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.

dollieloach

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.

The Nurses of Pearl Harbor

pearl harbor nurses

1Lt Annie FoxAnnie Fox is best known for her service at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack on that base. Then-First Lt. Fox was the newly appointed chief nurse at Hickam Field.
The nurses that day were in a unique position. For the first time in American history, Army nurses were at the front lines of battle—and they had to serve in this capacity, without any warning or preparation.

“We thought we were having a two-year (holiday-style) tour of duty at taxpayer expense,” one nurse, Harriet Moore Holmes, later reminisced. “We were looking forward to it immensely.”
Holmes had spent the night of Saturday, December 6, 1941, at a dance with friends. They’d been out late, and Holmes was sound asleep when the Japanese struck the next morning.

She couldn’t believe the scene when a supervisor woke her up.
“I could see the black smoke streaming up from Pearl Harbor just over the hills and just then a Japanese pilot flew low over the hospital,” she described. “He waved at us. We felt lucky he didn’t want to bomb a hospital.”

1Lt Annie Fox was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for her actions on 7 December, 1941.

The Citation to Accompany the Bronze Star reads in part:

“[S]he administered anesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment,” her citation stated, “assisted in dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make dressings, and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency, and her fine example of calmness, courage and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact.”

But Fox wasn’t the only Army nurse who went above and beyond the call of duty that day. Anna UrdaSecond Lt. Anna Urda was a patient at Tripler General Hospital because of an infection in her right cheek. When the bombing started, she knew that she was a patient no more. She changed into her nurse’s uniform—but soon ran into her chief nurse.
Urda later described the encounter: “[A]s soon as [the chief nurse] looked at me she said, ‘Where do you think you’re going with that red face?’ And I said, ‘On duty where ever you need me.’”

Nearby, 2nd Lt. Myrtle Watson was working at Schofield Hospital. It was a weekend, so she was the only nurse on her ward. Worse, the chaos and damage from the bombing was making it difficult for doctors and nurses to make their way to the hospital.
“There was no communication and we were so busy, we had no idea what had happened at Pearl Harbor, how bad it was there,” Watson later told a reporter. She worked nearly nonstop for three days, tending to the wounded and living on chocolate bars and coffee.
Her family still didn’t even know if she’d survived.
We often hear about the bravery of the men who served at Pearl Harbor, but women performed nobly that day, too—nor was it only the Army nurses. Navy nurses had their own heroic moments in the ships that were being attacked in the harbor.

Navy Lt. Grace Lally, already recognized for her seniority in sea duty, further distinguished herself as an eyewitness to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Within minutes, she activated emergency and surgical services on USS Solace (AH-5), coordinating Navy clinicians and volunteers, including USPHS physicians, and saving the lives of hundreds that fateful day.

Lt Grace Lally

Serving aboard the USS Solace (AH-5), a hospital ship at Pearl Harbor, Lt Grace Lally performed admirably during the Pearl Harbor attack. Though initially in shock at the sight of the USS Arizona (BB-39) exploding into flames, Lally pulled herself together and continued carrying out her duties as Chief Nurse on Solace.

With her staff rushing with her, Lally helped set up emergency wards for the wounded. A the close of the day, Lally and her crew assisted nearly 300 wounded servicemen.