In our thirty sixth edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Jenny tells how even though she wasn’t eligible for the draft, she wanted to support her male peers who were drafted, that 20-years after the fact she learned that a Chinook helicopter she was flying in had come under fire, and that she had a concerning encounter with a unit’s pet.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Jenny Young…
What prompted you to join the SRAO and want to go to Vietnam?
As a female I wasn’t subject to the draft, and I felt kind of bad about that. I wanted to try, in some way to help with the awful situation that my male peers were subject to. I also wanted adventure.
Where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I was first stationed at Dong Ba Thin and the unit was closed in February, 1969 when the Recreation Center’s materials were sent to Tuy Hoa with two of the Dong Ba Thin Donut Dollies. These two (including myself) became two of the four ARC Girls who opened the Tuy Hoa Red Cross unit, becoming the first women to live there on base. I was then transferred to Cam Ranh Air Base and then onto the Fourth Infantry Division in the Central Highlands (Camp Enari). I went by the nickname “Jenny” except for the first month, when my issued name tag said “Jen.” I asked for the change to Jenny, too many people thought “Jen” was “Jan” or “Jean”.
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
For mobile runs, either by road (jeep or truck) or air (chopper) we got up very early and came home at the end of the day, unless having to R.O.N. (remain overnight) due to unexpected weather somewhere. We visited as many units as possible. In the Highlands, these would be artillery units on a firebase, plus the infantry units who were “in” from patrol. These were guys living underground or in sandbag bunkers. We often flew in with the hot chow, so we would serve the food.
We’d then offer our “game of the week” (home-made, audience participation games). Our “field bags” contained gifts of stationery, card decks, candles, candy, pens, paperbacks, packets of Kool Aid, and small palm-sized mirrors. Back on the bases where we lived, curfew was 12:00 midnight, except at Camp Enari where the military changed it to 11:00 p.m. For the units with Recreation Center activities, one worked the assigned shift for being there at the Center, interacting with the men who came in — playing ping pong, cards, talking. The Centers also staged programs like funny fashion shows or jello eating contests, etc. Often we would work on our “programs” for the road, getting ideas and experimenting (rehearsing) with those who came to the Center.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
No. I found out 20 years later that a chinook I was on took small arms fire, but I didn’t know at the time. We were headed home after dark but the pilots were called in to extract some troops from a hot area. It turned out the troops were ARVN (South Vietnamese) troops. My Donut Dollie partner was on a headset with the pilots, so she heard about the fire.
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
Not a major injury, but I was bitten by a unit’s pet monkey on a firebase. I asked if it had been inoculated and was told yes. I called everyday on the field phone to ask about the monkey’s behavior (wanting to know if it went rabid), dreading that I might have to take rabies shots. Luckily, nothing dire happened.
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
Not easy. One soldier in a psych ward (strapped down) at Cam Ranh Air pleaded with me to get him out of there. Another time — while assigned to the 4th Infantry, we had a “regular” run to an LZ called St. George. One day, at the end of my tour (November, 1969), we were informed NOT to go to St. George — it had nearly been overrun the night before. We went to see “our” guys who were in the hospital in Pleiku. It was tough, because we had known them as able-bodied and “okay” all those weeks prior to the attack. One guy had had a tracheotomy, but wanted to speak to me. He had to press on his throat. I had to dig my nails into my palm to keep from getting light-headed.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
I saw that those back home were very busy with their lives, paying little attention to the plight of the American soldiers in Vietnam. Their “concerns” seemed so trivial, for example, “Will we have enough beer for tonight’s pool party?”. Otherwise, a fairly smooth transition — no real problems.
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
That the U.S. military requested this program of the American Red Cross. That we did NOT go to Vietnam to be Call Girls for the officers. That we went because we cared and wanted to help out in some way, with the Red Cross SRAO program offering that opportunity.
How do you think the Veterans think of your time serving with them now? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
Nowadays they are quite grateful. Many have thanked me individually and we’ve been thanked as a group.
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Vietnam?
Incredible camaraderie within our Red Cross “units” and with the military around us. Chopper rides over beautiful countryside. American boys who really tried to “clean up their act” when we visited, and were very chivalrous. Visiting “CA” (Civilian Affairs) teams assigned to Montagnard villages in the Highlands, receiving great hospitality from the villagers. With my being 6 feet tall and blonde, I think I was quite the novelty to them. Playing volleyball almost every afternoon with the Commanding General of the 4th Division.
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