Ann Kelsey, Special Services
Questions from a High School class in 1998
Comments or questions, email at
January 29, 1998
Dear Stephanie, Summer, and John,
It's good to hear from you. Thank you for telling me a little about yourselves and what your interests are.
Here is a little information about me. I live in northern New Jersey in Morris County. Morris County is about 30 miles west of New York City. I am a librarian, and I work at a two year community college, County College of Morris. I have lived in New Jersey since 1973, but I grew up in southern California and went to college at the University of California.
I have a bachelors degree in Anthropology and English and a masters degree in Library Science. I graduated from the University of California library school in June, 1969 when I was 23 years old and two months later, I went to Vietnam.
I was not in the military. I volunteered to go to Vietnam as a civilian civil service employee with Army Special Services.
Army Special Services was the branch of the Army that was responsible for providing morale and recreation programs for the soldiers. These programs included movies, sports, musical entertainment, arts and crafts, and books, magazines, and newspapers, as well as a variety of other recreational activities.
My job was to be in charge of four libraries located in the lower part of what was called Military Region II. My libraries were located at Cam Ranh Army Post, the 6th Convalescent Center, also at Cam Ranh Bay, the 18th Engineer Brigade at Dong Ba Thin, and Camp McDermott in Nha Trang. The libraries were very much like a small public library, except that there were no children's books. The soldiers used the library to read magazines and newspapers from the States, to get books to help them with correspondence courses they might be taking, and for general recreational reading. The purpose of the morale and recreation program was to bring a little bit of home to the soldiers, and so the libraries and the books and magazines in them were made to be as much like their hometown library as we could make them.
I hope this will give you some idea of who I am and what I did in Vietnam.
Feel free to ask any questions you would like to ask. I will get a picture of myself now and one of me when I was in Vietnam in the mail to you in the next couple of days.
I know you will be doing research, and since I am a librarian, if you have any reference questions, I'll be glad to try to refer you to sources that might be helpful.
Looking forward to hearing from you again soon.
ps: Here are some of my interests: Popular music, gardening, bicycling, and my very friendly cat, Tina.
February 10, 1998
Dear Summer, John, and Stephanie
Thank you for letting me know that you received the information. I know that you are working on doing research now, so I'll be looking forward to answering your questions as soon as you are ready to ask. If you have any questions about what I wrote before or about the material I sent, please don't hesitate to ask. Also I know that it can be difficult finding written resources about women in Vietnam. If you need some help in finding bibliographic citations to books and articles, let me know.
Good to hear from you. I will try to answer your questions as completely as possible.
You worked in special services in Vietnam, what seemed to lift the
soldiers spirits the most?
Lots of times, just pretty ordinary things--getting letters from home, reading hometown newspapers, having a hot meal and dry socks and a cold drink. Being able to get away from the heat was something many soldiers looked forward to. That is one of the reasons the libraries were popular. They were air conditioned, so the books wouldn't mildew, so they were a comfortable place to go and relax. Being able to talk to someone about ordinary things and what they did at home also lifted their spirits, and these were all things that those of us who were part of the morale and recreation programs tried to do with them.
Did you work with only wounded soldiers or just those in action or both?
I worked with neither. Some of the soldiers who used the library at the 6th Convalescent Center were recovering from malaria, but I didn't work with any soldiers who had been wounded. In Vietnam there were more soldiers supporting the soldiers in the field fighting than there were soldiers in action. Most of the soldiers I worked with were convoy drivers who drove trucks full of supplies and ammunition from Cam Ranh Bay up into the Central Highlands, especially Ban Me Thuout. If you have a map of Vietnam, perhaps you can find those places on it. I also worked with soldiers who were part of an engineering brigade. They built bridges and roads for our soldiers and blew up ones that the enemy used.
They weren't in action in the traditional sense, but were often fired upon as they did their jobs. I also worked with the many support personnel, which included mechanics in motor pools, payroll clerks, cooks, and others, who provided essential services to those fighting in the field.
Did you ever feel in danger or were you always safe.
No one in Vietnam, regardless of what her or his job was, was always safe. There were no clear front lines in Vietnam, so even those who were in so-called rear areas were attacked. I was personally shot at once, and went through several rocket and mortar attacks. I didn't think about it very much, but I, like everyone else, was in danger all the time. That is, unfortunately, part of being in a place where people are killing each other.
When you joined the military did you choose to do this or did they choose
you? Did you still have to go through training for this job or did you go
straight to Vietnam?
I know this is hard to understand because it just seems natural that only people in the military go to war. However, this is NOT true. Other people besides people in the military volunteer to serve in war zones. I was one of those people. I did not join the military. I was a civilian employee of the Army, and I chose to go to work for them and go to Vietnam. I was not drafted, I didn't enlist. I am not a military veteran, and am not eligible for any benefits from the Veterans Administration.
The Army didn't give me any training at all. I went to the University of California at Los Angeles and got a master's degree in library science. That qualified me to go to work for Special Services as a librarian with a civil service rating of GS-9. I was trained by the university to do my job as a librarian. I wasn't trained at all to go to a war zone either before I went or while I was there. Un fortunately, this was true of most of the women who went to Vietnam, including the women who had actually enlisted in the military.
Women were considered non-combatants and so were not trained to protect themselves. They were often not given protective gear such as flak jackets or helmets. The problem was that when rockets, mortars, and other weapons were fired, they didn't discriminate. They hit whoever was in their way, including women and non-combatants. This is one of the things that people have a hard time understanding about Vietnam, so please don't hesitate to ask me to explain some more.
I hope I've answered your questions completely. I just want to stress again that not everyone who went to Vietnam was in the military. Some were civilians, and I was one of those. Many women who went to Vietnam, both military and civilian, were not nurses and did not work with men who were wounded or who were in action. Soldiers did many things in Vietnam, just as women did, and there were many who supported the soldiers in the field by cooking their food, bringing them supplies and ammunition, building bridges and roads, maintaining files, etc. Regardless of what they did, though, they were all in a war zone with no clearly defined front lines, and so at any time and in any place they could be fired on and wounded or killed.
As I said if anything I've said is unclear or doesn't make sense to you, please ask, and we'll talk about it some more.
February 27, 1998
I'm five feet even too. :-)
What exactly did you do?
I was a librarian with Army Special Services. I was not in the military. I was a civilian civil service employee. I volunteered to go to Vietnam when the Special Services recruiters came to the University of California, Los Angeles library school right before I graduated in June 1969. I went to Vietnam in August 1969.
My job was to manage four libraries for military personnel and civilians who worked for the military. The libraries were located in the lower part of Military Region 2 (lower II Corps). Two were at Cam Ranh Bay, one at Cam Ranh Army Post and the other at the 6th Convalescent Center. The third library was at the 18th Engineers Hdq. at Dong Ba Thin which was located off Highway 1 between Cam Ranh and Nha Trang. The fourth library was at Camp McDermott in Nha Trang.
The libraries looked a lot like a small public library, except that there were no children's books. The collections were composed of recreational reading, reference books, and magazines and newspapers (which were flown in, so they would be current). There was lots of non-fiction as well as current best sellers and books that people who were taking correspondence courses could use to do their school work.
The libraries were part of the Army's morale and recreation program, which also included craft shops, service clubs (recreation facilities), and entertainment programs.
Did have any experiences with death?
I'm not sure what you are asking? Do you mean did I kill anyone? No. Did I see anyone get killed? No. Did I get shot at? Yes. Did I get rocketed and mortared? Yes. Did I see coffins and body bags? Yes. Did I know anyone who got killed? I don't know.
Did any thing unusual happen to you?
I guess you could say that the whole year was unusual. Being in a war zone is not a standard situation. But you learn to accept the abnormal as normal very quickly, a survival mechanism, I suppose. For instance, I didn't think of it as unusual at all that a bullet crashed through the trailer where I lived missing the side of my head by inches. I was only angry that some fool had discharged his weapon in the wrong direction.
(This was not the enemy shooting. It was friendly fire--misdirected small arms practice). I went out and dug up the bullet and took it to the commanding general strongly suggesting that they be more careful when practicing. Unusual? Not to me then. But now? I guess that would be called unusual under normal circumstances. But war isn't normal.
The work that I did was not that different from the work I do now. It was just done in a very unusual setting.
Were you ever in the "action" of the war?
As mentioned above, I was shot at once, by mistake. Cam Ranh Bay was rocketed and mortared several times. There were also sapper attacks. Sappers were commandos who swam or floated across the bay from the mainland with what were called satchel charges. These were explosives, like C4 plastique or dynamite. Once they blew up the ammo dump, the area where live ammunition was stored.
What was the best and worst thing that happened to you?
The best thing that happened was the satisfaction I felt in providing reading materials and answering questions for the personnel who used the library. Cam Ranh Bay was a big supply base and so there were a lot of transportation companies there. The soldiers drove big trucks full of supplies, ammunition, etc. up into the Central Highlands (Dalat, Ban Me Thuout, Pleiku). Driving the trucks in the convoys was a dangerous job, but unlike the soldiers in the field, they would return to the base regularly. Many of them were taking correspondence courses, and I was able to get books for them to use in their classes. All of the soldiers appreciated the magazines and newspapers. The idea of the morale and recreation program was to provide soldiers, during off hours or on stand down, with recreational activities similar to what they were familiar with at home. Books and magazines were a big part of that, and the best part of my being there was being able to do that.
The worst part was realizing that the war I had patriotically supported at home was not what I thought it was. My support for the soldiers never wavered, but my support for my government's actions in Vietnam collapsed.
It was a wrenching experience to realize that I no longer trusted my government or its leaders, and to know that people were dying because of bad judgements at the highest levels.
Feel free to ask any other questions that you think of.
ps: Would you tell John, Summer, and Stephanie that I received their pictures
and enjoyed seeing them?
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