In our fourteenth edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Susan Baiamonte Conklin tells about going to Vietnam for the adventure like “Brenda Starr, Reporter” from the newspaper comics, and what happened when she and another Donut Dollie were dropped off at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Susan (Suzi) Baiamonte Conklin…
What prompted you to join the SRAO (Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) and want to go to Vietnam?
I fancied myself as Brenda Starr the newspaper comic reporter and was looking for an adventure. Boy did I get one.
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
In 1968, I was in Cam Ranh Bay, Lai Khe and Da Nang. I went back to all those places in 2015 and was shocked at the change. I was known as “Suzi” in Vietnam, but became Susan again as I aged.
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
In Vietnam, it depended on the location. In Cam Ranh we ran two recreation centers plus a traveling clubmobile program (to reach the men on firebases). Center duty meant making coffee and Kool-Aid and socializing with the men with a daily program. In Lai Khe there was no center and was only clubmobile, so we flew everyday with a prop bag of programs. Da Nang was center and clubmobile. Oh! In our free time we had to create and build those programs.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
I had many, but the most memorable was in Lai Khe, the home of The Big Red One, which was my second assignment as a Donut Dollie in Vietnam. It was summer 1968 and I was training a new Donut Dollie named Linda. The day started with a news team competing for helicopters on the Lai Khe air strip “to get to the action”. While this was our usual run to Quan Loi, Linda and I just boarded the first available ride there. Quan Loi is close to the Cambodia border and had seen a lot of recent action. Once there, our usual Huey to the airstrip was not available, so we were put on a Chinook. Noise is a factor in riding a Chinook and it is hard to hear. The pilot wrote down a message and asked us if we were sure we wanted to go to this airstrip. Of course we wrote back. It was our weekly run to see the soldiers there. We could see the air strip, but the pilot landed (more like hovered) a short distance from the airstrip and let us off quickly, throwing down our program bag.
We walked to the airstrip and I realized there were no soldiers, only Vietnamese. In a quandary, we opened the prop bag and started programming with the Vietnamese on the airstrip playing games and giving out prizes. In retrospect, I will say that they were just as puzzled as we were. Overhead, I heard a Huey, which landed a couple hundred yards from us. I saw the General’s aide running towards us. “What are you doing here?” he asked and I replied “programming, do you want to play?’ I never got an answer, as he started throwing props back into the bag. He had me by one arm and I had Linda by the other. We did a fast trot to the Huey. Apparently, the General saw “two blue dots” on the airstrip and realized the dots were Donut Dollies and in the wrong place at a very wrong time. The General got a medal for saving us and I got a story.
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
If you consider a howitzer gun going off in your ear an injury, but it was my own stupid fault for standing so close.
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
Not part of my job, but I often helped the hospital Red Cross people with visits in Cam Ranh and Da Nang. It was sad, but the men appreciated the visits. I felt better for doing them.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
Smooth. I moved with my girl friend to Hermosa Beach, CA and taught school and yes, kept partying.
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
They were special and we had a unique gene that made us go to war. They are some of my best friends. Lived a year with these women and never had a negative thought about them, has to be a record.
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
Over 50 years of meeting Vietnam veterans and I have heard nothing but praise for us and thank you’s.
What were your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Vietnam?
Christmas 1968 in Da Nang and the Bob Hope show with Ann Margaret and The Gold Diggers and one ton of fruit cake from the good people in Hartford, CT. A story in itself.
PLEASE NOTE: THERE ARE 13 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)
Thanks for those to few good memories. Thanks for being there for us, it really meant a lot. I will never ever forget the
Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Susan. There wasn’t much about Vietnam to recommend ANYone being there but you went anyway. My better memories of my 13 months there include visits from your sisters.
Thank you for your Service and Welcome Home!
Suzi: Great report! I say “ditto, ditto, ditto”!
Suzi,, thank you so much for your much needed service. I’m very grateful for the the Donut Dollies.