In our 47th edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Joyce tells how she became a Donut Dollie to help boost the men’s morale, that she found a treasure from a soldier amongst her father’s things, and how she met her husband of 51 years in Vietnam.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Joyce MacConnachie Kirk…
What prompted you to join the SRAO (Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) program and want to go to Vietnam?
My senior year at the University of Minnesota I interviewed with several organizations and companies with overseas programs, as I majored in International Relations and was interested in a job overseas. The Red Cross SRAO job was just for one year which was appealing. The thought of helping the morale of our soldiers in Vietnam was very appealing. Minnesota had anti-war protests everywhere, which was fine, but they were treating the soldiers horribly, very disrespectfully. Maybe I could help. My parents were quite proud of the decision.
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
After graduation in June 1967, my dad drove me to Washington, D.C. for some training. The main thing I remember about that was watching the floor come up to my face after a Gamma globulin shot. My first posting was in Bien Hoa from June – October 1967. My main adjustments were the weather (heat) and the smells. The size of things astonished me: the size of shrimp, the butterfly on our outhouse door, the lizards in the bathrooms. My second assignment was from October 1967 – February 1968 with the 9th Inf Div at Bearcat (southeast of Saigon). It was here I saw the Bob Hope Christmas show with Rachel Welch and others. Another time Martha Raye (comedian) was introduced to me at a gathering – and then proceeded to ignore me, pretty deliberately. But then, I wasn’t a soldier – and she loved the soldiers!!
My last posting was in Danang from February – May 1968. By this time I had learned to co-exist with the lizards on the ceilings and everywhere. I remember watching the movie “Dr. Zhivago” at the Recreation Center there and despite the awful heat, I was freezing. No nickname, I was always known as Joyce.
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
In Bien Hoa we went out daily by jeep to visit different units that had been scheduled. We were prepared with the board games we’d made. Sometimes we had Kool-aid and cookies. We ate in the mess hall with the soldiers. Several nights a week we helped some soldiers who had set up a school for the Vietnamese to learn English. The women loved to sit by us and hug us, and the children entertained us always. At Bearcat we flew out daily in Huey helicopters to visit soldiers – often they would be in a field drying out their feet after tramping around the rice patties. We always ate with the soldiers often helping to dish out the meals in the chow line. On Sunday nights we were invited to the General’s mess for a lovely meal and movie – and how we loved Sunday nights!!. In Danang we worked in the Recreation Center and went out to visit units, including the flight line. I was a DJ for a radio station once a week.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
Bien Hoa had been quite safe, but my first night at Bearcat we were “attacked”. All I knew was that everyone raced to our bunker, so I followed, wondering why I had been sent to this place (it turned out to be friendly fire – Thai soldiers misfired mortars). The only other time I was sent to bunkers was in Danang a few times.
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
No, I was never injured. I did have my wisdom teeth extracted.
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
The only time I visited a hospital was after Tet. We were driven to Long Binh to the hospital. We had no training to really help, but I guess our job was to be a friendly American face.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
It was surreal, quite bizarre to think the world was just going about it’s business, not really into what was going on over there. I could hardly wait to eat mashed potatoes that didn’t run all over the plate. I was never a huge mashed potato fan before or even a month after returning from Vietnam.
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
We tried our hardest to keep the soldier’s morale up, listening endlessly to them talk about their wives, girlfriends, mothers and families. It was easy to talk to them – just ask them about their DEROS (Date Estimated Return From Overseas), about what they hoped to do afterwards.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
I always felt appreciated. One time a Sergeant asked for my home address to send my parents a note about how he appreciated what the Donut Dollies did. When my dad died, I found it, amongst his treasures. Only one time in thousands of conversations with soldiers did one say and suggest inappropriate things. Through reunions of my husband’s units, I heard positive stories of interactions with Donut Dollies. They have honored me in several ways. Along with local Medal of Honor recipients, I was recognized and thanked by the committee organizing the Kansas City Memorial Day activities and concert in 2018.
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Vietnam?
I think I have covered that here. Just one more thing – I met my husband of 51 years while I was at Bearcat. That time in Vietnam obviously changed my life. I felt I did serve our soldiers. I matured in many ways, but I do not think it helped me brave another year when my husband went back to Vietnam for a 2nd time. People would say that I would understand better than other wives what he would be going through. Yes, it would and that was terrifying, not reassuring.
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