Veteran Spotlight: Jeanne Bokina Christie, Red Cross
She was recruited by the Red Cross for its Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO) program upon graduation from the University of Wisconsin. The then 21-year-old made a quick trip home to Madison, Wisc., then left via Washington, D.C., for Southeast Asia.
"We went in, in blackout conditions when we landed in Saigon," she said. "We were given shelter that evening in a metal hooch. It wasn't until the next morning that we saw the armed guard outside our door -- we had no clue. That was our introduction ... talk about scary."
Donut Dollies were required to have a college degree and faced a thorough review before being accepted into the American Red Cross. She was one of only 627 women (three would lose their lives in Vietnam) who volunteered to help soldiers fighting in Vietnam. She and other Donut Dollies flew across the world in a plane full of soldiers and landed in Tan Son Nhut. The Donut Dollies' mission was to relieve some of their stress by sharing moments of levity and laughter and to listen like a mother or big sister.
Their service was little known, though extremely valued in a period before PTSD was recognized as a result of unthinkable trauma. Over the course of 13 months, Christie would spend six months in Nha Trang before heading to Da Nang with the First Marine Division; her final stretch was with the Air Force among the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing in Phan Rang.
"I didn't serve a single doughnut" she laughingly recalled.
Donut Dollies were enlisted to play cards, games, listen intently and offer an escape from the horrors of war – often after a unit had been wiped out.
"We learned when we got to whatever unit it was, that the older girls taught the new girls, the lay of the land ... that was your real training," Christie said. "There was always danger ... it was a war zone."
Unlike the original WWII Donut Dollies, who were outfitted with a pistol and trained to use it, Christie and her fellow Dollies relied upon armed
guards for their security while riding from one unit to another.
"We were 21 years old, we thought we were invincible. It was the only saving grace for us during the whole thing," she continued. "We learned quickly how to sit with them and talk to them, and get them to talk to us. If they wouldn't talk, then we asked them about their rifles."
The camaraderie amongst the soldiers and Dollies was abundant and fostered long-lasting connections. Dubbed "Sam" by the soldiers, Christie was quite fortunate to encounter a chopper pilot named Maj. Jutz, a fellow Wisconsinite who took the young Sam under his wing. She would run into him years later at an airport in Chicago. Another chance meeting occurred on the streets of Cam Rahn Bay when she ran into a captain whose family she baby-sat for back home.
"He asked me, 'what are you doing here?' I asked him the same thing" she remembered.
Returning home to protests and the controversy around the war, Christie said they went underground. However, nothing could be more gratifying than the letter of thanks to her from the American Legion and all the Donut Dollies:
"Even though you were there in person, it is impossible for you to understand the impact of your presence on the men who had to face the enemy, not knowing whether their last moment on earth was at hand…you made us feel less lonely, less abandoned, less cut off from all we hold dear. You are part, not simply of a platoon, a company, a battalion, a regiment but of an Army who came to our relief when the going was tough. You made life easier for us, took us back home while you with us and earned our undying gratitude."
Jeanne "Sam" Christie, thank you for your service to our great country and welcome home.
Wayne Soares is the host of the popular, new veterans cooking show, "The Mess Hall" and entertains our troops around the globe. He is also the host and producer of the Vietnam veterans documentary "Silent Dignity – The Chapter That Never Ends." He can be reached at email@example.com.
Tags: veterans spotlight,