Colonel Cecil R. Sykes


Cecil Ray Sykes, Colonel, US Army, retired was born 1/1/1930 in Clinchco, Virginia. He died in his beloved Pamlico County, with family members by his side, 6/13/2019.

The third child of Leonard and Elizabeth, Cecil was one of 3 brothers and 2 sisters who grew up in a coal mining community where they learned farming as well as respect and love of family. Inspired to serve his country after one year at Purdue University, Cecil was accepted to West Point, NY and joined the US Army.

Educated at US Military Academy West Point, class of 1952, he met Marlene Schmidt soon after graduating. Married within the year, they shared 67 years together, raising 3 children.

Col. Sykes’ memorable military career included serving as Battalion Commander of Artillery in Viet Nam as well as multiple assignments across the US and overseas. Trained in the new discipline of Nuclear Physics at University of Virginia in the 1960s, he was integral to early experimentation at Sandia Base, New Mexico. One of his favorite deployments was to Bangkok, Thailand. Cecil learned to love the Thai language, culture, people, foods and opportunities Thailand gave his family and him.

Alexandria, VA was home for many years, during his years at the Pentagon and after retirement. Drawn to Oriental, NC, Cecil began Sykes Builders in 1983, constructing custom, high quality homes and buildings.

Cecil and Marlene lived a bucolic life on the water where they enjoyed sailing and being involved with several facets of the community. Cecil Sykes was instrumental in establishing and building St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Oriental, NC.

Cecil Sykes loved his God, country and family. Too, he was an incredibly talented Master Gardener, accomplished cook, an avid reader, thinker, conversationalist and friend to many from throughout his life. He enjoyed learning about and creating clocks. Cecil made certain all his children have a handcrafted clock to mark their time.

He was proficient in three languages: English, Thai and French.

Cecil was predeceased by sisters, Thelma and Alice; and brother, Robert. His brother, James (Brenda) live in Big Stone Gap, VA near the original family homestead.

He is survived by his sons, Paul (Tina), Robert (Terry), daughter, Joyce and claimed Charlene Morris as his own child.

Cecil has several grandchildren and great grandchildren, all of whom he loved and cherished. Grandchildren include: Danielle, Wesley and Shelby Rae, Sarah and Jessica (Jason), Brian (Abby) and Timothy.

Great grandchildren include Garrett, who serves in the US Army. Jennifer, Clark and Luke are among several other great-grandchildren whom Cecil often enjoyed in his life. Cecil’s newest great granddaughter, Edith Rae Karam, arrived 6/14/19 and will learn of Cecil from family members and the extensive archives he left for all to explore.

Celebrate Cecil’s life at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church on June 27th at 11 a.m.

Memorial may be given to St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, PO Box 461, Oriental, NC 28571 or Hospice of Pamlico, PO Box 6, Bayboro, NC 28515.

The Donut Dollies

“They had the guts to brave incoming mortars, sniper and ground- to-air fire, and other wartime hardships and dangers to visit the firebases earned them the unarguable respect and admiration of the troops!”

During World War II numerous teams of three female Red Cross volunteers operated clubmobiles equipped with a kitchen area with a stove for heating water for coffee and a built-in donut-making machine. These clubmobiles traveled with the rear echelon units, but each day their teams ventured out to different operating areas to visit Soldiers, play Victrola records, pass out sundry items, and serve hot coffee and fresh-made donuts to the troops.

Female Red Cross workers answered the call to duty again during the Korean War. In its early stages, they earned the endearing nickname, “Donut Dollies,” turning out up to 20,000 donuts a day for American Soldiers disembarking troop ships in Pusan.

The Donut Dollies were most visible to troops serving in Vietnam. Between February 1962 and March 1973, they logged over 2,000,000 miles by jeep, deuce-and-a-half, and helicopter, visiting combat troops at remote fire bases from An Khe to Yen Giang (there’s no “Z” in Vietnamese). And they didn’t pass out a single donut during this war.

Instead, usually traveling at least in pairs and dressed in their signature pale blue outfits, this time they brought smiles, songs, games, and a touch of back home to the guys who were in the bush counting the days down from 365.

Over 600 Donut Dollies responded to the somewhat opaque Red Cross’s ads seeking “qualified young women who were willing to serve one year overseas.” They had to be at least 21, have a college education, and have that “girl next door” look. Among the understated requirements: “the job requires a capacity for hard work under less-than-ideal conditions.” After only two weeks of training in Washington, D.C. as Red Cross recreation workers, the women packed off for Vietnam where they set up recreation centers before the USO and Special Services arrived and wrote up and conducted recreation programs in the field for troops who couldn’t visit the centers.


They also visited hospitals to hand out activity books and spent time in evac hospitals with the wounded. As one Donut Dolly put it, “Our job was to smile and be bubbly for an entire year— no matter what the situation.”

No one appreciated the presence of the Donut Dollies more than the troops on the remote firebases. Minutes spent talking about home or sports or music or wives and girlfriends with a fresh-faced American girl with a ponytail wearing a tinge of lipstick and a splash of perfume was a terrific morale boost.

The fact that these young women had the guts to brave incoming mortars, sniper and ground- to-air fire, and other wartime hardships and dangers to visit the firebases earned them the unarguable respect and admiration of the troops. And that’s exactly how Vietnam veterans remember the Red Cross Donut Dollies nearly forty years later— with unarguable appreciation, respect, and admiration.