We volunteered to go to war
–took games to the troops to make them smile
and were all the world like the girl next door
with a touch of home for a little while.
From “Where Can I Find Them?” by J. Holley Watts
We have all heard about the Vietnam War. Some have lived through it and some, like me, have only seen it in films like Apocalypse Now and Platoon. We are familiar with the voices of the men who bravely served, but what about the women? I had the unique opportunity to talk with and listen to the stories of American women who served alongside their countrymen in a war far from home.
In her StoryCorps interview, Holley Watts tells her friend and fellow Vietnam veteran, Maggie Godson, about her experience as an American Red Cross worker during the Vietnam War. Lovingly referred to as “donut dollies” by the American servicemen, young female volunteers like Holley provided recreation activities for the G.I.s at base camps and in the field. Holley remembers the procedure at the recreation centers. When soldiers arrived, “first we’d check their weapon. We would give them a number and park that little bugger right behind the front desk. Some of them gave us a very hard time for doing that.” From there, the soldiers could hang out, play cards, read and even put on impromptu shows. “It was as close to normal as they could get and we were happy to oblige.”
During her service, Holley served in Da Nang and often flew via helicopter to more remote regions including Chu Lai and Cu Chi. On one helicopter ride flying high above the green of the Vietnamese rice patties, Holley remembered being hit by a strange deja vu and felt that she has been in Vietnam before. On another run, Holley’s helicopter crashed into a radar tower. She was saved because, against orders, she had unbuckled her seat belt right before landing. Of all her memories, it was clear that when she returned home, Holley was a changed person.
Many years after returning home, Holley wrote two books about her service in Vietnam entitled Who Knew…Reflections on Vietnam and Mud Sox ‘n Other Things. Holley says, “I didn’t set out to write a book.” One day she opened a drawer and re-discovered letters written to her by a young G.I. named Harry “Doc” Bowman, who was killed on Mother’s Day 1965. As Holley re-read his letters, she recalls, “I remember his eyes,” and she was inspired to put her feelings on paper. Today, Holley continues to write and share her experiences in Vietnam and in life.
For more information about Holley Watts and to read excerpts from her book Who Knew…Reflections on Vietnam, visit www.holleywatts.com.