In our 49th edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Nancy tells how after serving just over a year in Korea the Red Cross asked her to serve a year in Vietnam, how she was the LAST Donut Dollie to leave Vietnam and how honored she and her Donut Dollies sisters felt by the audience response they received at a Bob Hope show in Vietnam.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Nancy Calcese…
What prompted you to join the SRAO (Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) program and want to go to Korea and then Vietnam?
Honestly, I graduated and needed a job. The Red Cross was interviewing on campus. I was not a risk taker, and to this day I can’t believe I went to Korea and Vietnam. Neither can the people who know me best!
When and where were you stationed in Korea and Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I was in Korea July ’69 – September ’70 at 2nd Infantry Division, 7th Infantry Division, and Camp Red Cloud. In 1971 the Red Cross Headquarters called and asked me to go to Vietnam as an Assistant Director, where I was from May ’71 – May ’72. I was stationed in Saigon, but traveled from Tuesday through Friday every week from Quang Tri to Binh Thuy. I think there were 7 SRAO units in country at that time.
What was a routine day like in Korea?
In Korea, a routine day consisted of either working on creating our recreation programs in the office or traveling in pairs via jeep, truck or helicopter to deliver those programs to units of men numbering from 10 – 200.
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
There were no routine days for me as an Assistant Director in Vietnam. Each week I went to a different unit, visited with the “girls”, went on runs with them to various units, met with the military command to make sure they were getting the appropriate support, etc. I spent a great deal of time waiting for transportation (hours at a time) to and from Saigon where I lived, and the various units. I don’t remember the time period, but I once recorded 81 hours of flight time in 9 types of aircraft, and 98 hours of waiting time. No nickname, I was always known as Nancy.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
No. The military was very careful to monitor our safety.
Were you ever injured while in Korea or Vietnam?
No, but in Korea, I was hospitalized for a week with mononucleosis and secondary hepatitis.
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
It was very humbling and moving. Sometimes uplifting, sometimes very sad. The visits validated the Red Cross program and what we were all doing over there.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
When I returned from Korea, I assumed a hospital social worker position. The transition was very difficult. In Korea, my task was to provide a joyful distraction. As a social worker, my task was to deliver death notices, problem solve, and counsel. The difference was stark.
Relative to Vietnam, at that time in my life, I was apolitical and Vietnam was just a very difficult job. When I came home, people were interested in my experiences, but at the same time against the war. The difficult part was that no one could relate to my experience and I couldn’t adequately convey what it was like. My brother was a Vietnam war protester and thought that in my role, I had “contributed to the war.” That was difficult.
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
I was in 2 very different roles in the SRAO, and in 2 very different countries. So my views were different as well. Having said that, I think all women who joined the SRAO were very caring, courageous and smart. We were just trying to make life a little more bearable for the servicemen, representing sisters, wives, mothers and daughters. We were all serving our country.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
In my experience, the term “Donut Dollie” has always brought a smile to the faces of vets. I think they admired that we volunteered to be there and greatly appreciated what we did, and respected us.
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Korea and Vietnam?
I was the LAST Donut Dollie to leave Vietnam. I closed the program in May, 1972. As an Assistant Director, my job was extremely difficult. I traveled weekly to different sites, had to enforce rules and regulations that were often ignored, and experienced difficult living and travel conditions.
My fondest Vietnam memory was of a Bob Hope show. Five or six of us Donut Dollies had seats high up in the bleachers. Someone arranged for us to sit closer on the floor of the arena. As we walked down from above, word spread that the Donut Dollies were there and as everyone saw our uniforms, the entire audience stood up and applauded and cheered. It gave us all chills.
Being in Vietnam as an authority figure at 24 years of age was extremely difficult. But, I believe that my years in Vietnam and Korea shaped my successful career in Human Resources. It gave me the skills and confidence to accomplish much in my life and I’m very grateful for both experiences. They really shaped my life.
PLEASE NOTE: THERE ARE 48 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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