In our 55th edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Kit tells how the opportunity to see what the Vietnam War was all about motivated her to sign up for a one year tour in Vietnam, how she feels that the Donut Dollies did make a difference through their service supporting the troops and that she believes she is the only Donut Dollie who got married to a fighter pilot in-country, at the end of her tour.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Kit Sparrow Cotton…
What prompted you to join the SRAO (Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) program and want to go to Vietnam?
After graduating from college with a degree in International Studies, the only prospect of a job was working in a basement for the CIA. A one-year job working overseas to see for myself what the Vietnam War was like just fit the bill. My dad was a general in the Army, so I knew his stand on the war, but all the people my age were vehemently against it, so I signed up! And the funny thing was that it was my mother who spotted the Red Cross ad in the Washington Post!
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I arrived at my first base in Tuy Hoa in July, 1969 and was there until November, 1969. I then transferred to Camp Enari in Pleiku and was there until March, 1970. My last base was Cam Ranh Army from March – July, 1970. I didn’t go by a nickname and was known as Kit.
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
That was one of the highlights of our jobs, in that you never knew what the next day held in store. My favorite days were the ones when we went out to the firebases by whatever means of transportation was available (helicopters, deuce and a halfs, Jeeps). We would have our program ready to go, but sometimes the men had just returned from the field, and by the look in their eyes, you could tell they just wanted to talk. When we didn’t go out, we worked in the recreation centers, filling the Kool-Aid dispensers, visiting with the men or playing games (cards, ping pong) with the men or designing our next program. Sometimes we would “test” our upcoming programs with the men, and sometimes we would occasionally do entertainment, such as fashion shows or sing-alongs (I played the piano).
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
Sometimes while in route to a firebase, there one we were scheduled to go to was under attack, and we would be diverted to another firebase.
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
I got mono, but that’s not “battle worthy”!
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
I don’t remember visiting soldiers in hospitals.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
I believe I am the only Donut Dollie who – at the end of my tour – got married in Saigon. Let me backtrack: during my first assignment in Tuy Hoa, I met a fighter pilot named John Cotton. We started dating, and when the Red Cross in Saigon found out that we were pretty serious, I was moved to Camp Enari in Pleiku, which was my favorite assignment. But my new locale couldn’t keep John away, and he would go up into the tower at Tuy Hoa and contact a chopper flying over saying, “Would you mind taking a fighter pilot up to Pleiku?” When I was transferred to Cam Ranh Army, it was easier for John to come see me, because he could catch C-130s, as well as choppers. It seemed as if every time I turned around, there was John, and I was so happy to see him!
I should mention that my Dad had an office in Saigon, and he came over to visit and check out John. Our original intention was to travel around the world and then get married in the States. But, my Dad, in his authoritative voice said, “No daughter of mine is going to travel around the world with a man to whom she is not wed!” So, in a way, he forced our hand in marriage.
We had arrived in-country about the same time, and when John was ready to DEROS (Date Estimated Return From Overseas) to his next assignment in Lakenheath, England, he asked me to marry him. And what a procedure that was! We had to follow the same rules as the GIs did if they wanted to marry a Vietnamese woman. And that entailed many trips down to Saigon – which neither the Red Cross nor John’s squadron commander appreciated! The first time we had to pick an area in Saigon where we wanted to be wed. We met with the staff of a councilman, who said that we had to post our intentions in various areas in his district, so that if anyone had any objection, they could voice it. That entailed another trip to Saigon with papers that we had written in English saying that we wanted to be married. For an afternoon, we taped these papers to walls, nailed them to telephone poles, posted them on billboards, etc. We went down another time thinking we would be married, but that did not pan out.
Finally, each of us had a witness (mine was a fellow Donut Dollie, and we still keep in touch) and we went down to Saigon. We sat and chatted at a table covered with a red and white checkered linoleum table cloth, not knowing what to expect. Suddenly, these massive wooden doors opened, and we were ushered into a dark mahogany library with books from floor to ceiling. All at once, our grins turned to a solemn countenance as we faced our councilman, who was wearing a red sash and seated behind a massive desk. The ceremony consisted mainly of paperwork – all in French (which I speak) – and John and I signed on the dotted line. When we walked out of the office, I was Mrs. John L. Cotton!
From there we immediately went to the Red Cross office, where I turned in my Red Cross pin and papers and was no longer their responsibility. I was now under the umbrella of protection of my husband and the United States Air Force.
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
That we came from all different walks of life, wanting to contribute and make a difference – no matter how small – to the war effort and to our soldiers (and I use the term “our” with reverence and respect) who were fighting and dying for a cause that they didn’t understand.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
I think that they smile – both in their minds and on their faces – when they meet us Donut Dollies. And yes, I have been hugged and blessed with the words, “Welcome back!” from veterans, as I utter those same words back to them.
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Vietnam?
Feeling as if we DID make a difference to the “youngsters” sent into battle.
Making some of the best friends among my Donut Dollie sisters, who can relate and share memories that the rest of the world will never be able to understand.
Learning a new value system – what is really important, and what can be discarded.
Bringing home the best souvenir of the war = my husband. We will have been married for 50 years on July 6th.
P.S. – In the three photos above that the Donut Dollies appear in red dresses, which were their Christmas outfits, Linda Meinders Webb explains “I bought the material and had them made in Hong Kong, so they were original for us, but not approved by American Red Cross.
PLEASE NOTE: THERE ARE 54 PREVIOUS EDITIONS OF THE DONUT DOLLIE DETAIL THAT CAN BE SEEN HERE, JUST SCROLL DOWN TO READ EACH (AT THE BOTTOM, YOU’LL SEE A LINK TO GO TO THE NEXT PAGE OF DONUT DOLLIE DETAIL FEATURES)
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