In our 52nd edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Justine tells how she was inspired by her mother’s service as a radio operator in WWII, how she encountered a soldier in the hospital who was injured in a very unexpected way, and she shares over a dozen interesting memories from her time serving in Vietnam.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Justine Lee (Lewis) Moyer…
What prompted you to join the SRAO (Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) program and want to go to Vietnam?
After graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in Elementary Education, I was not quite ready to begin teaching. At that time, the thought of being in a classroom all day just did not “feel” right.
Believe it or not, as I was browsing the want ads, I saw that an employment agency in San Francisco was recruiting women for a job with the American Red Cross. I flew there for an interview and was accepted for the position.
I figured if I were a male, I probably would have been drafted and sent to Vietnam. Joining the SRAO was an alternative to being drafted and a way to do my part.
In a way, I was also following in my Mother’s footsteps. During WWII she was in the second Naval training class of WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), and served as a radio operator.
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I was stationed in Nha Trang from June 1968 to January 1969 and Pleiku from January 1969 to July 1969. I’ve always gone by Justine.
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
Nothing was “routine” as a Donut Dollie, not even the roof over my head! In Nha Trang I lived in a spacious French villa, right off the South China Sea and visited the beautiful beach as time permitted. In the Pleiku highlands I lived in a house built by the Civil Engineers and learned all about “the rainy season”, and while on TDY (temporary duty) in Phu Bai, I slept in a MASH tent and got to visit the Imperial City of Hue.
Each day unfolded in a different way. I either (wo-)manned the SANDS Recreation Center in Nha Trang, remained on base to create another mobile program (game), designed those crazy short-timer calendars, helicoptered out to take our program and at times the mail to the fire bases, Kool-Aided the flight line or visited the units on base.
Meals were mostly eaten in the chow hall, but out in the field we often dished up the food. It was a great opportunity to joke, smile, and boost morale as all the guys eventually came through the line.
At the close of the day, after unwinding with friends, the duty officer came to make certain we were all safely home, and that the guys had all skedaddled!
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
The very first time I was out, in the middle of our programming, a really loud siren went off. Immediately everyone ran off in a different direction while I stood there like a deer in the headlights. It didn’t take long to realize that “incoming” was raining down on the base. Thankfully one of the airmen ran back to get me, grabbed my arm and dragged me to the nearest shelter. It could have been a close call, and it taught me to be more aware of my surroundings from then on.
Another time we were awakened in the middle of the night, and huddled in our shelter as the alarm sounded. Cortina, our dog, came flying in for cover and whimpering in fear. I can still hear the sand shifting in the sandbags (that were packed around the huge culvert pipe) as the shrapnel hit. I later discovered that the man who became my husband, was crossing the open field between compounds and dodging those very rockets!
I also remember riding to Wooly Bully (an asphalt plant) in a Jeep, through very red, dusty, Pleiku dirt. I was seated comfortably on the left rear fender, behind the driver. The road was a washboard roller coaster. All of a sudden the left side of the vehicle flipped up to what felt like almost a 45 degree angle. I am certain time stood still. I was so scared that I was not thinking clearly. I wanted to get up and get out! My Donut Dollie partner, seated on the right fender almost fell out, but she kept her wits about her. She calmed me down and slowly moved towards me. Wham! Down went the Jeep!
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
I was never injured while in Vietnam, but I did suffer a serious case of food poisoning after eating with a local Vietnamese family. I could picture the meat that I often saw hanging outdoors in the market stalls during the heat of the day… no refrigeration, flies everywhere, BUT it would have been a terrible insult to refuse the generous offer of a meal from a poor family.
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
I had the opportunity to visit the hospital one time that I never forgot. It was right after a number of soldiers had been medevaced from an active fire base. There were bloody bandages everywhere. I approached the bed of a soldier with his leg and foot swathed in bandages. I assumed he was there as a result of a fire fight. I was so wrong! “No M’am”, he said. “ I was mauled by a (Indochinese) tiger!” Imagine being drafted to fight a “hostile action” and being attacked not by the enemy, but by a tiger!
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
When I returned home I had a difficult time accepting how materialistic we Americans had become, I’m not certain whether the people were driven by a need to have “more” or whether I had changed and was satisfied with less. It was challenging to transition from thinking “Wow, lucky me, I got a ride into town in an old deuce and a half (truck)”, to seeing two cars in many driveways. In Vietnam it was a treat if I ever got to see a show on television. In the states many families had two TV’s and lots of programs to choose from!
I was proud of the time I spent in Vietnam. After 13 months in country, I think I understood the horrors of war and the fear that young men might experience in being drafted to fight, BUT the constant stateside reports of draft dodgers escaping to Canada really disturbed me. Years later when draft dodgers were pardoned, I still felt some resentment.
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
The women who served in the SRAO program of the American Red Cross were college graduates recruited from all over the United States. The gals I met were smart, creative, adventurous, brave and patriotic. We majored in different areas of study, had different personalities, different appearances and different beliefs, but we all made the same choice. We put potential careers on hold and answered a call to serve our country by providing the military with a break from the chaos of war and a reminder of their loved ones back home.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
Although I know many veterans who served in Vietnam, my service has not really been discussed at any length. When people do find out they are generally surprised and somewhat amazed. On Veteran’s Day a year or so ago we visited the Veteran’s Memorial here in Sacramento, CA. My husband and I were overheard as we were each locating the places we served on a big bronze map. A curious stranger asked me why I was there, so I shared my story. Then he thanked me for my service! That really felt good after all these years!
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Vietnam?
My memories are numerous! Here they are, in no particular order:
The piercing blue eyes of soldiers looking at me through red dirt covered faces
The many men who stood alongside me, extending their arms over my head, smiling at a memory and saying, “I bet you are about 5ft 2in tall!”
My answer to the inevitable question, “Where are you from?” Trying to connect to as many men as I could, I would say, “Born in Berkeley, California, raised in New York City, living in Tempe, Arizona.”
The supportive gals in blue, holding the other end of the olive drab program bag that we carried everywhere
The marvelous laughter of the men competing against each other during a program game
Snoopy on the short-timer calendars that we provided to the men
The sound of a helicopter… I still look up when I hear one. Sitting next to a door gunner, looking down at the beautiful blue South China Sea on one side, and the ghostly (Agent Orange) deforested landscape on the other
Spooky (Puff the Magic Dragon), the AC-47 gunship (airplane) firing at night with tracers that lit up the sky
Mama-san scrubbing my soapy blue uniform on the cement with a sturdy bristle brush
Beautiful girls dressed in a traditional Ao Dai
The blackened teeth of Betel Nut chewing natives
Amerasian and Eurasian children begging, and scavenging on trash piles
Water Buffalo munching away in the beautiful green rice paddies
The coveted brass bracelet that was earned by drinking rice wine
Experiencing the mix of other cultures… Vietnamese, Montagnards, British, Canadian, Filipino, South Korean, Australian, Thai, Indian, Pakistani and New Zealanders
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