In our twenty sixth edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Judy tells how she went to Vietnam to see the pros and cons of the war for herself, how she enjoyed talking and getting to know the GIs, and how one time she and a fellow Donut Dollie rode the Cu Chi base bus singing Halloween carols.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Judy Harper…
My peers had one opinion of the Vietnam War, and my parents another. A woman two years ahead of me in college (Western Maryland College – now re-named McDaniel College), Linda Sullivan (a.k.a. Sully) returned to campus my senior year and talked about what she’d experienced in the Donut Dollie program. So, not having much world experience, and wanting to see the pros and cons of the war for myself, I thought it would be a great thing to do. I have always believed in service, and this certainly fit that bill.
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I was stationed in Qui Nhon from September – October 1970; I was in Cu Chi from October – December 1970, where I re-opened the unit that was closed down after a Donut Dollie (Ginny Kirsch – learn more here) was murdered, which was open for the six weeks until the 25th stood down; I was in Danang from December 1970 – May 1971 – with a TDY (temporary duty) to Quang Tri over Christmas; and at Binh Thuy from May – July 1971. I was known as Judy in Vietnam.
I don’t think there was much ‘routine’ in our days. It would depend upon whether we were in the field or in a recreation center. We would be developing programs, and putting on programs with small or large groups of GIs. Sometimes we would be invited to the officer’s mess or to some event with officers in the evenings. But I enjoyed more of our time with the regular enlisted troops, who didn’t enjoy all the officers’ perks.
One of the things I appreciated most about my time in Vietnam was how very real my relationships and conversations were. In a war zone, feelings that would never be expressed when at home, were right near the surface. And I believe that the GIs thought it was ‘safe’ to reveal their feelings to us.
I used to love flying around in the helicopters, [although I found I had to go against Red Cross rules and put my hair in braids and jam a boonie hat over it to avoid the three hours it once took to get the tangles out!] and to this day I love small planes, etc.
Only had to go under the mattresses twice – I think once each in Qui Nhon and Danang, but I may be mis-remembering the locations.
I found out about another close call – again cannot remember where – after the fact. A Huey dropped us off on a grassy knoll in the middle of nowhere, (with lots of ice cream!) no one in sight until the helicopter flew off, then the GIs rose from their hiding spots in the tall grasses. We did our thing, got picked up again and left. We found out later that the helicopters dropping us off and picking us up must have marked the whereabouts of the GIs, who were hit by the VC shortly thereafter. What an awful feeling to know that we’d put a bulls-eye on them!
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
It was sometimes hard, especially when I would know them from our visits with them in the field. I learned to stay cool when looking at “jungle rot” – gross! Even more poignant were the visits (I often organized them when we were in the major base areas) to the orphanages, where we found the bulk of the children to be Amer-Asian.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
I spent five months traveling through Japan, Russia and Europe afterward. It was an interesting journey. Especially in Russia, where we saw plenty of soldiers with the hated AK-47s! I quickly learned that we couldn’t talk about our RVN experience there. That was probably good, not dwelling on the past. I ran into another Donut Dollie somewhere in Europe, who was apparently getting tiresome to her traveling companions with her constant talk of RVN.
I found myself somewhat emotionally vulnerable, but then I’d always been that way. But the close emotional connections with others just didn’t happen as often when people were back home, surrounded by support systems of friends and family.
Shortly after returning, I went to see a friend from college. After a year in a war zone, her life seemed superficial to me – revolving around china patterns and matching furniture. These days, there are times when I begin thinking about those kinds of things myself. I pull myself up abruptly, remembering my experiences in Vietnam, and how truly insignificant such considerations are. There are so many more important things in my life.
We were just regular young women who wanted to serve others. I grew up a lot that year.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
I know they appreciated us. They tell me so when I visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Memorial or Veteran’s Day.
Halloween Carols on the base bus in Cu Chi. I remember that Penni Evans and I dressed in costume (Penni was in a flight suit, and I was the Electric Strawberry – i.e. the 25th’s patch – red mailbag, cardboard lightning bolt, green boonie hat = charming, I’m sure!), hijacked a bus on base and led the riders in several rounds of Halloween carols. And of course, I have no clue what we sang that day! But it was all fun!
Easter morning 1971, sunrise on the beach. Somewhere I have a photo of that morning, with concertina wire in the foreground.
While on TDY to Quang Tri over Christmas 1970, we attended the Bob Hope show at Camp Eagle. More memorably though, was meeting Admiral McCain [even gave him a ditty bag – didn’t know who he was until later]. Apparently he visited the DMZ every Christmas, while his son, John, was a POW in North Vietnam. A somber time for him.
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