~A Donut Dolly at Cam Ranh Bay


Mary Geyer © 1998

In the fall of 1968, I had just turned 12 years old. Of course I knew of the Vietnam war, everyone did, it was in the papers and on television every night. What I didn't know was that someone who would become very close to me had just joined the SRAO volunteers, the "donut dollies" and with that my life would change.

Several years later, Genie, became my closest friend. She would tell me all the stories about her Vietnam experience and I would listen but never really experience what she was saying. I always noticed though, as she spoke, a far away, almost wistful look would come into her eyes. Then, one day, she showed me some old home movies she had taken while she was stationed in Cam Ranh Bay and pictures came on the screen of a soldier showing her his large gun, how proud he was of it, and in the next moment of film, he was playing a game or "program" as the dollies called them, all the while, laughing, cheering, and smiling, not at all the sober young man a few minutes before.

I asked Genie about these guys who all seemed like they were no older than 17 and she started telling me a story about a soldier who only had five minutes before a flight to combat. He started telling her about a poem on how the character of a horse can be told by the way it drinks water. I thought this was rather odd but all at once, Genie burst into tears. She said these boys didn't know if in the next five minutes they were going to die so they told the dollies the things that were the best memories they had.

That did it for me. I knew that, somehow, I would bring these people back to my friend.

The, in 1997, I began researching and found the In-Country Women's List by Marilyn Knapp Litt. Through working with Marilyn and some of the ladies on the list, I was able to find out about the women's memorial in Washington, D.C. Genie and I planned a trip for Veteran's Day almost at once.

The weather was terrible as we drove from Indiana and I wondered if this had been a good idea. Who could know what would happen?

The next morning, Veteran's Day, it was as if God had planned a very special moment because the sun came through and the morning was bright with the autumn light through the orange and red leaves.

As we approached the Vietnam Veteran's wall, it was not as I had expected. I had heard all the stories about the thousands of names but what struck me most was that there must have been 300 people around the wall, including the press, but everyone was as quiet as though they were in a cathedral.

No one spoke about a whisper. The silence made the experience that much more moving as I noted so many names. I was awestruck by the design of the wall itself. It reminded me of a terrible tornado or storm, beginning with one breeze, building to a destructive pitch, then losing strength to that last whisp of air. I will never forget it.

We then went to the women's memorial statue and I took pictures as Genie made her way around the crowd. The night before, we had attend the Delta to DMZ dance and I recognized several faces but I was beginning to have the feeling that something very unusual was happening. This was not just one of those reunions where everyone stands around getting drunk and telling war stories, as I had expected. This was a happening, an important moment in these people's lives because, as the day went on, I began to realize that the Vietnam veteran has something special from other veterans. Perhaps it is because the war was so very unpopular and during a time of unrest in our country, I don't know for certain, but as I carefully watched these men and women, they stopped being strangers in a park and became a family sharing their memories, their laughter, their tears: every aspect of who they were, then and now.

Then, a real miracle happened. Genie had placed a photo of herself and her unit wading on the beach at Cam Ranh at the base of the statue and many people started looking at it. After a few moments, a man picked up the picture and looked at it very intently.

Genie went over to him, they began conversing and the next sight I saw was the two of them hugging and wiping tears away. It seems that this man, a young soldier 30 years ago, had passed through Cam Ranh for three days on his way to R and R. He met Genie there and, unbelievable as it may seem to those of my generation, he remembered her. I watched them together, both in their fifties now, graying, a bit paunchy, and was amazed at how a mere moment in time could keep them bonded over 30 years.

Genie told me later, tears in her eyes, that he was the first soldier to thank her for what she had done for him so long ago.

Later, at the ceremony at the wall, I watched men who were called baby killer, spit upon by their countrymen, and who were shunned for so many years, remove their hats and say "God Bless America."

Can anyone look upon that and not be changed?

I will never be the same.

Thank you, Marilyn, Kammy and Genie.


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My Vietnam Related Websites:
button Women in Vietnam ~ Read about ALL the women who served . . .
The Irish on the Wall ~ An effort to locate the Irish who died in Vietnam
button Tim O'Brien's Home Page ~ National Book Award Winner and Americal Vet

button Emily's Poetry ~ By a Red Cross Donut Dolly
button Shrapnel in the Heart ~ The most moving book you will read on Vietnam
button All About Vietnam    ~ An annotated bibliography of books about Vietnam for sale thru Amazon Worldwide!
button Battle Dressing ~
button Project Hearts and Minds ~ Help put Viet Nam back together
button Photos from a Holts' Military History Tour ~ My trip to Vietnam, February 1998

My Other Websites:
Maybe Later . . . ~ My Creative Nonfiction
Irish in Korea ~ Irish men and women who gave their lives in the Korean War
Literature of the Korean War ~ Don't let the literature be forgotten
Samuel Pepys ~ One of my favorite authors
Chicago Theatre Z - A ~ This is the best theater town in the country!
Soccer Literature ~ I'm a fan and I read
O'Leary Lantern ~ Fire! Fire! Fire!
Gil Thorp ~ THE Coach (apologies to The General!)
Poetry of the First World War ~ Owen, Hardy and others
Chi-COW-go ~ Cowz plus Commentary (this used to be a cow town)
Graham Fulton, Scottish Poet ~ Charles Manson Auditions for the Monkees

Other Important Websites:
The Truth About Caroline ~ a  really good Young Adult book by my niece, Stacey
M. Lane Grosh
Remember Oklahoma City
The Civil Service and Military will NEVER forget!

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Page last updated July 18, 2007