In our seventeenth edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Linda Meinders Webb tells how her experience with the Peace Corps and her interest about America’s involvement in Vietnam led her to become a Donut Dollie, about the dangers men and women faced while there, and seeing the soldier’s faces light up when they visited with them.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Linda Meinders Webb…
I had been in the Peace Corps in India and wanted to go overseas again. I applied for the Teachers Corps and was accepted to the University of Wisconsin, but went to the St. Louis Chapter of the Red Cross and thought it would be exciting to go to Vietnam. I wanted to find out more about America’s involvement in Vietnam.
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I went to Washington, DC for training the day Nixon was inaugurated in January, 1969 and then to Danang, Cam Ranh Air (TTY), Cam Ranh Army, and then Pleiku at the headquarters of the 45th Infantry and left in January, 1970. I didn’t use a nickname, other than Linda from Minnesota, but I did hear Legs or long legs.
No routine day, but days were long at Danang where I spent most of my time – either going to the Recreation Center, to see units via Jeep or C-130, then back to a house shared with 10-11 others and to eat at the Officer’s Mess at night and perhaps see a movie. Some evenings we went to the General’s Mess. At Cam Ranh Army and Pleiku, I spent more time at night either in our trailer or hooch with other Red Cross staff after dinner. On off days, we went to the beach and had our nails done.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
Yes, I spent nights in the bunker listening to C-130’s overhead at Danang. I went to change of command and we had incoming and someone tackled me since I did not get down fast enough. Another time we were in a helicopter when we dodged fire. One day we were at the last base after going swimming at noon, so we had our swim suits on and were asked to go to water hole to swim. We considered, but declined. When another Donut Dollie from our unit went to that same unit for their visit the following week, they learned that some of the servicemen that went to the water hole were hit by mines and some did not survive.
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
This was draining and I can still see the inside of a hospital where we visited Marines in Quang Tri, north of Danang. There was a Marine completely bandaged – probably burned, and he was so positive and talking about going back to the front. Visiting the psych ward was draining. I did feel appreciated by remarks made by the soldiers and staff.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
I was from Minnesota, but flew to Georgia and visited for a few weeks with another Donut Dollie (Elsie Wright) at her home and then we traveled around the USA, stopping at my home in Minnesota on the way. Afterwards, I lived in Atlanta and worked with Peace Corps and VISTA Recruiting, living with other Donut Dollies (Betsy Tanner, Heidi Wendt, Nancy Matthews). We said it was our half-way house, because most of the people I was surrounded myself with had been overseas. It was easier for me, than for some others.
That we loved our job and it was a challenge and a service to make life fun and easier for those who were in the military. I have respect for anyone that serves in the military service. I understand why we needed a college degree and excellent health (physical and mental) to become a Donut Dollie, because it was easier to get a job and settle afterwards. I am glad that I was in the Peace Corps before, so I knew myself and wanted to continue serving my country.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
I went to a helicopter reunion in Dotham, AL and it seemed that pilots held us in esteem, but did not want to relate on personal basis – maybe because we were older. Older officers have been the ones to say they appreciated us greatly.
Evenings talking and sharing experiences (I was reminded that we saw Colin Powell in Danang), comradeship of other Donut Dollies, seeing faces of soldiers and Marines light up when visiting them at their base – whether playing our games, pencil or pen, and talking one on one. One time we visited soldiers who were on a hill and lookout – they had a monkey on their shoulder and were very casual – had not seen much action and were very excited to see us. Rides in helicopters and C-130’s were something that were almost a daily routine and then stopped – I even remember riding shotgun in a bomber back to base (probably not approved). Many experiences were shared in one year – exciting and special to me. We told some GI’s that we went to Bangkok every night, because they were afraid for us & had rougher nights than we did and could not imagine how we survived. Donut Dollie Ginny Close and I spoke to Marines about our Peace Corps experiences and one Marine said that one of the differences of us as Peace Corps Volunteers and Marines in Vietnam was that in Vietnam they worked as we did, but did not know who was our friend/enemy at night. Fighting was done at night, tunnels were dug, bombs were planted and dropped, etc.