In our 38th edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Cathy tells her experience during an incoming fire event for the first time, how visiting soldiers in hospitals were some of the most challenging experiences and how she enjoyed chopper rides over the rice paddies.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Cathy Knutson Brown…
What prompted you to join the SRAO (Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) program and want to go to Vietnam?
One of my sorority sisters from FSU had gone and her reports sounded so interesting. I had one other job offer, but I was just more intrigued with the idea of serving my country… and so I went!
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I was stationed with the 4th Infantry Division in Pleiku from April – November, 1968, then with the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing in Phan Rang from Novemeber, 1968 – April, 1969. One nickname was Pleiku Cathy; another was Knuts (Ca-noots).
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
First off, there was NO routine day in Vietnam!!! In the Central Highlands of Pleiku we were in an active war zone. Our general, Major General Charles P. Stone was very supportive of our work and made sure that we were able to get out to the fire bases every day. Morale was very important to him and he understood our role and responsibilities. Generally we would rise and shine and go down to the chopper pad and wait for a ride. We would visit 3-4 fire support bases then back home around dusk. Then hit a round of events in the evening… BBQ’s or other gatherings, visiting with the men, being cheerful, encouraging, listening.
In Phan Rang we operated a recreation center, which had different requirements for programming and such. We also had a radio program and would visit troops in the field. Phan Rang was on the coast and there was a different vibe — less war-like than in the Central Highlands.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
Just once, though I’ve never spoken of it. A colonel wanted us to visit a motor platoon that had been in the boonies for months. It was not approved, but my partner and I were game. We touched down and started visiting with the guys, when we started experiencing incoming fire… in the middle of the afternoon! One of the guys picked me up and threw me down in a bunker and jumped on top of me. Our guys started returning fire… then gun ships zoomed in and the enemy shooting ended. Yikes!!! I have palpitations just remembering this!!!!
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
This was the hardest for me, especially in the quadriplegic wards. Our job was to be endlessly cheerful as we visited those with devastating injuries.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
I returned home to San Francisco and war protests!!! In the year away so much had changed in America… it was disorienting. 1968 has been referred to as a year of seismic change in our country: the murders of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the tumultuous Democratic convention in Chicago… and we were in the midst of it all.
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
For the most part these young women were earnest and devoted patriots… putting service above self. Fresh faced, earnest and full of pizzazz. I would imagine that most went on to lead extraordinary lives… I know I did!!!
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
In all the years I have only experienced gratitude from those who served. In the 70’s I traveled often by plane for business and would connect with fellow passengers (male) and when they learned I had been in Vietnam they would open up and pour out their stories… because I could somewhat understand their experiences.
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Vietnam?
Chopper rides on crisp mornings riding over rice paddies; sailing on the South China Sea with the 2nd Squadron RAAF; playing my ukulele and singing with the children at the leprosarium in Kontum run by the French nuns; scrounging supplies for the recreation center; and serving holiday dinners to thousands of troops.
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