It’s National Donut Day! Here at the Red Cross, our favorite donuts are our “Donut Dollies.” Today, we love them all and want to honor them.
You might be wondering, what is a Donut Dolly? The term “Donut Dolly” was actually a nickname given to American women that deployed and served soldiers overseas during war time in Korea and Vietnam. Their official title was Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas staff or SRAO.
Starting in WWII, the American Red Cross mobilized its club service into the clubmobile program. “Clubmobiles” were equipped to provide food, drink, newspapers and other American items for soldiers at war. The aim was to bring a taste of home to the frontlines.
Staffing the clubmobiles were American women who wanted to actively support the troops on the frontlines. From WWII to the Vietnam War, these women deployed to warzones and followed American soldiers as they fought, providing the soldiers with hope and cheer.
Donut Dollies did not shy away from the mission; they were fearless. They arrived shortly after the invasion of Normandy. They flew to Korea during the war and served soldiers in combat. They even flew alongside soldiers in helicopters during the Vietnam War. They were a brave, selfless group of women.
We are honored to learn about their mission through pictures, videos and through their own words. Many Donut Dollies are still around today and love to share their experiences with others. Two of these exceptional women are Joyce LeGrande and Linda Jager.
Joyce LeGrande served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and was one of the first five Red Cross staff to be sent into Vietnam. Not only did she ride in helicopters, helping soldiers during the war, she also assisted Bob Hope when he came to visit the troops.
Joyce loved bringing comfort and cheer to soldiers. While serving in Vietnam, she penned to her mother, “We are needed desperately. We watch the flares go off outside the perimeter…hearing the artillery firing in the distance…we dream of peace.”
Joyce was recently awarded the American Red Cross legacy certificate and pin for her service. At the award ceremony, she recounted her time serving and said, “The Red Cross impacted my life more than anything else, other than having my children!”
Joyce shared that she recently visited a Vietnam War memorial and started crying.
“I lost a part of myself there,” Joyce said. “I wasn’t sure if anyone remembered us.”
Veterans hugged her and said, “We remember you. We remember the Donut Dollies!”
Linda Jager was a Donut Dolly during the Vietnam War, and we are honored that she continues to serve as a Red Cross volunteer for the Cascades region helping military and veteran families.
“On a typical day, we would rise at 5:30 a.m., board a UH-1H ‘Huey’ helicopter and depart with a large canvas club mobile kit and partner,” she said. “Each day, we went to service clubs, units, mess halls, hospitals or off into ‘the bush,’ where the war and men who fought in it, became an intimate part of our lives. Working 10 to 12-hour days, six days a week. It was only when we were in our billets that we would cry, scream, or let ourselves talk about our experiences.”
“In 1970, U.S. troops were fighting some of the fiercest battles of the war. I remember standing in the middle of a large field, surrounded by tanks. The day before, one of these tank units had lost some of their men. There I was, trying to cheer them up. Our task seemed ludicrous.”
“But, slowly, something began to happen. First, there were a few smiles, then, a couple of wisecracking jokes. Gradually, the men got caught up in the program.”
“The pictures I have remind me of the places, Pleiku, Freedom Hill, Monkey Mountain, and Danang Air Base. The memories I have remind me of the people, my role, and my purpose for going.”
Thank you, Donut Dollies, for the vital role you played in our Red Cross mission. Thank you for supporting our service members on the frontlines. Today, we honor you!