Larry Young Hines
Red Cross Donut Dollie, 1968-1969
I went to a big reunion in Houston in 1987. I was out walking in Hermann Park by myself with my “Donut Dollie” T-shirt on when I saw a man coming toward me. A lot of the veterans at reunions wear fatigue jackets and hats, but this one was nicely dressed in khaki pants and a polo shirt. He had on big sunglasses that prevented me from seeing his eyes, but the closer he got to me, the more aware I became that he was crying. He was so choked up he could hardly say more than “Excuse me, excuse me.” He stopped me and stood there and cried, tears just rolling down his face and onto his shirt.
“I just feel so bad,” he said. I told him that one of the reasons we were together was to get our feelings out, to talk about them.
“What is it you want to say?” I asked him.
“I never told you girls thank you,” he sobbed. “I never said thank you:· He had been at Lai Khe with the Big Red One. He remembered the Red Cross girls in those bright blue dresses jumping off the resupply chopper.
“God,” he said, “I can’t tell you how it felt. You smelled good and you were laughing. We’d been out there for weeks and were really down. You made us feel so good when you left us a calendar or a paperback book, or maybe just a pencil. It just felt great because we had to be gentlemen when you were there. We weren’t animals, we weren’t killers, we were people again. When you got on the chopper to leave, we all said out loud or to ourselves, ‘That’s what I’m going home for. That’s who’s waiting for me when I get home.’”
Perfect strangers come up to me at reunions and just talk and talk and talk. It doesn’t matter if I was in Vietnam at the same time or place they were. What matters is that I was there at all. They’ll say, “You came to my bedside and you held my hand and you wrote my mother, or you came out to visit my unit.” They don’t mean me specifically. They mean the collective me. Me, the Red Cross girl.
I still get letters from veterans who had really bad experiences in Vietnam. One, in particular, an Americal Division company commander from Louisiana, writes and calls me now and then. He lost sixty-eight people in his company in one night. He’s been divorced three times and just can’t seem to get it together, but he knows I understand his pain and he trusts me with his feelings and memories.
Was the war worth it? In a personal sense, it was for me. I learned a lot about myself and about life and commitment to others, but it was different for the nation. If we ever get ourselves into anything that stupid again. Vietnam was worth nothing. I would not ever want my sons to be in such a futile situation. Vietnam truly drained the youth out of so many people whose lives are never going to be the same. A lot of veterans lost their friends and part of themselves there, and I think they know they will never recapture what was left behind.