Donut Dolly Joan Puffer Kotcher

Can you be a ligitimate Donut Dolly without any donunts?

“Of course you can!” says Joan Puffer Kotcher, who served in Vietnam between May 1966 and May 1967.  In her role as a non-combatant civilian, she was attached to the national staff of the American Red Cross.  ‘Donuts, and the term ‘Donut Dolly’ originated in World War II.  Our function was to offer boosts to morale—a friendly smile and an eager ear to listen to the troops involved in day-to-day combat.  We visited soldiers at bases, hospitals, and on the front line; we were ‘recreational specialists’.  To the servicemen, we represented ‘the girl next door’ or a sister figure.  But we did not pass out donuts as had been done in World War II and Korea—as a mess sergeant said to me one time, ‘It’s just too damn hot!’

Despite their non-combatant status, Vietnam’s Donut Dollies shared the hardships of war with the soldiers.  Ultimately, five Red Cross staff members would give their lives and many others would be injured as they helped servicemen resolve personal problems or get home when emergency leave was granted.  Kotcher tells of numerous in-country incidents where she faced extreme danger, including one situation where she was advised to change from the customary blue cress—a ‘target uniform’, as she refers to it—into fatigues in order to be less conspicuous to snipers.  On another occasion, having relied on trucks from the 86th Combat Engineeers to get her from base to base, Kotcher recalls one morning where the driver phoned, unable to pick her up that day.  The convoy was ambushed and the sergeant who’d occupied her customary seat (as decided by rank) was killed.

Kotcher saw her commitment to the servicemen in Vietnam as her patriotic duty, and following a long line of Puffers (her maiden name) who enlisted in times of combat.  “My relatives have been a part of this country from the very beginning—long before we were actually a country, in fact.  I had ancestors killed by Indians in the 1500’s and some that fought in the Revolutionary War.  My great aunt was a nurse in World War I.  I saw Vietnam as the war of my time, and saw my duty to help preserve and defend the United States.”

She describes her experiences with the personal side of the soldiers she met while setting up recreation centers and visiting men wounded in combat in terms of the greatest affection.  “These were young men who saw it as their duty to serve.  Most enlisted—I don’t think a lot of people realize this.  Some were scared, some were resigned, some were angry, but in the end, they were all ‘ordinary’ folks from all races and religions, from all levels of society, called on to do extraordinary things.”

Kotcher believes in the righteousness of the cause in Vietnam, saying, “If you are not willing to go to war to defend freedom worldwide, you are not going to survive.”



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