In our 42nd edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Pat tells how she experienced two “close calls” while in Vietnam, how she got married a week after returning from Vietnam in a wedding dress made in Saigon, and shares a photo of her meeting General Westmoreland.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Pat McDaniel Nease…
What prompted you to join the SRAO (Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) program and want to go to Vietnam?
I was fresh out of college, didn’t owe anyone anything (since I had worked my way through) and wanted to travel. The Red Cross seemed to be a way to do that.
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I was stationed in Vietnam from August, 1966 to August, 1967. After a few days of orientation in Saigon, I went to Cu Chi. There was no recreation center, but they had built us a sweet little house with an enclosed shower. We created games we could take out to the fire bases and did a lot of Huey flying.
In December, I was transferred to Pleiku, same deal… no rec center; lots of flying, BUT no sweet little house. We lived in a tent with a wooden floor and the red dust swam up around us all night. And it was cold… AND rainy. Martha Raye stayed with us while she was on a USO tour.
I ended my tour in Long Binh, again, no rec center, lots of travel. I was Pat McDaniel then; no nickname.
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
Work on a new travel program, usually a game for a large group, which we shared with other SRAO travelers as they did for us. Hop on a Huey to a fire base. Present a program, serve on the chow line – giving every GI a “hello,” and a smile, hop the chopper back to base. Check in at the hospital, write letters or visit. Back to the hooch or recreation center to complete work on the next week’s program. Evenings were often spent with medics/nurses/doctors for a cook-out or music.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
There were two. Once at Tan Son Nhat airport when we were flying in on a B-47 (I think) – the SRAO girls were in the cockpit, which is where we usually rode – a plane had crashed in the center of the crossed runways. Everything was backed up, planes circling round and round, and the pilot said for everyone to be on watch. We’re all peering out, looking for other aircraft, when all of a sudden, there was another plane right beside us, so close to us we could see the pilot, looking as surprised to see us as we were to see him.
The second time, we were in a Jeep at Bien Hoa, delivering something, maybe Kool-Aid, to the ammo dump folks when this huge tank came barreling backward toward us at a high rate of speed. He didn’t see us and, at first, our driver didn’t see him. There was a lot of screaming and then we jerked forward just as the tank went whizzing by. I could have touched it if I hadn’t been white knuckled to the sides of the Jeep. I also could have used something with a bit more punch than Kool-Aid.
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
No. The worst I ever got was food poisoning.
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
My least favorite thing to do. Not because I didn’t want to help, and not because I did not feel compassion and concern for these injured young men, but I wasn’t trained in what to say or do in such a situation. Humor and fun were my forte, and this was no joking matter. I did more visiting and talking, bringing books and magazines, than writing letters home; just trying to bring a little relief in their boring, painful day.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
Not so bad. I was to be married in a week, had my wedding dress made in Saigon, and moved to Beaufort, SC, so my new husband could complete his Marine Corps obligation. It was NOT someone I met while overseas. It was someone I’d known nearly my entire life. His mother got with my mother and planned the wedding, so all I had to do was show up. We were busy. I don’t think I had time to unwind from one thing before I was wound up in something else.
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
I think everyone was there for a different reason. I was there partly because this man I was to marry was there, up in the Da Nang, flying F-8s for the Marines. I had a friend who’d returned home from Vietnam and had changed so much from the way he was when he left. I didn’t want to not know what my guy was going through.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
I was in Washington, DC for the dedication of the Vietnam’s Women’s Memorial in 1993 and many of the veterans thanked us, sharing stories of kindnesses done on their behalf.
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Vietnam?
I think the time that stays with me most is riding along with the medics when they went up into the mountains near Pleiku, bringing medicines to the indigenous Montagnard people. These delightful people had been isolated from the world and were just amazed at anything we shared with them. The first time there, I started a game with the children, using a pebble and hands behind my back. “Which hand is it in?” was the game. Though we didn’t speak the same language, the kids quickly caught on and soon the adults were gathered around, laughing and smiling when the right hand was chosen. The next trip I brought a ball, and on a third trip we tried jump rope. I loved those visits!
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