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'Donut Dolly' made Vietnam troops feel appreciated

Posted November 8, 2011

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— 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.

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  • proudmotherof2 Nov 9, 2011

    PBSM ... you really stepped into a hornets nest. You made comments about a person you did not know what she accomplished in her life (by the way I do know her as I worked with her MANY years). Kaki served as a local office manager and regional manager for the NC Employment Security in Fayetteville area for many years continuing to help people where she could. You made generalized statements about a woman who went to college, chose to help during the Vietnam War and then came back to the states and went on to marry, have a family and successful career. Just because the article did not give "after" war information on Kaki (the article was intended to highlight people who serve during war time) you made assumptions that she did not make something of herself. To Kaki ... nice article. (Michelle Benson)

  • josephlawrence43 Nov 9, 2011

    cantstandya: I'm right there with you--cept I was at Danang and China Beach..And yes for young Marines, these Ladies brought a touch of normalcy and home to us for awhile. Can't ever say thank you enough to them for what they provided for us..Semper Fi

  • IAMAmerican Nov 9, 2011

    oMzziG123

    Amen!!!! You took the words right out of my mouth!!!!

  • cbg4485 Nov 9, 2011

    Having graduated from high school with "Kaki", I can tell your readers from personal experience that she has always been a kind, sweet, and giving person. She was, in high school, and I am sure that she is today. I am truly fortunate to have had her as a friend so many years ago. Thanks Kathy, I loved the article and seeing you on tv last night.
    Charles Godwin

  • watchhillgirl Nov 9, 2011

    PSBM you need to get a life. Just because you have done nothing with your life doesn't mean others haven't. She gave to others and expected nothing in return. Perhaps you could learn a thing or two from her. What have you ever done for someone else without expecting something in return?

  • cantstandya Nov 9, 2011

    Reading this article stirs memories of coming out of the field as a young Marine and spending several days at Chu Lai's beach area and it having a USO facility thats sole purpose was to allow us to spend time in a secure area and relax,the civilians who were there did not have to be there all were volunteers,that short break and time spent with these people went along way in making life for us just alittle bit better and gave us a sense of purpose,this woman and many like her should be hailed as heroes for sacrificing their time,to all we owe thanks.

  • Con Amor brings luv and laughter Nov 9, 2011

    Wonderful Story WRAL!!!

  • linspace Nov 9, 2011

    What an awesome service you provided. Never been to war, but just imagining how special I would feel to have a "taste of home" if I were on the battlefield. And to see a smiling face.

    And as for Proudsingleblackmother.... who is paying for your internet service right now? Another government program? You should be thanking this lady and EVERYONE around you who carries you as a burden.. we pay for your food, medical, home and so much more over the years.. and your children, and probably your parents. If you live of the money of others, stop putting them down for supporting you.. we work....

  • ncangier Nov 9, 2011

    This is an awesome positive story. This is a woman who knew her life was at risk just as much as the soldier. She is a hero.

    On another note, PSBM is saying what she says because she wants a rise out of people and she is getting it. Best is to ignore some one who is as ignorant as she is. I agree with what everyone said back to her, but she is doing it on purpose.

  • Whatever BOB Nov 9, 2011

    Thanks Donut Dolly! for everything you have done:-)

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