In our eighteenth edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Marrilee Shannon tells how having a father and brother in the military and wanting to support the men serving prompted her to go to Vietnam, that the Donut Dollies worked 6AM – 6PM, 6 days a week and then some, and how she and her DD partner Nancy were invited onto the USS Saint Paul (CA-73) to give a performance to nearly 1,000 men onboard.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Marrilee Shannon…
I graduated from University of New Mexico in 1969 with a degree in Recreation. My mom saw an ad in the Roseville, CA paper looking for women to go to Vietnam through the Red Cross for their SRAO recreation program. My father was in the Air Force and my mom didn’t give it a second thought. I went because I believed that if young men were serving so should I, a kind of equal rights! LOL! I did not feel patriotic about it, but I felt it was important to support the men, not our purpose, not war or fighting “communism”. I also knew that my older brother had already served in the war and that my father was serving in Thailand and flying into Vietnam and that I might marry a guy who had been sent there. I felt I needed to know what this war was about myself so I went for these reasons and of course “I needed a job!”
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I was stationed as an SRAO programmer and director at three stations – Cu Chi 25th Infantry, Cam Rahn AFB, Phan Rang AFB from late 1969 – late 1970. I was known as Marrilee in Vietnam.
It depended on whether you were stationed in a Clubmobile Unit, which was mobile travel by air each day to firebases or if you were stationed at an Army or Air Force base. The different services had very different bases. The third type of station duty would be a combination of a Recreation center and Clubmobile. You would work at the center so many days and then go out on Clubmobile runs in a truck to a local unit stationed near the main base. When I was stationed at the Cu Chi 25th Infantry base, it was all Clubmobile unit runs. We flew 6am – 6pm, six days a week with Sundays “off”. Every Sunday dinner, was with the General. It was required.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
Not really. We had a teargas grenade tossed under one of the helicopters I was in, but we took off so quickly that we were not affected. The military were very protective of us and we had to clear every flight we made on the day of departure with the local intelligence officer.
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
I was not injured. I became severely depressed after a few months in Cu Chi. It was the 25th Infantry Division and it was a Clubmobile unit that worked 6 days a week. They would bring men in from the field who had not eaten at a table in a year or so or seen a “round eye” (American woman) and we would all sit at a 6ft table with a rotating lazy susan in the middle that each person could operate from their seat with a little switch. I felt it degraded the women and the poor guys that were brought there. It was our only day off. After you go out and try to “lift” the spirits of men at war all day, every day, it is very important to have a little time to recharge and decompress in order to go out and do it all over again with enthusiasm and grace. The men from the field were always so very uncomfortable and nervous. You would be too!
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
It was not my “job” to visit the soldiers in the hospital. There were many SRAO women who did that and it was done on their off time. I went with one of the gals in my unit in Cam Ranh Bay. She went frequently and was accustomed to seeing the guys who were sick or wounded. I just went the one time. It made me too uncomfortable. My job made me uncomfortable sometimes as well, but I was committed to my duty.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
Coming home was strange. It was at a time where the military were supposed to change into their civilian clothes when coming home. Remember, I was a military brat and I came home when my father was still active duty in California at McClellan AFB near Sacramento, CA. I immediately wanted to go and speak at the Officer’s Wives’ Club to “tell” them what it was really like in Vietnam for the men and their husbands. My mom said “that wouldn’t be a good idea”. I never went. It was strange to try and understand why no one really wanted to “know” what was “going on” in Vietnam and it was sad to see the returning Vets treated so poorly.
One time I was in the field with a troop deployment. The men were shipping out, boarding troop carriers and we were wishing them well, as the loud speaker overhead was delivering President Nixon’s message that “we are not going into Cambodia”. I couldn’t help myself, I asked the guys, “Where are you headed?”, one of the fellas answered “Cambodia.” That kinda changed my concept of government and truth in government from that point on and I still hold the same beliefs concerning government actions and war to this day. I was 23 years old at the time and I am 70 now.
It will never happen, but I believe that anyone who served in Vietnam should be considered a Veteran (the Donut Dollies never received such designation, as we were Civilian non-combatants). The women who “served” were all college graduates who chose to go to Vietnam. They came from all over our country and gave what they could for their country.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
It has always been a gift to talk to any of the “guys” that remember us.
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Vietnam?
I am very proud of the women I served with and all the women who served with the SRAO.
The guys on Nui Ba Den Signal Relay firebase built us a “private” Black and Red Latrine!
I enjoyed playing my guitar and singing for some guys who stopped for a break on the “road to somewhere”.
Being radioed from a ship off the coast of Phan Thiet while flying in a helicopter. They requested that we land on their ship. We did and gave a closed circuit performance of sorts on their closed circuit television system aboard the ship! This is the thank you note the ship commander gave to us:
“On behalf of the men of SAINT PAUL, I would like to extend to you a special thanks and note of appreciation for the efforts of two of the young ladies in the SRAO program, Miss Marrilee Shannon and Miss Nancy Olsen. On Thursday, 3 September they visited the SAINT PAUL by helo and considerably brightened the lives of about 1,000 young men who comprise the crew of this heavy cruiser. They explained their program, and then sang on our closed circuit television system for over two hours and proved themselves to be quite good entertainers. It was a little difficult at first to accurately assess the impact they had on the morale of the crew. But, after waiting three weeks, I still hear many favorable comments regarding their strong impact and extremely pleasant visit. I can say that their boost to morale was nothing short of outstanding. They were splendid representatives of the United States.
Many thanks again,
Commander Don Knutson Sr.”
PLEASE NOTE: THERE ARE 17 PREVIOUS EDITIONS OF THE DONUT DOLLIE DETAIL THAT CAN BE SEEN HERE, JUST SCROLL DOWN TO READ EACH (AT THE BOTTOM, YOU’LL SEE A LINK TO GO TO THE NEXT PAGE OF DONUT DOLLIE DETAIL FEATURES)