In our 53rd edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Darlene tells how she joined the Red Cross as a hospital recreation worker that led to her to sign up to go to Vietnam, how sometimes she was dropped into insecure areas and how the soldiers enjoyed seeing American girls.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Darlene Sellers Cooper…
What prompted you to join the SRAO (Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) program and want to go to Vietnam?
My family was not military, except for an uncle who was killed in WWII. Other than that, my family knew nothing about the military! Many of my friends were going to Vietnam and I wanted to be a part of it! I applied to the military and was accepted as a 2nd Lt in the Army, but wasn’t sure about the commitment. I found out about the SRAO program and I was hired by the American Red Cross as a Recreation Worker in the hospitals at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX and Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, TX. After 18 months of hospital service, I chose to go to Vietnam for one year as part of the SRAO program.
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I arrived in Vietnam in July of 1968 and was stationed for 4 months at Cam Ranh Bay, then for the next 4 months I was stationed at Long Binh with the II Field Force, and in my last 4 months in Vietnam, I was with the 4th Infantry in Pleiku. I was known as Darlene in Vietnam and did not have a nickname.
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
Our daily schedule began early in the morning. We traveled by helicopter or Jeep and sometimes walked to our designated area to provide programs for the men. These programs included board games, puzzles, cards and other paper games. We spent the afternoons with our staff evaluating our day and develop new programs or readjust programs to fit the needs of the soldiers.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
No! But there were times that we were “dropped” into an insecure area for only a short time! Several times we had to put on our “vests and helmets” and go into the bunkers, because of the incoming rounds!
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
It was sad, but also rewarding to be able to help or just talk. The men were very glad to see us!
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
It was an adjustment, as the world had moved on and I hadn’t! I did have an easier time coming home, thanks to the support of my family and friends! Plus, I continued working with the American Red Cross in military hospitals surrounded by people that knew what I had gone through. I needed to be a part of the military family!
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
That we were there for the troops! Our main goal was to put a smile on their faces! Many of the soldiers only wanted to take pictures of us, with them. They wanted to send the pictures home to their mothers, so they wouldn’t worry so much, seeing American girls with them!
I would like for my family and friends to know that I did what I thought was right at a time when so many people did not support our men and the military!
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
The veterans that knew us are always appreciative of our service! My second husband is a Vietnam veteran. He served as a pilot in the Air Force for 23 years. We have lots of friends that are veterans and they are appreciative of the Donut Dollie’s service.
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Vietnam?
The beautiful country. The soldiers, never complaining, always grateful for what they had. The soldier’s love and worrying about their families at home!
No matter how rough the terrain was or what little the soldiers had, they would always say that they had it great, compared to the guys in the next group!
When we were traveling on top of tanks and passing by troops of weary men, one would see us (we always traveled in pairs) point and yell “round eyes”! Then the whole troop would wave and yell!!
I was the only “Dollie” that married a soldier, who was later killed during his 2nd tour in Vietnam. We had met at Fort Leonard Wood (MO) after our tours in Vietnam. I resigned from the Red Cross and followed him through helicopter training. We had a son! His dad was shot down during a helicopter mission when he was 7 months old.
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