In our 62nd edition of the Donut Dollie Detail, Susan tells how her choice to serve in Southeast Asia was prompted by completing her master’s degree, how Cam Ranh Bay was just sand on top of sand and that upon her return to the states, a protester spit on her Red Cross uniform while calling her profane names, similar to what the returning men experienced.
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Please meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Susan Harden Lynch…
What prompted you to join the SRAO and want to go to Korea and Vietnam?
I had just finished my master’s degree in history with Southeast Asia as minor area of study. I was looking for a chance for adventure and travel. I was a Red Cross water safety instructor and first aid instructor, so SRAO seemed like a wonderful fit. It was.
When and where were you stationed in Korea and Vietnam? Did you go by a nickname?
I went to Korea in 1965. My first duty station was Camp Casey in Tongduchŏn (aka Dongducheon) with the 7th Infantry division. Later I was promoted and stationed at Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu.
When Vietnam was just opening for the Red Cross’ SRAO program (Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) in 1966, I volunteered to go. I was sent to Cam Ranh Bay to open a new Recreation Center along with Jody Ahrold Reynolds. Jody and I were in the same training class. We were joined by Cathy O’Connor who had been a Dollie in Korea previously and Joan “Dee” Fowler Hirsch who was new, but had USO experience. I also did short assignments with the 101st Airborne and the 1st Air Cavalry. I was known as Susan during my SRAO days.
What was a routine day like in Korea and Vietnam?
In Korea we ran a Clubmobile. This meant that four of us were on the road or in the air each day in pairs doing skits, shows, games and the like in mess halls or unit area parade fields. Our fifth Dollie remained at the Quonset hut office to develop programs and do paperwork. The teams rotated members each day. Weekends were free.
In Vietnam, Cam Ranh Bay was sand on top of sand. To walk or ride anywhere meant sand in your shoes, uniform, eyes and hair. We opened the new Recreation Center and we worked 10 am to 10 pm every day in split shifts with two of us on duty in the recreation center at all times. We would have to drain our boots and shoes of sand before entering the rec center. We also did hospital visits and helicoptered to remote unit visits. Rare days off were spent at the beach. Days off usually came every 18 days.
Did you ever have any “close calls” either on base or in any vehicles?
My team mate and I attempted to fly to a missile site in Chuncheon (aka Chunchŏn), South Korea during the winter in a storm. A severe downdraft hit the plane and our pilot somehow managed to fly us out of it. We returned to base and found tree leaves in the wheel struts.
Were you ever injured while in Korea or Vietnam?
No. I did spend time in a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) in Korea and a Base Hospital in Vietnam as a patient, but nothing related to injury.
What was it like to visit the soldiers in the hospitals?
At Camp Red Cloud in Korea, we visited soldiers in the MASH. The soldiers were around female troops, American civil service women and Red Cross women. While happy to see us, we were not much of a draw. In Vietnam, wehad an Army and an Air Force hospital to visit. The soldiers were young, hungry to talk to a female, amazed we were there and they loved our visits as did we.
How was the transition returning home to the United States?
In 1966 the country was in great turmoil over the Vietnam war. My arrival at San Francisco International Airport was not pleasant. A protester spit on my Red Cross uniform while calling me profane names. I believe this happened because I had a MACV shoulder patch on my uniform. When I got home, I found no one was interested in hearing about my time overseas. I remained in Red Cross employment for a year and was sent on speaking and SRAO recruiting trips. I think that helped my transition, as I was able to talk about my experiences.
What would you like people to remember and understand most about the women who served?
We were an integral part of keeping soldiers grounded and in raising morale. How bad could it be—there were women there. We were a group of intelligent, adventurous women who deeply cared about the troops and we loved our work.
How do you feel the Veterans think of your time serving with them now? Have any veterans expressed their feelings to you directly?
The troops loved us and I believe those feelings continue today. I joined the Army Reserve after Vietnam and the men and women under my command who were Korea or Vietnam Veterans spoke of their love of the Donut Dollies and the huge morale boost we provided. Those that I meet today say the same.
What are your fondest or most interesting memories of your time in serving in Korea and Vietnam?
I learned my life passion was in serving others, be it my country, individuals or my community. I continue to do so to this day. My SRAO service was a life defining time for me. I laughed, cried, smiled, hugged, loved and was enriched by it all. I would not trade any of it.
In Korea we were able to get to know the Korean people and travel all over the country. I still have Korean friends from that time.
One of my funny memories in Vietnam was of a dog we were asked to keep. Pets were not allowed. The troops felt if we had the dog, she would not be taken away. She loved to ride in jeeps and would jump into any jeep going by. Since every unit in the brigade “owned” her, her jeep riding was not thought to be a problem. Then one day General Westmorland, MACV Commander, walked into the rec center with the dog in a make-shift leash comprised of his web belt. We all felt we were “toast.” He sternly asked if the dog was ours. Everyone in the rec center inhaled. I explained we were her chaperones, that she belonged to the entire brigade. He considered that for a while, smiled and asked me to teach her not to ride in general’s jeeps and walked out. Exhale.
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