'Doughnut Dolly' serving in Iraq
Story by SPC. Blanka Stratford
During the Vietnam War, the American Red Cross provided aide to U.S. servicemembers as well as Vietnamese refugees. At the height of its involvement in 1968, the Red Cross sent approximately 480 field directors, hospital personnel, and recreation assistants to support the growing number of servicemen at various bases and hospitals.
Virginia Wren, now serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, was one of these people.
Wren was a 7th grade teacher in 1968 when she decided to take a leap of chance and go to an employment agency, asking for public service work and travel. They offered her Girl Scouts or the Red Cross.
"The Girl Scouts deal with children," said Wren. "Although I like kids, I wanted to receive training in other areas. Prior to teaching, I had been active in theater and part of the student union at North Georgia College."
At that time, the American Red Cross was engaging in efforts to sustain the morale of the troops in Vietnam, just as it had during the Korean War and previous conflicts. In response to a request made by the military, the Red Cross sent teams of young female college graduates to Southeast Asia to conduct audience-participation recreation programs for men stationed in isolated sections of the region.
"When I interviewed for Red Cross, it was decided that I was qualified for supplemental recreation overseas," said Wren. "The girls and I were called 'Doughnut Dollies,' which was quite a term of affection. I'm proud of that name."
Wren received several weeks of training in Atlanta before flying to Vietnam in November of 1968. It was her first time flying.
Wren spent seven months supporting soldiers in Cam Ranh Bay and another 5 months in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. She and the other Doughnut Dollies would go out in teams of two with audience-participation games that they had created or borrowed [i.e. Concentration, Battle Ship, Sports Trivia]. In the recreational centers, we would make theme parties, ping pong tournaments and scavenger hunts.
"One of the most dangerous places we traveled to was just outside of the Cambodian border," she said. "We went out in the field to deliver mail and gifts. Within an hour of us leaving, the camp was overrun. We found out later that they lost one-third of the servicemembers there."
While Wren was in Vietnam, the Red Cross also lost one woman named Hannah Crews.
"Hannah was going to a social gathering with an MP friend of hers," said Wren. "The Jeep hit a large bump and she was thrown out. She had a seizure, lived for two weeks, then had another seizure and died. It hit us all very hard. At that time, we were all between 22 and 25 years old, and didn't have any closure on this subject."
The closure, said Wren, came in 1993, when the Women Veterans Parade Group had the Women Veterans of Vietnam memorial in Washington D.C. Hannah's father came to meet the Doughnut Dollies, helping them through unshed tears.
Immediately after Vietnam, Wren went to the Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, hospital to take care of fellow veterans. She did hospital service from the early to mid-70s, then spent most of the 80's working for the Red Cross in Germany. From 1991 to 1993, she served in the first Persian Gulf War. Following the Gulf War, she arrived in Landstuhl, Germany, six days before the Sarajevo bombing. She stayed in Germany until 1997, and then served in Korea and Japan until 1999.
"One of the happiest moments in my life occurred right after I arrived in Landstuhl," she said. "I ran into a soldier at the main intersection who recognized me from the 47th Field Hospital in Bahrain. He came up to me and said, 'you were the one who gave me my first birth announcement, and this is my son."
Wren said she was absolutely delighted.
Currently, Wren's permanent station is at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, N. Carolina. She is scheduled to stay in Iraq until June 2004 and will then leave for the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal, having completed more than 35 years of Red Cross service.
"I plan on staying with the Red Cross as long as it remains fun and I can pass the physical," said Wren.
During the Vietnam War, Virginia Wren spent seven months supporting soldiers in Cam Ranh Bay and another 5 months in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. Thirty-five years later, she is still serving with the American Red Cross in Iraq, under Operation Iraqi Freedom
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