'Donut Dolly' made Vietnam troops feel appreciated
Posted November 8, 2011
Fayetteville, N.C. — Nearly 45 years have passed, but Catherine Van Sickle still remembers her job as a “Donut Dolly” during the Vietnam War.
She had just graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1967 when the American Red Cross hired her to deliver coffee and donuts to the troops.
Van Sickle and her “Dolly Donut” comrades wore pale blue uniforms, not olive green like the troops, but they both worked in combat zones.
“Yeah, we got shot at,” she said. “We lived through rocket attacks (and) mortar attacks.”
Van Sickle spent a year in Vietnam, along with hundreds of female college graduates, making sure the troops felt appreciated.
“We basically were there to let the service members know that we cared, that someone cared about them,” she said.
They prepared food, played games, shared laughs and attended two parties a week.
“That was a literal requirement, because it was such a morale booster. If you had a ‘Donut Dolly’ show up at your party, you were having a big party,” she said.
She and the other women also helped the wounded troops write letters home.
“They didn’t want their folks to worry, so almost all their letters said, ‘I’m fine,’ and they weren’t,” she recalled.
Van Sickle said the experience taught her not to get too emotionally attached.
“You realize right away, if you become too close to somebody, they could be dead the next day,” she said.
One G.I. asked her to buy a birthday gift for his little girl and mail it to her. Van Sickle bought the girl a doll.
“When I went back out to that unit, he had been killed,” she said.
Van Sickle said she died a little herself when she saw how unappreciated so many soldiers felt when coming home.
“That killed me. That literally broke my heart,” she said.
Van Sickle was awarded the Medal for Civilian Service in Vietnam. She was one of more than 700 women who served as Donut Dollies in Vietnam. The Red Cross stopped the program in the late 1970s.