In our 57th edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Diane tells how patriotism led to her join the SRAO program in Vietnam, that she was one of the few Donut Dollies who were injured in-country and how she didn’t allow it to discourage her from completing her one year tour, and how she met her future husband in Vietnam, to whom she’s been married 51 years.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Diane Love Crocker…
What prompted you to join the SRAO (Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) program and want to go to Vietnam?
I was raised in a very patriotic family with many aunts and uncles that served both in WWI, WWII and Korea. My father was too young for WWI and too old for WWII, although he did a great deal of work for the government during WWII. I had always felt that as one of three girls in our family, that if there was ever a war, of course I would go. I never had any desire for a military career, but when I read about the SRAO program it sounded like a good fit, even though the Red Cross had a few doubts about me due to the fact that I had been raised in comfortable surroundings. Little did they know about the strength of Southern women!!
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I arrived in-country in November, 1966 and was sent to An Khe with the First Air Cavalry Division for about 6 months. I then was transferred to Bien Hoa with the 173rd Airborne, where I served as the Program Director from April to mid-July, 1967 (I had to wait for my jaw to heal, but more on that below). My last assignment was from mid-July to late November, 1967, back to the highlands at Pleiku with the 4th Infantry Division, where I was the Unit Director. I felt so fortunate to serve with two incredible Generals – General Norton with the 1st Air Cav and General Peers with the 4th Infantry. They both were so very supportive of the work we were doing and did everything in their power to get us where we were most needed.
I’ve always been known as Diane.
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
There were very few routine days for us, at least in the units I was in. In An Khe we had 8 girls and different areas to cover – the on-base recreation center (card games, pingpong, snacks, etc.), trips to firebases in the forward areas – weather permitting, and visits to different units on base camp where we would present a program. We always had at least two people in the recreation center, the forward areas had 2- 4 girls who would go out in 2 separate aircraft and the remaining 2 – 4 women would be on base camp. We had to fit in time for program planning and preparation, housekeeping and everyone had one day off for laundry, etc.
We never went anywhere alone, so sometimes there might have been 3 people in the recreation center, with one of them working on the next week’s program. It was very day to day and even though we planned the week as best we could, we always knew there would be changes. Also, each unit had different priorities. The 173rd Brigade was smaller, with more on-base programing and less firebase visits. The 4th Division had a lot of forward area firebase visits, as well as on-base programs. But anything I could say about the units I served with could be the exact opposite of what happened in other units. Support units were very different from combat units – I have always felt that Vietnam was contradictory on almost every level.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
I think most of us that served with combat units had an occasional “close call”. Once we were headed out to a forward firebase and the helicopter crashed after it had dropped us off. A couple of times they dropped us at a firebase only to return after a few minutes to pick us back up due to enemy activity in the area. Almost all of us experienced occasional trips to the bunkers due to incoming fire, but strangely I never was really frightened.
The scariest thing I can remember was going to the latrine one night and looking to my right to see a giant fuzzy spider on the wall. I let out a yell and the poor MP on duty came running and thankfully called out to see if I was OK, instead of barging in:) One day we were visiting an artillery unit and as we safely stood on a high hill, we watched an infantry company below racing through rice paddies with rifles at the ready. As so often happened in Vietnam, it was a very surreal moment.
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
I was one of the ones who was injured in Vietnam. While driving to do a program at the Long Bien base on one of the few paved roads in Vietnam, our driver took a turn a little quickly and I was throw out of the Jeep. I looked up and my Donut Dollie partner and the driver looked at me as though I was a ghost. Apparently my chin and the road found each other and there was a lot of blood. Thankfully, the head of dental surgery happened to be at the base that day and he stitched my chin and wired my broken jaw, and after a few days I was sent back to Bien Hoa. The driver felt so bad that he drove to the airbase every day to get me a milkshake, since I could only eat soft food.
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
Visiting the men in the hospitals was so rewarding and could also be very sad, depending on the situations. It meant the world to the men and we tried to wear our blue uniforms as often as we could. If they saw us in our uniforms, how bad could it be? Sometimes we had to wear our fatigues due to weather and other conditions. I will feel so grateful that I had the opportunity to give something back to those incredible young men.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
The transition home was another surreal experience. I left Vietnam 2 days after being at a forward firebase with a raging battle going on a mile away – I cant remember the name of the battle, but what I do remember was watching the wounded coming in and being lifted into helicopters. After I was home and watching the news, they were discussing THAT firebase and THAT battle – it was very hard to absorb and I had mixed emotions of wishing I was back there and being so grateful to be home.
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
The majority of the women I served with were incredible. I have been fortunate to be able to keep in touch with some of these wonderful women. I have always felt that I received so much more than I could have ever given. It was a truly life changing experience for me.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
At the time I served in Vietnam, there were men that doubted our morals and our sincerity. Being from a very loving and protective family, I never had either of those virtues questioned and it was hard emotionally to deal with that. However, once they saw us in the field, many minds were changed and many apologies came my (and our) way.
So many men called my parents when they returned home and my sister said our house was often like a USO canteen with GIs coming for lunch or dinner while in Atlanta. In 1993, veterans lined Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC when the Vietnam Women’s Memorial was dedicated, and so many of us were allowed to march and welcomed with thank yous from the men that had served. It was such an incredible and moving day.
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Vietnam?
This is a hard one, but I will try.
Living with so many wonderful and interesting women is one.
Meeting my future husband is another, although I did not know he would be my future husband – he had extended his service for 6 more months after I left. Gary came through to meet my family in Atlanta and to see if what we felt in Vietnam on his way to his next assignment in Washington, DC was still there. We did feel that it was real and lasting, so we dated back and forth from his base in Washington, DC to Atlanta. We got engaged in the fall of 1968 and married in April of 1969:)
Having the opportunity to visit the Montagnard villagers that the 1st Air Cav had rescued and relocated was amazing.
We were asked to lunch by an ARVN Colonel (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) – needless to say we contacted our headquarters in Saigon and they sent someone up to accompany us for that visit. It was a very interesting and insightful day.
Occasionally we had a long weekend of R&R that allowed us to visit Red Cross units in other areas of the country – for me it was Danang, Qui Nhon, Nha Trang and Cam Ranh Bay.
One of my fondest memories is of flying over the gorgeous country to our various programing destinations – via helicopters of various types, the C-130, Chinooks, the C-47, the Caribou and a little fixed wing plane that I can’t remember the name of.
Another fond memory is Christmas with a small unit – a beautiful church service followed by us serving Christmas dinner to the men. Although we missed the Bob Hope show in An Khe, our Christmas was so meaningful.
So many other memories come and go through my mind – hopefully I will start to write them down for the grandchildren.
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