep smiling no matter what.
Even a warm cup of Kool-Aid tasted
pretty good!

Most of the Donut Dollies were about the same age as the soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors serving in Vietnam. By 1969, the age of 60% of military in country was 19.  It was up to these young women to keep a game face on. Imagine the pressure to withhold emotions in the midst of a war. A war that was raging all around them. Many of the women returned stateside and never received any therapy.  Just as their brother-soldiers, they pretty much faded back into "the world" as if nothing had ever happened. "After all, it was only a year- how bad could it have been?", their unknowing friends would wonder.

Sometimes a cup of coffee from a "round eye" was
the best thing a soldier could think of.

"Yes and how many seas must a white dove sail, before she sleeps in the sand?"
-Bob Dylan "Blowin' in the Wind

The question was asked "How many (SRAO Red Cross) volunteers died?" The answer is four we will list their names here with deepest sadness and in honor of their contributions and ultimate sacrifices- regardless. May they rest in eternal peace.

Hannah E. Crews, Jeep accident, Bien Hoa October 2, 1969
Lucinda Richter, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Cam Ranh Bay February 9, 1971
Virginia E. (Ginny) Kirsch, murdered by an American soldier, Cu Chi August 16, 1970
Sharon Wesley, April 4, 1975, "Operation Babylift" crash, after her tour with ARC

The American Red Cross Memorial
Washington, DC
November 11, 2013
" In Honor and Memory of the
Men and Women of the American Red Cross
Who Gave Their Lives In Service
to Mankind

In Memoriam
May You Rest In Peace
Thank You

Thank You Women of the American Red Cross (SRAO) Vietnam
(Donut Dollies)

Welcome Home!

1. Attributions: a Weber, Maryann L., "Forgotten Sacrifices: American Civilian Women in the Vietnam War"   (1996) Master's Theses, Paper 1272. San Jose State University.
2. Photos: Have been gleaned from various sites on the internet. Most do not have credits or attributions, kindly contact us if you recognize any of these photos and/if they are yours, we can remove them or, at your request add the credit.  We understand how personal they are. VMWT
3. Comments are welcomed and encouraged. You may comment anonymously if you wish. Comments are monitored and will not be published publicly until reviewed by our administrators. Think twice, post once!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

October: Our Month to Honor American Women in Vietnam Part IV

US Navy Nurse Corps
Honor, Courage, Commitment

It was President Theodore Roosevelt who, on May 13, 1908, signed the Navy Appropriations Bill authorizing the establishment of the US Navy Nurse Corps. Navy nurses served from then on in every major military operation involving the US and in numerous other engagements such as hurricanes, epidemics and other events throughout the globe- serving more often than not from ocean-going hospital ships.

Two of those ships, the USS Repose (AH-16) and the USS Sanctuary (AH-17) were stationed in the South China Sea. Both vessels had been recommissioned after service in WWII and Korea. The Repose was nicknamed "the Angel of the Orient". She sailed in December 1965 with 14 nurses on board and arrived on station in January 1966. By late March, 29 nurses were on board. As many as 200 admissions in a 24 hour period were brought to the ship via helicopter during heavy fighting. 

"The decks were lined with stretchers headed for the operating room. Teamwork and concern for the fellow man kept the adrenaline running. We helped a lot of them- but many saw their last sunset no matter what we did. As I walked back in ICU that evening, I wondered how many more would die before I left. After all, in our 18-bed unit we lost one a day in August. How many more "codes" would we call?"- Barbara Coffin Rogers, USS Repose, September 1967-September 1968 as quoted in RADM Maryanne Gallagher Ibach, USNR "Memories of Navy Nursing: The Vietnam Era." pg2
US Navy Nurse checks casualty
on deck of USS Repose (AH-16)
Vietnam 1967
The USS Sanctuary was the second hospital ship recommissioned for Vietnam service. She arrived on station in April 1967 with 29 nurses assigned and served in this capacity until November 1972.

The Navy took over medical support for the in-country military and civilian personnel from the American Embassy in 1963. The first two Navy Nurse Corps officers reported in February. The hospital compound, called  Duong Duong consisted of a 5-story inpatient building, an emergency and operating facility. Four Navy nurses were awarded the Purple Heart for injuries received during the Viet Cong terrorist bombing of the Brink BOQ on Christmas Eve 1964.

Navy nurse comforting combat
casualty on USS Repose

 The Blood of Heroes 
I cared for each as though my brother. 
No time to cry, must tend to another, and another....   
Time has passed; I still recall
Your courage, your struggle and your fall.
Rest in peace, your war now done;
How brief your life -- as the setting sun.... 
-Helen DeCrane Roth, USS Sanctuary, 1968 as quoted in RADM Maryanne Gallagher Ibach, USNR, "Memories of Navy Nursing: The Vietnam Era." pg 4

US Navy Support Activity, DaNang, South Vietnam
(As reported by RADM Maryanne Gallagher Ibach, USNR) 

The first Navy nurses reported to the station hospital at DaNang in August 1967 which was to become the largest combat casualty treatment facility in the world with 600 beds and admissions of 63,000 patients. The DaNang hospital was turned over to the Army in May 1970.

Outside the Combat Zone, the care-givers continued their work. Once stabilized the most seriously wounded were flown to hospitals in the Far East and at home in the US.

PTSD Is Forever
"I was overseas at Naval Hospital Guam in 1966-1968. My most vivid memories are threefold...caring for the massive numbers of many facing bleak challenge in their future......the hospital corpsmen, getting them ready for Fleet Medical School and then on to Vietnam, with their high morbidity and mortality rates. And the most traumatic of all the long suppressed dread accompanying the duty of my husband, a Marine stationed at DaNang during the Tet offensive and how I would tell our sons if something happened to their father. While you think you have dealt with all those dreadful feelings - mine were triggered again and all came roaring back when we deployed a thousand Navy nurses to the Persian Gulf, the largest number since the second World War. And finally after what seemed forever getting all one thousand safely back home. Each subsequent experience of war can become more devastating and there is a cumulative price that one can pay for the rest of their lives."- Mary Fields Hall, Director, Navy Nurse Corps, 1987-1991, as quoted in RADM Maryanne Gallagher Ibach, USNR, "Memories of Navy Nursing: The Vietnam Era." pg 4.

US Navy Nurse Corps Vietnam Veterans
March in 1993 Dedication of
Vietnam Womens Memorial

Thank You Women of the US Navy Nurse Corps Vietnam
Welcome Home

Monday, October 21, 2013

Honoring American Women Who Served In Vietnam


Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines were all trained prior to deployment to the war zone of Vietnam. Trained to protect themselves with an array of weapons and tactics, gear and support from air and sea- the men in combat were prepared, albeit many were green and had never served in battle. They still had the advantage of training and equipment. A support system of "buddies".

On the other hand, women (especially those who volunteered and/or were civilian employees of the Department of Defensefor example, the many women who staffed libraries and crafts centers and the 600+ volunteers of the American Red Cross (SRAO-Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) who 
"flew in helicopters to landing zones and fire support bases to serve coffee and Kool-Aid, play games, and chat with the soldiers. The "fly in-fly out" visits were the Vietnam equivalent of the World War Two club mobile runs, programs that helped Red Cross achieve its twin goals of serving as many troops as possible in remote areas, and giving preference to combat troops."a
Had no such advantages.

The level of danger to these women was further exacerbated by the fact that, there was no distinguishable "front" in Vietnam.
"Vietnam, however, was not like World War II where there was a defined front. In Vietnam there were no front lines. Non-combatant status* did not automatically bestow a magic shield around each woman protecting her from rockets, mortars, shrapnel, airplane crashes, and all the other dangers inherent in a war zone. However, the military behaved as if that magic shield was firmly in place. Civilian women were not routinely issued protective gear of any kind, or given instructions as to what do to in the event of an attack." b

*Non-Combatant - non`com`bat`ant:
a person who is not engaged in fighting
a war, esp. a civilian, a chaplain, or medical practitioner.
-Google Dictionary

There has been much said and many words written about the sad fact that Vietnam Veteran's received no organized "welcome home" upon their return to "the World". This was something that most veterans of that era still carry with tremendous weight on their hearts. While Americans at home grappled and argued over the reasons, the need, the waste, the killing, the destruction of a land and a people- soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines- returned to a country in denial. A nation that, sadly, lashed out at them when they felt their government had gone completely deaf on the subject. These men served as a reminder of that war. Since the government that sent them refused to honor their return, their service and their sacrifices they were often tormented by their insensitive and unsympathetic peers.

The men who served and returned home-many injured and more sick from Agent Orange-quietly returned to their families. Some were never able to adjust. Many were unable to put into words what they had experienced, what they had seen and heard. How many buddies they had lost or seen maimed. And still, there was a collective denial by their countrymen.

The women who served alongside their brothers, entertaining them, healing them, lifting their spirits and, often, standing at the receiving end of their mind-numbing anger and sadness-returned to a nation completely unaware that they had even been in Vietnam.  There are many stories of women who asked their families not to tell their neighbors and friends where they had been. For the women- there was no hearty camaraderie at the local VFW and, in fact, some men related the same stories. But the women veterans, those who had actually been in the military and not in a civilian capacity were not taken in but, rather, pushed to the Ladies Auxiliary where- more often than not- those were groups composed of the wives of veterans.

In their towns, it was probably more likely that male veterans would eventually come into contact with another soldier, sailor, airman, or marine that had been in "the 'Nam" but far more unlikely that women who served would encounter "one of their own". The problem of isolation became a scar of the war for these unselfish women- most in their 20s- who had volunteered to serve.

"Civilian women, even those who had worked for military organizations, were legally ineligible for government compensation and benefits and technically ineligible for counseling at Vietnam Veteran's centers." from 'Women, the Unknown Soldiers' by M. Carlson.

(more to come...but first up- US NAVY NURSE CORPS beginning 10/25)

*Please share your remembrances or comments in our comments section below. If you would prefer to remain anonymous, you may make your comment and not use your name. Vietnam: My War Too is monitoring the comments and will not post any we find too offensive.  The subject is war and we understand that emotions ride high. Think twice and post once!

Used by permission: From "War Zone Diversions: An Overview of Women Volunteers in Civilian Staffed Recreation Programs in Vietnam"- Ann L. Kelsey, @2004
a Carol A. Hunter, " 'A Touch of Home': Red Cross Recreation Workers in the Vietnam War" (master's thesis, University of New Mexico, 1994), 60-61
b Ibid. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Battle of Ong Thanh- IN MEMORIAM- October 17, 1967

Remembering the Horrible Loss of Life
The Bravery and Courage

"Where have all the flowers gone?"

CAUTION: This video is very emotional.

We must be very careful about sending our loved ones into battle.
We must consider the options seriously.

2/28TH  Battalion-2/28TH Infantry Regiment
1st Infantry Division
"Alpha" "Delta" "HHC"

Monday, October 14, 2013

October: Our Month to Honor American Women in Vietnam Part III


Like every area where women served in the Vietnam War locating numbers and details for the US Army Special Services Program has been a difficult slog. Outside of first-person

remembrances or vague unemotional "factoids", there is little available material. However, there is enough to put together a profile, of sorts, of those who devoted their days to the morale, welfare, and recreation of our troops serving in combat.

Although the program did not kick off in Vietnam until 1966 it began its mission after being transferred from the US Navy. The service has morphed many times since it began, basically, as the military Exchange System which was created by Congress in 1903. The original congressional authorization charged the Army to build, operate, and maintain PXs (Post Exchanges)libraries, schools, recreation centers, and gyms for the troops. The Army Morale Division was established in 1918, The Army Motion Picture Service in 1920, and the Library Service in 1923. The establishment of these organizations led to the creation in 1941 of Special Services.

By 1970 Special Services was reorganized and centralized as the USARV Special Services Agency (Provisional). Approximately 99 civilians managed and supervised 31 craft and photography laboratories, 6 entertainment offices, 23 service clubs, and 30 libraries in VietnamBetween 1966 and 1972 and estimated 300-600 civilians, about 75% of them women, served in Vietnam as employees of the Special Services. a

"Special Services was directly under the Army, that is, the military attached to it were Army and the civilians were direct Department of Defense employees. It has several divisions related to morale and recreation and operated world-wide, including on Army bases in the States. The divisions were service clubs, libraries, arts and crafts, entertainment, sports, and movies. In VietnamSpecial Services also administered the Rest and Recreation program." -from Many Women Served

The memoirs of Dr. Sandra Lockney Davis
who served in Special Services in Korea in 1964 and the Republic of South Vietnam in 1967.

US Army Services Recruitment Film- Where The Action Is
Vietnam 1970

Although the available information would indicate that the women (and men) who served in 
Special Services had a safe, carefree time of it- nothing could be further from the truth. 

Thank You Women of the US Army Special Services Vietnam
Welcome Home

a Used by permission from; "Civilian Women in Vietnam: Army Special Services"- Ann Kelsey, DAC, USARV Special Services Library Branch, 1969-1970

Sunday, October 13, 2013

October: Our Month to Honor the Women Who Served (cont)

We still have plenty to up: US Army Special Services (recreational division); US Navy Nurses- (the Navy is celebrating their  238th Anniversary in service to our nation), the American Red Cross (Donut Dollies), and many other areas where women served in Vietnam. Meanwhile, we will continue to add to what we have already covered as there is simply no easy way to gather information with so many disparate groups and individuals having set up their own websites, pages, reunions, groups, etc.

We celebrate and honor all American women in Vietnam who risked their lives and comfort in service to their country.  Thank you! 

Meanwhile: we have a very active Facebook page you may wish to visit-Our Facebook Page: Vietnam: My War Too (click here)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Nurses in the Vietnam War (VIDEO)

A Touching Musical Tribute to The Nurses
who Served in the Vietnam War

Thank you and
Welcome Home!

Medical Units in The Vietnam War (link)

The above link will take you to one of the most well-researched, comprehensive and complete sites covering military and civilian nurses of the allied nations that served in the Vietnam war.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

October: Our Month to Honor American Women In Vietnam: Part II


The DoD (Department of Defense) reported there were approximately 7,500 women on active duty in Vietnam between 1962 - 1973 but the VA (Veteran's Administration) places that figure much higher, at around 11,000.

The  US Air Force Nurse Corps emerged from the Army Nurse Corps after World War II in July 1949. Its mission remains: "to provide medical support necessary to maintain the highest degree of combat readiness and effectiveness of the USAF."

It was in 1966 that the first contingent of female USAF Nurses was assigned to duty in Vietnam; they were drawn from the nurse corps at Clark Air Force Base in the Phillipines following significant casualties after a ferocious battle in Pleiku. Sixteen nurses were first deployed to the USAF Base at Cam Ranh Bay in the new 12th USAF Hospital and the casualty staging unit. By 1967, female flight nurses were assigned to in-country aerovac operations. Concurrently, USAF Nurses were being trained back in the US in aerospace R and D. 
"Wounded men in an alien world thousands of miles from home were astonished and reassured at the sight of an American woman so close to the battlefield sharing this grotesque experience." *

In Memoriam
Captain Mary Therese Klinker

Captain Klinker, a flight nurse with the 10th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Travis AFB, temporarily assigned to Clark Air Base in the Phillipines, was on the C-5A Galaxy which crashed on April 4, 1975, outside Saigon while evacuating Vietnamese orphans. This flight is known as the Operation Babylift crash. From Lafayette, IN, she was a month short of her 26th birthday. Captain Klinker was posthumously awarded the Airman's Medal of Heroism and the Meritorious Service Medal. She was the last military nurse to die in Vietnam. Along with Klinker there was a total of 152 fatalities. Post-crash investigations led to the conclusion that the aircraft had not been properly maintained.

Thank You Women of the US Air Force Nurse Corps Vietnam
Welcome Home

*Jeanne M Holm, Maj.Gen. USAF (Ret.) and Sarah P. Wells, Gen. USAF NC (Ret.)

Thursday, October 03, 2013

October: Our Month to Honor American Women in Vietnam

It was in 1901 that the US Congress formally established the US Army Nurse Corps. Prior to this time, a federally established civilian commission the US Sanitary Commission handled most of the medical and nursing care of Union armies together with necessary acquisition and transportation of medical goods. A famous figure, Clara Barton, whose Civil War activities earned her the name "American Nightengale" was attached to the Commission. In 1882 she helped found and served as the first president of the International Red Cross. Civilian nurses were contracted by the Army during the 1898 Spanish-American War.

All of the women who served in the US Army Nurse Corps in Vietnam were volunteers. They were, more often than not, put in locations of high danger. In theater, they performed surgeries and treated soldiers for drug addictions. Prior to deploying, they were given little or no training to deal with the kind of carnage they would see.  Women who had been in the military for awhile, quickly learned that the VA (Veterans Administration) had a history of ignoring women. They were virtually ignored upon their return to the US and unrecognized by Veterans groups, being denied membership or sent to join ladies auxiliaries. 

An Army Nurse Vietnam Veteran Shares Her Experiences

Prayer of an Army Nurse

Hear my prayer in silence before Thee I ask for
courage each day.
Grant that I may be worthy of the sacred pledge of
my profession
And the lives entrusted to my care.
Help me to offer hope and cheer in the hearts of men
and my country,
For their faith inspires me to give the world and nursing
my best.
Instill in me the understanding and compassion of those
who led the way,
For I am thankful to You for giving me this life to live.

-Major US Army (Ret.) Mildred I. Clark, RN

Thank You Women of the US Army Nurse Corps Vietnam

Welcome Home

*We begin our memorial of the many women who served in the Vietnam War with USArmy Nurse Corps