In our 40th edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Margo tells how she went to Vietnam to support the men there, how she had a close call at a firebase she had just left, and that one of her fondest memories was playing Santa at firebases around Chu Lai.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Margo Smith Timberlake…
What prompted you to join the SRAO (Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) program and want to go to Vietnam?
I felt that it wasn’t about the war or politics, it was the opportunity to support the men who were there and just to let them know that someone cared about them.
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I served in Vietnam from August, 1970 – August, 1971. I was stationed for 2 months at Cam Ranh Air Force Base, then 5 months in Chu Lai and finally 5 months in Quang Tri.
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
On the bases where we had a Red Cross recreation center, we took turns staffing them. When we were stationed on bases where there was no recreation center or we weren’t working the center, we would fly out to 3-4 fire bases to take our games on the road. In the afternoons we would visit the hospitals. Evenings were often spent at a stand down party or at the officer’s club.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
We were having lunch on one of the firebases (I don’t remember which one) and our chopper came early to pick us up because they had an emergency op to run. So when we left, the guys also left and cleared the area. About 10 minutes later a mortar round came in and completely destroyed where we were sitting. I guess we were all very lucky.
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
My only injury came when I was running to the shelter during incoming and tripped and fell in a ditch!
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
When we visited the hospitals, the men were usually newly injured. They were not ready yet for sympathy, so we had to adopt a tone of “why did you have to go step on a landmine? That was pretty dumb…” Then we would go back to our hootch and cry.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
Surprisingly the transition was not difficult. I had wonderful support from my family and friends. But another Donut Dollie and I also left the states after about a month and backpacked, hitch hiked and traveled by Eurail through Europe for 4 months, so we had plenty of time to decompress and process our feelings.
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
We were all young and idealistic. We wanted to make a difference. And most of us felt that this was our opportunity to do something “different” and meaningful before we settled into what we expected to be mundane lives.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
I know that veteran’s on the whole seem to have enjoyed having us as a diversion from their other memories of Vietnam. I seldom mention that I was there so I have not gotten any recent feedback from a vet.
My uncle, a former commandant at a military school in Alabama had passed, and at his funeral I met a former JAG officer who had been stationed at Cam Ranh Bay when I was there. He thanked me for being there and helping to brighten his day. It was nice to be remembered in such a good way.
While my cousin and I were arranging to have a military funeral for my uncle, the current commandant of the military school, Col. Roy Berwick, had a certificate on his wall from Vietnam. I commented on it and mentioned I had been there then too. His reaction and comments were so positive, I had to mention it here.
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Vietnam?
1) Christmas in the bush around Chu Lai, there was a cease fire that day, so we were choppered right out to areas we never would have gone any other time. I think we went to 3 different places. These guys were not even able to get back to a firebase for Christmas, so we took Christmas to them. We put pretty pitiful homemade paper decorations on whatever “Charlie Brown” tree we could find, sang carols and visited. I had on a Santa top and the guys would come sit on my lap, whisper their Christmas wishes and get a Red Cross goodie bag.
2) Serving meals to grunts on the fire bases and seeing their surprise and smiles
3) Riding in helicopters at low level with the doors open!
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