In our thirtieth edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Roseann tells how a college course on the Vietnam “conflict” made her want to go to Vietnam to see what was happening for herself, that she experienced a night of incoming in Danang, and how seeing the smiling faces of young men on firebases made her job worthwhile.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Roseann Krikston Johnson…
In my senior year of college a course was offered as “Independent Study”, the subject was our choice and I chose 1969, Vietnam “conflict”. I did mine on the history of Vietnam. I was stunned, moved and had a desire to see for myself. My oldest brother knew of a friend that had joined the Red Cross and volunteered. I did my homework and realized this is exactly what I wanted to do. Maybe gain some understanding and also maybe do something positive. I had just finished my student teaching (an eye opener) and decided an alternate course for at least a year.
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I was stationed in Danang from July to October, 1969 and then at Bien Hoa from October 1969 to July 1970. I was known as Roseann in Vietnam.
A tough one, I’m not sure there ever was a “routine” day. Whether you were out in the field doing mobile programs or in the recreation center, there was never a day where the unexpected did not occur. Even in the recreation center, we had one young soldier who kept coming in day after day, and when I asked him, weren’t you scheduled for a freedom flight home, his answer was heart breaking. He was an only child of a single parent. He had become addicted to drugs while in Vietnam and couldn’t bear his mother seeing him like this. No day was routine.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
I had a close call in Danang. Incoming, rocket fire during one night. Window glass shattered, diving under beds, and then hearing “to the bunker”. Being careful of broken glass. Scared and worried about our dog. MP’s brought her to us in the bunker.
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
Visiting hospitals was very difficult, especially one incident while in Danang. We were in an outlying area (overnight) and got word that we were asked to visit a firebase the next day that wasn’t on the schedule. When we got there via chopper, we were instructed not to do any programs but to visit with the troops. We soon learned why it was to be a short visit. One young solider gave me a pair of binoculars and I got a glimpse of the North Vietnamese flag. We were very close to the DMZ. The next day we visited the hospital and many of the young men we saw and talked to the day before at the firebase had been hit later that same day and were now lying in the hospital.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
Transition… another toughie. I found it really hard to talk to others about what we did, how we did it, and what we saw and experienced. It sounded so superficial, mobile recreation programs, running rec centers. But no one saw the men’s faces when we got there or understand how crappy that “conflict” was, or how important it was for them to escape, if only for a short time from the grim reality of where they were and what they experienced and what was going on in the states. I so loved getting together with other Donut Dollies at the 2010 reunion.
None of us volunteered for selfish reasons. We thought maybe we could make some sort of difference to defuse some of the negativity that was occurring in the states. These young men (average age 19) didn’t ask for this assignment and needed something positive, and if that meant from the Red Cross Donut Dollies, so be it.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
Many of the vets I have met never were in areas where we were present. However, by chance I have met a few who’s reaction was very positive. Our rec centers provided a little home away from home and they always loved talking to American females.
First would be the faces of the young men participating in our mobile recreation programs. Once they knew we were there, the sense of escape from reality and total enjoyment was so evident, plus the competition! Seeing young men with poster board horses attached to strings trying to race them was a joy. Really don’t know who had more fun, them or us.
Second was visiting the visiting the orphanage in Bien Hoa on our off days and bringing them any supplies we could. So bittersweet. Beautiful children, unfortunately discarded because many had American fathers. Biracial children were outcasts.
Third, just being there when a young man needed someone to talk to, even for a short time. Some were close to rotating home and wanted to make sure they could talk to a young American female without cussing!
Lastly, actually developing a few relationships with the Vietnamese women. One especially was our mamasan in Bien Hoa. When I worked the rec center sometimes she would bring me lunch and the next time I would bring lunch to her. She wrote me a letter when she knew I was going home. I still have it.
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