In 1968 – at the height of the Vietnam War - Dorset Anderson was graduating from Missouri’s St. Louis University and looking for something meaningful to do. Six weeks later, she found herself at a Military base in Vietnam tasked with an almost impossible job: cheer up the troops.
Dorset was serving a one-year stint as a Red Cross recreation worker, but the Soldiers called these women “Donut Dollies.” Their job was to run the base recreation centers, visit hospitals, and (because of the access to helicopters), travel to front-line landing zones and base camps to bring games and smiles to Soldiers.
Dorset and her best friend, who also went to Vietnam, are featured in a new documentary called the “The Donut Dollies,” which was screened exclusively for L.A. Region Red Cross volunteers on April 20 at the Screen Actors Guild headquarters as part of the L.A. Region’s Centennial year celebration. The documentary, directed by L.A. filmmaker Norm Anderson (Dorset’s son), follows the two women on a recent journey back to Vietnam, where they reflect on their memories as morale boosters, the servicemen they met along the way, and the lingering doubts about whether they made a difference during the war.
Following the screening, Dorset and two local Donut Dollies, Linda Pelegrino and Linette (Linnie) Stone, participated in a panel discussion, along with Norm Anderson and producer Jess Hill. Lauren Duncan, director of the L.A. Region Service to the Armed Forces and Veterans, was the panel moderator.
Pelegrino, who was born and raised in Long Beach and served on the staff of the L.A. Chapter for 10 years, joined the Donut Dollies at the conclusion of her college days at Cal State Long Beach. “It was the ‘60s and I was looking for a great adventure, so I answered an ad at our recruitment center for ‘Overseas Employment Opportunities’,” she said laughing. She reminded the audience about how isolated they were. “This was before the Internet and there was very little communication with loved ones back at home.”
Linnie was volunteering for Red Cross blood services in Hawaii when she was recruited to be a Donut Dollie and today volunteers regularly at the Sepulveda Veterans Administration. She recounts being at a base playing “fake” poker with some soldiers when the base was repeatedly bombed, a stark reminder that these non-combatant volunteers were putting their lives in danger every day. In fact, five Donut Dollies were killed during the Vietnam War.
Dorset, whose family was not happy with her decision to serve, supported her nonetheless. Even though the war itself was unpopular, Dorset felt that since the Soldiers were sent by our government to fight, as a Donut Dollie she would see for herself “what the war was all about, meet the men who were serving, and make them laugh.” She never regretted her decision and is grateful to have been part of program.
At the conclusion of the event, those in attendance gave the Donut Dollies a standing ovation, thanking them for their service and reinforcing that they did make a big difference in bringing a piece of home to the troops. And Dorset’s humorous stories reinforced for the audience that she most assuredly accomplished her goal of making the soldiers laugh.
For more information about future Centennial events, please visit http://arcla100.org/. To see more event photos by Volunteer Roxanne Schorbach, visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/redcrosslaregion/albums/72157667411197872