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Donut Dolly

An American Red Cross Girl's War in Vietnam

Joann Puffer Kotcher

Publication Year: 2011

Donut Dolly puts you in the Vietnam War face down in the dirt under a sniper attack, inside a helicopter being struck by lightning, at dinner next to a commanding general, and slogging through the mud along a line of foxholes. You see the war through the eyes of one of the first women officially allowed in the combat zone. When Joann Puffer Kotcher left for Vietnam in 1966, she was fresh out of the University of Michigan with a year of teaching, and a year as an American Red Cross Donut Dolly in Korea. All she wanted was to go someplace exciting. In Vietnam, she visited troops from the Central Highlands to the Mekong Delta, from the South China Sea to the Cambodian border. At four duty stations, she set up recreation centers and made mobile visits wherever commanders requested. That included Special Forces Teams in remote combat zone jungles. She brought reminders of home, thoughts of a sister or the girl next door. Officers asked her to take risks because they believed her visits to the front lines were important to the men. Every Vietnam veteran who meets her thinks of her as a brother-at-arms. Donut Dolly is Kotcher’s personal view of the war, recorded in a journal kept during her tour, day by day as she experienced it. It is a faithful representation of the twists and turns of the turbulent, controversial time. While in Vietnam, Kotcher was once abducted; dodged an ambush in the Delta; talked with a true war hero in a hospital who had charged a machine gun; and had a conversation with a prostitute. A rare account of an American Red Cross volunteer in Vietnam, Donut Dolly will appeal to those interested in the Vietnam War, to those who have interest in the military, and to women aspiring to go beyond the ordinary.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: North Texas Military Biography and Memoir Series

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xviii

Donut Dolly: An American Red Cross Girl’s War in Vietnam1 is my personal view of the early days of the war. I kept a journal for a year while a program director for the American Red Cross. I wrote what I saw and did, what I felt and thought—a faithful representation of that time. The comedian Jeff Foxworthy said, ...

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Author’s Note

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pp. xix

Almost all facts and accounts in this book come from my direct observations and experiences as recorded in the journal I kept while serving in Vietnam. Some accounts in the book, I heard second hand. In order to maintain the absolute integrity of hearsay stories, conversations or events, ...

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Chapter 1 On My Way to the War

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pp. 1-21

During the Civil War neighbors would load up a wagon with quilts, food, and any other supplies they could spare for the soldiers. Sometimes a young, unmarried woman went. Someone, maybe a grandmother, would risk her life to drive the wagon as close to the fighting as she dared. The young woman would stay to help in the hospital. ...

Part I: Arrival and An Khe

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Chapter 2 A Blacked-Out Runway

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pp. 25-50

The 707 descended, and just before its wheels touched the runway, I refreshed my makeup. I was there to bring the soldiers reminders of home. Some of them hadn’t seen an American girl since they arrived in Vietnam. The sun had long set. Out the window I saw flashes of artillery fire on the horizon all around the sparse lights of Saigon. ...

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Chapter 3 A Disguise to Fool a Sniper

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pp. 51-92

During my assignment at An Khe the war became personal. Our recreation center sat next to the hospital, so we saw many patients. One man was proud of his face. “My scars are better than all of my buddies’.” One anticipated his recovery, “The muscle in this arm was so messed up, the doctors took it out. ...

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Chapter 4 Hot Landing Zone

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pp. 93-114

About two weeks before I transferred from An Khe to Dong Ba Thin, Sandra and I were working in the office. Opening the mail, she mumbled to herself, “Here’s a letter from the division commander. I wonder what he has to say.” She opened the letter. She startled. “It’s an invitation to dinner at the general’s mess. This is big.” ...

Part II: Dong Ba Thin

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Chapter 5 Poison Booth at the Carnival

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pp. 117-144

Some secrets are meant to be shared, some to be hidden. Dong Ba Thin was a self-contained civilization, a small unit with Susie, Gini, and me. My new home was a green Quonset hut. It sat in the middle of an open area away from other buildings. There was a perfect palm tree in the front yard. No guards, no barbed wire, and no bunker. ...

Part III: Di An

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Chapter 6 Bring a Case of Beer

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pp. 147-168

Maybe it was my country-girl upbringing. Maybe it was because I had to live up to my father’s job as a school superintendent, but I never saw it coming. I was abducted. The 1st Infantry Division had acquired their nickname, the Big Red One, during World War II. Their motto, “If you’re going to be one, be a big red one,” ...

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Chapter 7 A Veteran under the Desk

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pp. 169-198

On Thanksgiving we got caught in the enemy’s crossfire. The authorities in Vietnam confined most women to relatively safe rear areas. However, in Vietnam, commanders allowed the Red Cross girls to go where few went. We traveled to visit the men everywhere, even to the foxholes, as Sandra and I had done at Buon Blech. ...

Part IV: Bien Hoa and the Voyage Home

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Chapter 8 Rabies

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pp. 201-226

The last gift I wanted for Christmas in 1966 was rabies. I arrived at Bien Hoa with the second Christmas tree that my parents had sent from their plantation. I thought the girls would be thrilled to put the tree in the recreation center. Everyone at Di An had loved the live tree. I was shocked to learn that not everybody at Bien Hoa agreed. ...

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Chapter 9 Ambush in the Delta

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pp. 227-252

Sometimes the places we thought were the safest were the opposite. One day I received an audiocassette tape from my parents. They talked about what was going on, and told me they had just added a new room, with a fireplace, to the farm house. On the tape, they had recorded sounds of my father stoking the fire. ...

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Chapter 10 The Cigarette in the Rain

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pp. 253-276

Sometimes the wisdom of our decisions surprises us. Choosing between one form of death and another is no simple matter. Back in late August, for several days it had been hot at Dong Ba Thin. At dinner some of the officers traded war stories about the heat. One said, “Two days ago it was 110 degrees in the tent at the airstrip.” ...

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Chapter 11 The Long, Confusing Road Home

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pp. 277-288

After being in the combat zone, I never guessed I would be ambushed in my hometown Flint, Michigan. On this day I would fly home from the Republic of South Vietnam. I had been a civilian, non-combatant, supported and protected by the military units I served. After two years, one in Korea and one in Vietnam, ...

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pp. 289-290

Soon after I returned from Vietnam, outside the window of my apartment I could see young people going on with their lives. They didn’t do anything remarkable. They swam in the pool. Washed their cars. Talked to each other; everyday activities that were normal to them, but that had become foreign to me. ...

Appendix 1 Let Us Remember

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pp. 291-294

Appendix 2 Some Questions Answered

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pp. 295-304

Appendix 3 Whatever Happened To . . . ?

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pp. 305-314


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pp. 315-330

Works Cited

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pp. 331-340


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pp. 341-361

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414417
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574413243

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 35 b&w illus. 1 map.
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: North Texas Military Biography and Memoir Series

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Subject Headings

  • Kotcher, Joann Puffer, 1941-.
  • American Red Cross -- Biography.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- War work -- Red Cross.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Women -- United States -- Biography.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Personal narratives, American.
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