The Donut Dollies of Vietnam, The Saga of the American Red Cross Girls In Country

The Donut Dollies of Vietnam left a lasting legacy, and their stories continue to be remembered as part of the broader narrative of the Vietnam War. Their dedication to providing a sense of normalcy, entertainment, and comfort to soldiers in the midst of

February 1, 2024

 The term "Donut Dolly" (also spelled Doughnut Dolly) originated from the Red Cross practice of offering coffee and donuts to soldiers as a means of boosting their spirits and providing a taste of home. Despite their name, they didn't distribute a single donut during the war.

Amidst the backdrop of conflict, where the harsh realities of war paint the landscape with uncertainty, a poignant scene unfolds—a meeting of the humanitarian spirit and the efficiency of military transport. Against this tumultuous canvas, a Red Cross Donut Dolly, clad in the iconic Red Cross uniform, finds herself hitching a ride in a helicopter.

(The age of this photo meant that the colors of the image have changed, her dress is powder blue and the patch was in fact red)

The helicopter, a mechanical bird of war, awaits with whirring blades ready to create a symphony of sound as it hovers, poised to lift off. Assisted by military personnel, the Donut Dolly, carrying the emblem of compassion and aid, ascends into the sleek and purposeful design of the aircraft. In this moment, the helicopter becomes a symbol of rapid response, an instrument of both conflict and relief.

Inside the helicopter, amidst the hum of the engine, she takes her seat. The chopper rises into the sky, offering a bird's-eye view of the complex tapestry below – a mosaic of beautiful diverse landscapes and the scars of war.

The journey unfolds with a mix of anticipation and purpose. The Donut Dolly, dedicated to providing comfort and support to military personnel, gazes out, observing the ever-changing scenery. The rhythmic thump of rotor blades and the rush of wind through open doors add a dynamic element to the experience, a constant reminder of the fluidity of the mission.

As the helicopter approaches its destination, the military base sprawls before them—a complex network of tents, trenches and bunkers. Her presence becomes a symbol of warmth and care in the midst of the everyday misery that envelopes every soldier.

The Donut Dollies left an indelible mark on the troops serving in Vietnam, becoming a familiar sight between February 1962 and March 1973. Covering over 2,000,000 miles by various means, including jeep, deuce-and-a-half, and helicopter, they reached combat troops stationed at remote fire bases spanning from An Khe to Yen Giang.

Typically traveling in pairs, adorned in their distinctive pale blue uniforms, these women brought more than just confections to the servicemen stationed in the challenging conditions of Vietnam. They delivered smiles, songs, games, and a touch of home to those counting down the days from 365 in the bush.

Over 600 Donut Dollies responded to the somewhat mysterious Red Cross ads seeking "qualified young women willing to serve one year overseas." Requirements included being at least 21 years old, possessing a college education, and embodying the "girl next door" look. The somewhat understated demand was for a capacity to work diligently under less-than-ideal conditions.

Following a brief two-week training in Washington, D.C. as Red Cross recreation workers, these women departed for Vietnam. There, they established recreation centers before the arrival of the USO and Special Services, conducting recreation programs in the field for troops who couldn't access the centers.

They also visited hospitals, distributing activity books and spending time in evacuation hospitals with the wounded. As one Donut Dolly eloquently stated, "Our job was to smile and be bubbly for an entire year—no matter what the situation."

The troops on remote firebases particularly cherished the presence of the Donut Dollies. A few minutes spent discussing home, sports, music, or loved ones with a fresh-faced American girl sporting a ponytail, a hint of lipstick, and a touch of perfume provided a tremendous morale boost.

These young women demonstrated exceptional courage, braving incoming mortars, sniper and ground-to-air fire, and various wartime hardships to visit the firebases. This bravery earned them unequivocal respect and admiration from the troops.

Nearly forty years later, Vietnam veterans remember the Red Cross Donut Dollies with enduring appreciation, respect, and admiration.

Title photo credit : Sara Smith