In our third edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Mary Blanchard Bowe tells her experiences of close calls, spending time with courageous young men at the hospitals and playing Santa for the troops (see actual 8mm film of Mary handing out ditty bags to soldiers at the end of this post).
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Mary Blanchard Bowe…
I needed a job after college. I was an army brat, so I like to travel. My college suite mate, Dorset Hoogland, applied and told me about it. I was turned down at first, but after I returned from my time in Vietnam I found out my dorm supervisor spoke up for me, so I got hired because of her intervention. It sounded exciting and different and I had never been there. I wanted to know what was going on.
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam?
Dong Ba Thien with the 18th Engineers, Pleiku with the 4th Infantry Division, Tuy Hoa with the Air Force, and Quy Nhon with the Army and Navy ships.
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
5 AM off to the flightline at the base camp to catch a ride to fire bases. We went to as many as we could 5+ days a week, got home to my desk, opened our C-rations or canned food and ate, visited, and went to bed or went to functions at home base then to bed. Covered our heads because rats would crawl over us in our Quonset huts.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
Coming back from a fire base in a bubble helicopter (three of us) and the pilot was showing off, flying too low, we were fired at so we took off fast. Also, we almost always had suicide bombers come through the perimeter at night at Pleiku, so we spent time in the bunker.
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
A 2-ton truck slammed into the back of our jeep during a base camp run and I got bad whiplash in the neck, very sore.
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
The best experience of my tour was going to the hospital and visiting with the soldiers (I would volunteer on Sunday). The injured were the most courageous soldiers I have ever known! They loved to see us and had the greatest sense of humor ever! They were the most inspiring young men and inspire me to this day. With all they had to deal with, missing limbs etc., they always had a smile to give. WOW!
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
It was hard, I went through an emotional depression when I returned and was living in San Francisco. I would cry for no reason, walk the beaches, not want to do things. Just sorta living without being there. I pulled out of it and found out years later it was PTSD. Who knew then?
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
We served for the troops and wanted to bring a touch of home into their lives, they were so young and homesick. To let them know that America cared about them, because all they heard was about turmoil and protest going on.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
There are lots of veterans so it’s hard to know the ones I dealt with from D Troop in Pleiku, but those in New Mexico treated us like movie stars with many sweet toasts and hugs at their events. They were very supportive, even those that weren’t there and knew about us. I am invited every year to D troop’s reunions. I feel so honored. They told me “you girls were more veterans then we were”. So sweet!
Playing Santa and visiting over 1,000 troops or more in a day, and celebrating at midnight mass with troops surrounding me, and then going with the priest, with me as Santa, around the perimeter in a jeep to lift their spirits.
Flying in all kinds of aircraft, especially the loach and bubble helicopters.
Making the men laugh and the pristine beaches where we would get to swim in water so clear you could see your toes.
Visiting and helping the Montagnard villagers with irrigation projects and seeing their village. They were so hospitable and grateful for our visits. It was very impressive how they carried on in the midst of a war-torn country.
PLEASE NOTE: THERE ARE 2 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)