In our 51st edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Judy tells how her mother sent her a local newspaper article about the Red Cross SRAO program that led to her going to Vietnam, how her 22nd birthday was rather memorable and shares her memories of Hannah Crews, one of the three Donut Dollies who lost their lives while serving in Vietnam.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Judy Nichols Tayloe…
What prompted you to join the SRAO (Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) program and want to go to Vietnam?
I always chuckle at this question because it was really my mother’s doing that I ended up in Vietnam. I was just about to graduate from college with a degree in Psychology and had no idea what my career path would look like after graduation. One of my goals was to travel, so I wanted that to be part of my career. In a telephone conversation one day with my mother, we discussed different options and ideas. A day or two later, Mother called to share an article from our local newspaper about a Red Cross SRAO program. She mailed me the article. It really interested me, so I called the Red Cross, asked for an application, completed the application, and was accepted. I graduated college in May of 1969, and by early July of 1969, I was in Washington, DC at the Red Cross Headquarters for training, then Saigon for more training and then my first assignment in Bien Hoa.
When and where were you stationed in Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I was stationed at Bien Hoa Army Base, July 1969 to January 1970, and Cam Ranh Bay, January 1970 to February 1970. I left Vietnam in my 8th month in country to marry a GI I had met while in Bien Hoa. That union never materialized, and in retrospect, given the opportunity to choose again (with my head instead of my heart), I would have stayed in Vietnam until my year was completed. As it turned out though, I scored an exciting career in the airline industry, fulfilled my dream of travel, married for love and raised a beautiful family. In Vietnam I went by Judy.
What was a routine day like in Vietnam?
Exhausting and never routine! Nine Donut Dollies were housed on the Bien Hoa Army Base in a Quonset hut with one bathroom. Sometimes we had water, though rarely hot, and sometimes we had power, and sometimes the refrigerator worked. And, we had roaches! What we lacked in amenities, we made up for in enthusiasm! We were a tight knit group of unbridled creativity!
When I first arrived in Bien Hoa, we were a mobile unit doing clubmobile runs and Kool-Aid runs on the Army and Air Force Bases. Also traveling via helicopter, Jeep, truck or whatever transportation we could find, to landing zones and firebases to give an hour long program for the guys as a diversion from their usual work day.
In addition, two or three girls from our unit would travel each week and stay one to three nights in Phu Loi to share our programs with the guys. We loved that run, and the guys were always so glad to see us!
At times we were assigned a temporary duty assignment (TDY). One week, I was assigned to Phan Rang (near Cam Ranh Bay) to help in the recreation center. I fell into the lap of luxury… 4 girl unit, nice, two bedroom trailer with carpet and air conditioning! Bien Hoa had limited AC in our Quonset hut in the main living area, so that was a welcome touch!
In addition to our clubmobile runs, a recreation center was being built for us on the Army Base, so we were involved in getting that ready to open by September. It opened on September 8, 1969, complete with pool table, ping pong table, game room, TV room and reading room. It was such a welcome respite for the guys, and we made sure there were plenty of activities for them to do and participate in. Our days were filled to the brim with runs to fire bases, preparing our programs, spending time with the guys at the recreation center, writing letters home, trying to make a MARS call home (ham radio), trying to cool off, hanging out with friends or just taking a nap!
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
Two things come to mind:
• I was brand new in country… only a few days. It was the middle of the night and I was sound asleep. Suddenly, the air raid siren that announced incoming fire started blaring. I scrambled to put on my flak jacket, helmet, boots, and made my way to the bunker with the other girls. I positioned myself in the back of the bunker and proceeded to cry. No one else seemed phased that we were sitting in a bunker in a war zone with flak jackets and helmets. It just seemed to me that tears and fear were appropriate at that time! We all escaped unharmed, thank goodness.
• It was my 22nd birthday, and I was working at the recreation center. There were several guys in there helping me celebrate my special day. It was getting late and we were making preparations to close the center for the night. All of a sudden, someone threw a tear gas canister into the center. There was a mad scramble to get away from that tear gas as you can imagine. I’ll never forget that birthday and the guys who were so protective over us and helped us through that experience.
Because she cannot speak for herself, I want to be the voice of Hannah Crews, a Donut Dollie who lost her life at Bien Hoa. Hannah and I were on duty together in the recreation center on the night of September 26, 1969 (I may be off a little on that date). Hannah was riding home that night, fell out of a jeep and suffered a head injury. She was immediately taken to 20th Preventive Med at Bien Hoa where her head wound was stitched up. She stayed overnight for observation. During the night, she suffered a seizure, was transported to the 24th Evac Hospital in Long Binh where she deteriorated, eventually lapsing into a coma, and succumbed to that injury on October 1, 1969. I want to make sure that whomever reads this will know about her.
As soon as I arrived in Bien Hoa, Hannah and I established a close friendship. We were both from the same region of North Carolina, were raised with similar values, and had the same slow Southern drawl. The “little southern firecracker” was tiny at 4 ft 11 inches, with a charming personality, lovely smile, and infectious laughter. The guys and girls loved her. In the “fondest memories” question (last question), I share a favorite memory of a clubmobile run that Hannah and I experienced. I grieve for her still to this day. Rest in Peace, Hannah.
Were you ever injured while in Vietnam?
Yes, In a very odd way. In Bien Hoa, we had a dog, Dinky, and a cat, Baby Cross. In November of 1969, I took R&R to Bangkok, Thailand for a few days. While there I did some Christmas shopping and walked into the military post office to ship some goods home. As soon as I gave my name, all activity stopped. I was then shown a notice in the Pacific Stars and Stripes Newspaper… “Judy Nichols – call Red Cross”. The gist of the notice was that the cat we owned at Bien Hoa had died of suspected rabies and I was to go to the nearest medical facility to begin the rabies shot series as a precautionary measure. So, I took 5 shots in Bangkok and completed the remaining 9 shots in Bien Hoa. As it turned out, Baby Cross tested negative for rabies!
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
The 24th Evac Hospital was in Long Binh, which was about 7 miles from Bien Hoa. I recall going there only once. By the time we saw the men, they were clean and bandaged and really just needed a kind and encouraging word from someone from home. Many of them were seriously injured and would be returning home soon enough. I hope we were of some help and gave them words of encouragement to keep going.
While on a TDY to Phan Rang, I visited a Vietnamese Hospital whose patients were ARVN’s (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) and civilians. There were separate wards for surgery, OB, charity, wealthy, pediatrics and general practice. Vietnamese and American doctors worked together to treat the sick and babies were delivered by midwives. Patients were nursed and fed by their families.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
I hopped a military transport from Saigon to, I think, San Francisco. In San Francisco, the ticket agents thought I was military because I got a military airline rate to Greensboro, NC. My mother sold air travel insurance at the Greensboro, NC airport and she was on duty the day I arrived home. I had not told her when to expect me, so it was a total surprise! There were a lot of tears that day.
The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus was in Greensboro, and my daddy took me to the circus. I had been home only a couple of days. Mama made me a new outfit for the occasion… a red jumper and a striped blouse of many colors… I just think they were so glad to have me home, that any occasion to have an outing was a big deal. I went along with the plan since I didn’t want to disappoint my parents who had been my rock during my time in Vietnam. Anyway, who doesn’t love a circus!
Soon after arriving home, I did a presentation at a Red Cross Chapter in a nearby town and an interview with our hometown newspaper about my experiences. Overall, I think people were afraid to ask questions about what I experienced, and to be perfectly honest, it was hard to describe in words just what it was like to have been in Vietnam and now back in “the world”. The Vietnam War was not a popular subject at that time, so mostly I stayed silent.
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
We were young, brave, reliable, responsible, courteous, creative, loving, kindhearted, scared, inexperienced, hardworking, clueless, homesick, adventurous, tired, lost, bewildered, happy, sad, in love, and indestructible. We wanted to be there, and we loved the GI’s with all our hearts! We got so physically and mentally tired from our work, but we never tired of the men. It was the best experience of our lives!
How do you feel Veterans think of your time having served with them? Have any Veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
The dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial on Veterans Day 1993 in Washington, DC was a turning point for me. It was also the first and only reunion of SRAO girls that I had attended. Both men and women vets and civilians serving in Vietnam experienced the degradation of an unwelcome homecoming. There were many Vietnam Vets at that occasion, and until that time, they had not been recognized or accepted. Neither had the women. It was following that celebration that I felt free to speak proudly about my service in Vietnam.
Now I feel free to express my experiences and am thanked for serving. I was recently given a Vietnam Veteran Combat ballcap. It is a prized possession.
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time serving in Vietnam?
I had been in Bien Hoa for less than a month when Hannah Crews and I were given the privilege of introducing our SRAO program to some “new in country” guys who were taking Combat Leadership Courses (CLC). They would take this course and then be dispersed to various locations throughout Vietnam. Normally, we programmed to small groups… usually 4 to 50 max. Lo and behold, there were 200 men in this class! There was a stage, a microphone, and 200 faces staring at us. We were so nervous, but what saved the day was that Hannah and I both were from the South… North Carolina… and we both had that Southern drawl. The guys loved us as soon as we opened our mouths and they responded so positively that the nerves just melted away! Who knew?
The exhilaration of seeing boys that I knew from home is a favorite memory. At Bien Hoa, I experienced 3 “hometown boy” reunions, 2 on Bien Hoa Army base, and 1 on Bien Hoa Air Force Base. What a thrill!
There was a Vietnamese orphanage very near Bien Hoa, which we visited on occasion and also had the children visit our recreation center for special programs. But most of all, the memories of the guys, young and vulnerable, most drafted into an unpopular war, who loved us, provided for us, protected us, doted on us, will remain with me forever!
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Judy, Thank you and all the Donut Dollies that came to Vietnam to lift our spirits, it worked. You are a special person and considered a “Sister” from Nam.
Thank you so much, Ron. You guys lifted our spirits, and we wanted to be there.
Welcome Home Judy and Thank you for your Service.
Thank you so much, George.
Judy: I know that ALL my fellow GHS Classmates of the Class of 65 and fellow VV want to thank you and the other DD for what you did to lift the lives while doing their service.
Thanks H.C. (Buzzy) Woody Woodward
Thank you so much, Woody!
Judy: Your service to our country during the Vietnam War is special and deserving of the utmost pride, for you left the comforts of home in North Carolina to bring expansive relief and relaxation, in a combat zone, to those who were required to face the dangers and horrors of a battlefield. Your are deserving of our utmost gratitude. Thank you, Judy.
Jules, thank you so much for your kind words. I also want to thank you for your service in Korea. I know you bear the results of injuries to this day.
Judy ….Thank You. Your contribution has gone unknown for far too many years. I am more proud of you than you could possibly know.
Thank you so much, Bobby.
I thought that might be you, Bobby, but was not sure. Thank.you for your comments. I almost did not write this article, and would not have written it had it not been for my husband’s encouragement. I put it off for at well over a month, but he kept gently reminding me that I had a job to do., so finally I dug deep and wrote it, and it was cathartic. I really wanted to honor Hannah Crews in my article because it was she who deserves a voice. I’m proud of you, too, and thank you so much for your service to our country, and for your love and friendship through the years.
We had the pleasure of meeting two sets of the DD one at k gio bridge in May or June of 1970 and then on alpha 2 it was thanksgiving 1970 thanks for all for letting us see round and some one we could understand
Thank you, Larry. I thank you for sharing your memories of the DD you met.
Hey Judy, I just read the article about you, it brought back many memories, a lot of them good. I don’t know if you remember me, l was with the 25th Scout Dog Platoon in Bien Hoa. I well remember you and Hannah, that was a tragedy. I have a picture of Hannah getting in my truck just before she died. She was a wonderful person. It is hard to believe it’s been 50 years. I remember the cat rabies story, every one got rabies shots when the cat died of something else. One of the girls named Dalinda or Belinda was so funny telling what happened to her.
Hi Charles!, and thank you so much for your post.. It’s so wonderful to hear from you…a real blast from the past after 50 years. Thank you for remembering me and Hannah. I miss her still to this day. The rabies thing was a real bummer, and I can just hear Belinda telling her story. I hope she will write about her experiences soon. Stay safe and well.
I found your article fascinating. I remember you so well from Grimsley. You were always smiling, good-natured and kind. You obviously were a perfect fit as a Donut Dollie. Who better to cheer up men who were experiencing such trauma and danger on a daily basis so far from home. No doubt you were able to lift their spirits amid such horrific times. So thank you for you service. (I doubt you remember me–I worked in the library–and that’s okay.)
All good things,
Thank you, Tom, for your kind words, I don’t remember you from Grimsley, but our class was so big, it’s no wonder. I will look you up in our year book because I’m certain your face will be familiar. I hope you are doing well and are staying safe and well during this Covid 19 Pandemic.
Judy Nichols Tayloe
Judy, thank you for sharing your wonderful experience in Vietnam as a Donut
Dollie. So glad to know this wonderful story. Thank you too, Judy for your service.
Thank you, Rita! You are always so sweet! We are missing seeing you and everyone this year at the Tayloe reunion. Perhaps next year! Much love to you!