During the Vietnam War, hundreds of female American Red Cross workers deployed overseas to provide support and a sympathetic ear to millions of U.S. service members.
Nicknamed “Donut Dollies” as an homage to the Red Cross women who handed out donuts to troops in previous wars, these Red Cross workers were part of the Red Cross Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) program. The standards for them were higher than those of the military: They had to be at least 25 years old, college-educated, and able to provide recommendation letters and pass physical exams, as well as have an “outstanding personality.”
Each woman had a different reason for joining the program. Some came from military families and felt this was the best way to serve their country. Others were recent graduates and looking for the next step in their lives. And some applied because their loved ones were drafted.
Donut Dollies traveled by helicopter, truck and jeep to reach servicemen, and they too experienced the challenges and tragedies of war. They sometimes slept in bunkers instead of their beds during aerial attacks. They comforted those who had seen the horrors of war up-close. And, sadly, many of the troops they had come to know and support would be injured or killed.
The women who served with the Donut Dollies were selfless, brave and resilient. Helping to boost morale, they ran Red Cross clubs where servicemen could listen to music and play cards and pool, created trivia games, and helped troops wrap presents to send home to family. Their service brought a touch of home to the frontlines — and compassion and comfort when service members needed it most.
This is story is part of a special historical series marking the 140th anniversary of the American Red Cross