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Vietnam tapes bring war memories
by Beth Boswell Jacks

Are kindness and thoughtfulness still alive and well today? Absolutely. Here’s a story to prove it.

Some months ago, I wrote about my sister Kathy and her year in Vietnam with the Red Cross Donut Dollies, brave young women whose job was to “provide a touch of home in combat zones.” At the time the column was written, I’d discovered in my inhospitable attic a long forgotten box of reel to reel tapes Kathy had made in Vietnam.

A day or two after that column ran, I received a call from Dr. John Lowe.

“My wife Sherry and I read your story,” he said, “and we have a reel to reel tape player. Shall we bring it over?”

I jumped at the offer. John and Sherry came with the tape player, and . . . no luck. We could hear a faint voice, but nothing decipherable. I was sure I’d destroyed this valuable bit of history with years of neglect.

When Dr. Lowe moved to Arkansas to teach at the University of Central Arkansas, he took a couple of the tapes with him. Long story short: The UCA tech folks were (yes!) able to transfer the tapes to CDs.

Clear as a bell, these CDs are – all seven of them, each imprinted with 3 or 4 of Kathy’s Vietnam tapes. Sherry Lowe hand-delivered the CDs to me. They were too precious to trust with shipping, she said, and then added, “If I thought somebody could give me back my voice from forty years ago, I would be ecstatic.”

We were – especially Kathy who’d forgotten all about the tapes.

Only 22 years old in 1967, Kathy was innocent and barely aware of the dangers she faced as she headed to Southeast Asia. To listen to her young voice is chilling.

“We flew into Bien Hoa and had to land coming almost straight down due to mortar fire,” she says. “Took us 45 minutes by bus to get into Saigon. I’ve never seen so many trucks, jeeps, helicopters, and MEN. Tonight we can see flares in the sky to catch VC trying to sneak in. In the distance we can hear bombs being dropped and guns firing. The Donut Dollies stay in support areas though; we won’t be in much danger.”

Sent immediately to Pleiku in the highlands, Kathy soon discovered she wasn’t as safe as she thought she’d be.

“We went forward out to the boonies,” she says a week later. “We tromped around in the mud, talking to the guys. It was scary driving down those roads in an open jeep. In a convoy on the way back, we stopped to let the Vietnamese KPs off. Their village was half a mile down another road and they were scared to walk home, so we sat for ages till the soldiers convinced them to get out of the jeeps. The VN were screaming and cursing. I was petrified. One of the drivers said we were sitting ducks.”

And later: “Tonight we had a mortar attack. I’d just taken a shower, so I grabbed a blanket and my rollers – rolled my hair while we sat in the bunker. We had to stay there 2 hours. After a while we started cracking jokes, but I’d just as soon not do this again.”

The morning after Tet, ‘68, Kathy says: “Nobody can leave the compound. The VC came into the city and captured the radio station. They killed 7 GI’s and captured 5. Two guards came running over and told us to come with them to the General’s house ‘cause there was sniper fire in our compound and a guard was shot in the stomach. We watched the gun ships and FACS circling over the hotel, firing at the VC . . .”

And there’s much more – hours more.

From what I’ve read, the Red Cross has no Donut Dollies in Iraq, but the tapes convince me this was a valuable program in Korea and Vietnam. These girls worked in hospitals, orphanages, recreational centers, and, as Kathy mentioned, out in the “boonies,” doing what they could to lift spirits.

So, thank you, John and Sherry Lowe, for giving our family such an incredible gift and for convincing us all once again that kindness is still abundant in this crazy world.


Here's another Donut Dollie story: Christmas in Vietnam

Editor of USADEEPSOUTH, Beth Boswell Jacks is the author of 3 books (Grit, Guts, and Baseball and Snippets I and II) and is also a weekly columnist for a number of Southern newspapers. Readers and editors may contact her at bethjacks@hotmail.com.
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Read about Beth's SNIPPETS books -- two collections of her columns.
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For stories at USADS by columnist Beth Boswell Jacks, click here: SNIPPETS
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Be sure to read THE HEALING, another wonderful story by Vietnam veteran, Clyde Boswell. Click here.

And read Jerry Calow's moving tribute to veterans. Click here

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