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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with J. Holley Watts, 2008

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Object ID: WV0407.5.001

Description: Primarily documents J. Holley Watts' service in the American Red Cross as a "Donut Dolly" during the Vietnam War, her poetry about her experiences, and her feelings on postwar American culture.

Summary:

Watts describes her collegiate education at Villanova and Rosemont, her musical exploits, her original plan to enter the Peace Corps, Kennedy's assassination, and joining the Red Cross. She primarily discusses her experiences as a Donut Dolly in Vietnam, including specific ways they attempted to support the troops and the difficulties they faced in doing so. She conveys the pain of befriending servicemen who later died in combat and discusses relationships she attempted to maintain after her tour of duty and those that she made because of shared connections to service Vietnam. Watts supplements her memories with excerpts from her books and recites her poetry.

Watts also tells of the Vietnam War’s role in the disintegration of her marriage and of the struggles of returning servicemen. She describes the various trips and meetings that she has arranged to better understand the psychological impact of war. Other subjects include her views on democracy, American society, veterans’ emotional health, and the morality of war. Watts also describes the background and symbolism behind some her poetry and discusses various sentimental items from the time period.

Creator: Jean Holly McAleese Watts

Biographical Info:

J. Holley McAleese Watts (b. 1944) of Freeport, New York, served with the American Red Cross in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967. Watts later wrote two books about her experiences as a "Donut Dolly" during the Vietnam War.

Collection: J. Holley Watts Oral History

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

Therese Strohmer:

All right, this is Therese Strohmer and today is March 9 and I am in Verona, Virginia, with Holley Watts. This is an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. So Holley, if you would go ahead and say your name the way you'd like it to be in your collection.

J. Holley Watts:

J. Holley H-o-l-l-e-y Watts.

TS:

Okay. Very good.

HW:

I know you said not to—I didn't have to spell it.

TS:

That's okay. That's fine.

HW:

It's easier if they get that right the first time around.

[Discussion concerning recording equipment not transcribed]

TS:

Okay. Holley, well, let's start off, if you don't mind, telling me about—a little bit about where you were born and where you grew up.

HW:

I was born in Rockville Centre, New York. It's on Long Island. And I lived in Freeport, but I went through the Baldwin schools, because the school district line ran down the middle of my street and I was on the Baldwin side. My father was a doctor, my mom a nurse, although she didn't practice nursing while we were in school until she worked with my dad later as my sister and I and my brother got older.

Let's see, Baldwin High School. I was a graduate in 1962, and at that point I decided I was going to go on to college. My sister was a year ahead of me. My brother's ten years older, and he was already out of college at that point. He had gone to Miami [University] in Ohio. And he's an architect, now retired. And my sister had gone into nursing at Villanova [University], so I followed her, kind of like the little sister always does.

And I got to Villanova. I was there a year and a half. It was a five year program in four, so we went through the summer between our freshman and sophomore years. And by the time I got to the middle of my sophomore year, around November or so, right before the Christmas holidays, my advisor said to me, “I get the impression you're not that interested in nursing. Why don't we give you some aptitude and interest tests and see what is applicable?” And so I took my aptitude and interest test. It came out highest in mechanics and music, to which I said, “Mrs. Feigenburg, what does this mean?” And she said, “Oh you can play the radio while you're fixing a car.” [laughs]

What I ended up doing—forward, fast forward to forty years later—is I worked—After I had my piano technician come over to tune my piano, and he's blind, I—he asked me, when he was tuning it, he said, “I've never seen such a clean piano.” I said, “Oh, I take it apart and I clean it and I fixed a couple of broken things.”

And he said “I need a piano technician apprentice.”

So I became—for fourteen years I was his apprentice, his sighted assistant, because all of the key bushing, all of the felt inside the piano, you really do need eyes, sight to put on the right amount of glue to get the right consistency. It's a special kind of glue, you can't use white glue. Well, some people do, but that messes things up. And I just learned a lot and it was great fun, but I'm mechanically inclined, or so Mrs. Feigenburg said. [laughs]

TS:

Well, apparently she was right.

HW:

Absolutely. But anyway, I decided I would—she suggested I try a different major. At that point I—when I was in my teenage years, my mother and I were not getting along that well. And I just—the thought of moving back to Long Island and living with my parents was anathema, so I opted to—I said I'll switch majors.

Well, at the time Villanova was not entirely coed. In our freshman year as nurses, we all lived in the Franciscan House of Studies, a.k.a. “the Convent.” And so that was the extent of our dorm facilities as the women who were in the nursing program and medical technology and electrical engineering. Those only—those were the only three majors you could be in and still be a woman at an all-male college, which essentially Villanova was. Because of the lack of facilities, they were able to house—we could rent rooms in approved housing throughout the—what they called the Lancaster Pike area, through [U.S.] Route 30 coming out of Philly. So I had lived for the one semester—excuse me [clears throat]—one semester at this one house with—I was the only sophomore and I was with junior nurses.

And when I decided to switch, I thought psychology would be good. I could stay in school. But what I ended up having to do was I had to transfer out of Villanova. And the nearest place I could transfer to, as far as I was concerned, was Rosemont. And Rosemont College is a small Catholic, liberal arts, girls' school on the Main Line that the guys at Villanova promptly called "Rosemonsters." And I became the blind date committee for my class, because I knew a lot of the guys at Villanova, and now I was a sophomore at Rosemont. So I stayed at Rosemont and I did graduate in psychology, but I knew I wasn't going on to graduate school. And I even had a letter of recommendation—I don't know if I can call it that—where one of the nuns said, “She's essentially a very nice person, but I don't think she's a candidate for graduate school,” which was good, because I agreed with that whole heartedly. I didn't want to go through more school.

But I had applied for Peace Corps in, I guess, the fall of my senior year, and I was accepted. I was supposed to go to what was then Upper Volta, Africa. But the problem was they wanted me in April, before graduation. And I said, “I don't think my parents would like that too much,” so I turned them down. But in the meantime I picked up a brochure in the placement office at Rosemont that said, “Spend a unique year of your life.” And therein lies the tale. I looked at it and it said I could travel extensively, I could choose my location—what they meant by that was country, because the choices were Korea or Vietnam—and that it would be on the job training for which I'd get paid.

TS:

Well, before we go there can I ask you a couple—

HW:

Sure, back to—

TS:

Back to—What year did you graduate from Rosemont?

HW:

Rosemont, '66.

TS:

[Nineteen] sixty-six. Okay, so you were—

HW:

And I have to add this, because I don't think I said anything.

TS:

Add anything you would like.

HW:

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, S-h-e-e-n, was our commencement speaker. He loved Rosemont. And what is funny about that is my grandfather, John Walker the atheist, used to come over for dinner every Thursday night when I was growing up, and he had to watch Bishop Sheen. So I knew exactly when Bishop Sheen looked at you with those deep dark eyes, looked right into the television cameras and put his hand in his shirt or his—whatever that outfit that the bishop wears is called. It reminded me now of Napoleon, the way he stood. He was so intense. But I remember that grandpa Walker loved to watch Bishop Sheen, and he was dead for a long time before I graduated with Bishop Sheen giving the commencement address. Although, he was probably—Grandpa was probably there in spirit just because he was such a fan.

TS:

May have been.

HW:

Yes.

TS:

So you were—I'm not sure if you were at Villanova or Rosemont when JFK [John F. Kennedy] was assassinated.

HW:

Oh, I was at Villanova.

TS:

Do you—

HW:

It was interesting—the day? Oh, yes. We all remember the day. In—okay. At Villanova we had really talented people. My sister's roommate—now this is related—was Mary Jane Geiger[?], and she was from Salisbury, Maryland—or she was from Dover, Delaware, at the time. But she used to hitch a ride with a guy from Salisbury, Maryland, Phil Maher. M-a-h-e-r. Philip Francis Maher.

Now, that's how I knew Phil, because he was Mary Jane's ride to Villanova. And he was—I used to sing. From the time I think I was born, I used to sing. And I could imitate—I did a fairly good imitation of Julie Andrews. But that—she was my first theatre experience, with My Fair Lady; I saw the original cast in that. Mary Jane introduced me to Phil. And Phil and I started just singing. He lived with his aunt in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, and her name—I can't remember her first, but her last name was Kennedy. And so because Phil had a car, we would go practice. And so we—Phil and I had a folk singing duo, and we were going to be singing at the Villanova Variety Show. And I will—Phil was a graduate of 1964. He was two years ahead of me. There were two things that were really nifty. First of all, we were driving over to his house and I just said out of the blue, “When is your birthday?”

And he said, “October 29.”

I said, “No it isn't.”

He said, “What do you mean, it isn't?” almost running off the road.

I said, “It's my birthday.” So we did have the same birthday two years apart and I always used to—I called him my womb mate. [chuckling]

But the other neat thing was in that variety show was a fellow who I have long been a fan of, was Jimmy Croce. And Jim Croce was a graduate of 1965, the class of '65. And my claim to fame is that one of his partners by the name of Tommy West—is how most people would know him, whose real name is Tommy Picardo—played a phenomenal piano. And fortunately for the world, was not on the plane when Jimmy and Maury [Muehleisen] got killed. But now owns—or maybe he's retired from—a record company in New Jersey, but he accompanied me when I did a solo at the variety show. I got on stage twice and I sang Moon River. And I remember thinking, “I hope nobody can see my knees because they are jumping up and down.” And I got a nice applause, but it wasn't great. But I had a good time. [chuckles]

So where was I going with that? That was '65—okay, Kennedy's assassination. Yeah, I was practicing with Phil. And to practice, what I had to hear was my part. So we were sitting on the floor, and I was actually under the end table of the, off the end of the couch, because the speaker was on the floor behind the end table. And I was listening to whatever—it was probably Ian and Sylvia [Tyson] or Peter, Paul and Mary or something. I was listening to the harmony. And I didn't play; he played the guitar because we did “Stewball,” a lot of Peter, Paul and Mary. Anyway, while we were sitting there talking and listening to the music and trying to get our parts, suddenly the front door swung open—got kicked open, and his aunt is standing there with groceries in either arm—in both arms. And she said, “Kennedy's been shot.” And I sat up so suddenly I banged my head on the bottom of the table. And we just stopped everything and turned on the television or radio—it was probably the radio at the time. That's the first time I'd ever heard the expression, “Balls.” And that's what Phil said. He said, “If I could catch the guy that did this, I'd string him up by his balls.” Ooh, I was—I didn't have a clue what that meant, but since, I kind of discovered it meant a lot of pain for the fellow that it was happening to. And then everything got kind of subdued. I know I'll never forget where I was the day that happened.

I watched—that's the most I've ever watched TV, for a couple of reasons. The—because I was at Villanova. I was in my sophomore year. Because of that—I'm trying to think of when that variety show took place. It had to have taken place almost immediately after Kennedy's assassination because we would have broken for Christmas. I have since read the book on the inaugural speech and it's called Ask Not [The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech that Changed America]—I'm trying to think of the last—if the author's name is Clarke. Thurston Clarke, I think. I've got it to check on. And now I know how he went about writing it, but I knew what it said, and I was pleasantly surprised at the other women who served in the American Red Cross recreation program that we all felt the same way. We needed to do something. So that was quite the impetus.

TS:

I've heard that was—that his speech was inspirational.

HW:

Oh, yeah.

TS:

Well, certainly for you.

HW:

And he meant it to be. In fact, it goes through all of the permutations that were suggested by other writers, but he made sure this was in his handwriting to let history know who wrote it.

TS:

So when you were saying earlier how you had wanted to do adventure and travel and your interest in the Peace Corps, was that connected to his speech at all, or was there other things—?

HW:

He—I think so. Yeah, Peace Corps was fairly new. In fact, my daughter fulfilled that. She went into Peace Corps. I told her it was in the female genes in our family. After college you go to Asia, because she went to Nepal with Peace Corps.

There was something you just said about the inspiration. When I was interested in travel, part of it was because I'd also met my cousins for the first time who had lived in—they were California sons. My aunt Peggy is from California. Uncle Dick, my dad's younger brother, married Peg and they moved, well, back to her home town, Sonoma. And they had three sons. They have three sons: Rick, Bob—Richard Jr., Robert, and Tom. And they came east on their way to Europe. I guess the World's Fair was on, because I have a picture of us standing in front of one of the fountains at the World's Fair and—in New York, but the year escapes me. Well, I just thought, “Oh, there's a whole new world out there.” And my parents offered on my—Peg and Dick invited me to come out and visit them after graduation, which was great.

And my parents said, “We'll give you a round trip first class as a graduation gift.”

And I said, “Give me youth fare one way.” And, “Just think of all the money you'll save.”

And so I went to California, and I was scheduled to have an interview with the Red Cross, but my trip to California—I couldn't move it up because there were too many things happening, I guess, to change that appointment there. But they allowed me to reschedule in San Francisco. So I had my interview in San Francisco, which led to a problem when I came home; they were only going to fly me to the west coast, because that's where I interviewed.

And I said “Well, no. Originally, I was supposed to come out of the east coast.”

So then they said, “Oh, well, okay. We'll fly you back to the east coast.”

Because I think we were paid a whopping four or five thousand dollars, and I had already spent half of that because I went to Bangkok twice and I went to Hong Kong and I bought a used car. So it was not exactly—I was not exactly flush to be flying all over the place. I didn't buy the used car until I came back, but still I was saving for it.

TS:

Okay. So in San Francisco you—that's where you interviewed with the Red Cross?

HW:

Right.

TS:

And you decided to join then?

HW:

I jumped on it right away.

TS:

So do you want to describe what happened from that point, and getting you into Vietnam?

HW:

Okay. So I don't remember details on this as far as—I must have told my parents, at some point, that I had been accepted into the Red Cross because there were two things that happened. I went—I had a date. There was going to be a training in Washington, D.C., where we would learn about the program that we were entering, but more importantly we would learn about the Red Cross as an institution. Because they were very sensitive, and heck, they're sending, technically, innocent young women into a war zone. And we were not issued flak jackets and helmets and weapons, although I always said we were armed—with smiles. [chuckles] A keen accent—oh yeah, I forget this one. “We were armed with smiles, a good—” crummy, darn. [laughs] Well, I'll think of it later.

TS:

It'll pop up.

HW:

Yeah, I'm sure. “A quick wit—.” “Armed with smiles, a good ear for regional accents, and a quick wit.” You had to. It was—I loved that job. Anyway, I told my parents that I was planning to go to Vietnam. They were a little stunned. When I started my training, they came down to Washington, D.C., looking very much like a deer in headlights. And I don't remember now—I have a friend, Gretchen Schaefer, Gigi Schaefer—Deichelbor—I'll spell that later [laughs]—and she lives in Newnan, Georgia, and she's a former Donut [Dolly]. And she said there were other guests there. I remember none except my parents and my boyfriend, who was the year behind me. We had met through—Danny was—we met through our choirs when we had a concert together, and he was at Mount St. Mary's [University] in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He was not a happy camper. In fact, once I got there, it was probably—it was right before finals because I screwed it up for him. It was probably May. I wrote him a Dear John, and it came for him right in the middle of finals. Not good timing at all.

But they were very concerned, and I believe it was Jessica Hunter who was there at the time from Red Cross, and she said to my parents that they didn't need to be concerned, that we were not put on the front lines. And she was absolutely right; we were not put on the front lines. But Vietnam was very different. The front line came to us, so we didn't have to go to the front lines. It was no place that we would've wanted to be unless the men were there. And then it was—that was it. We would just go. And somehow we'd be taken care of. And we were. I mean, at least none of us died from hostile fire.

TS:

So your parents were a little concerned.

HW:

They were concerned, but I think that they were fairly—I think they were accepting. At that point it was like, what are they going to do? Do you have a choice?

TS:

And how old were you at this time?

HW:

I was twenty. I was born in '44, this was September. I turned twenty-one—wait a minute. Sixty—no, I was already twenty-one, so I turned twenty-two in country.

TS:

Okay, you want to describe then, how—

HW:

The training in D.C.?

TS:

Oh yeah, describe some of that. I don't have—yeah.

HW:

Okay, well that—Since I didn't take copious notes on what that was all about, I remember having—I think I had a roommate, or she was in the room next door to me, and she mentioned something about really wanting to join the Red Cross and how great a program it was, but in some weak moment she indicated that she was really hoping that she could locate her boyfriend or fiancé who had been shot down. So she was essentially looking for a free ride. I don't remember saying anything to anybody about that, thinking “Is she kidding or what?” But she was not there when we came out of class and went back to our rooms, she'd been sent home I guess. Ulterior motives. I suppose they had people in the group—because you had to be careful of who you brought on board and their rationale for going. I believe the Red Cross wanted those of us who had a more altruistic motive as well as patriotic perhaps. But we had women who protested the war but still went because, as people found out, it's not the war but the warrior that we were supporting. That's a Hal [Harold G.] Moore [quote]—it wasn't the—he wrote We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, [Lt.] General Moore, and he said to support the warriors, not the war. Well he didn't say to do that, he just said that's what people should do. That wasn't a directive. He was a general after all. He would probably want to, you know.

TS:

Yeah. Very good. So did you have an interesting ride on the plane to Vietnam?

HW:

Oh! Yeah. I will just shorten it because I don't have a very big memory of Red Cross [training]. I kept on thinking while I was—at this part I do remember—I kept on thinking, “Why do I have to learn so much about the organization?”

TS:

Oh, right.

HW:

“Why can't I just find out what I'm supposed to do?” I'm a practical person, and I like to think I could at least have the kind of training I was expecting, but they didn't set that up for me, and they had the reason for doing it the way they did.

The plane ride—

TS:

Well wait, let's go back then. What was that reason then? So they did a lot of organizational learning—

HW:

Oh, in organization. Well, the big thing—and this is hysterical because even today—this is 2008—even today you get somebody whose father was in World War II or grandfather in World War II, they will remember that the Red Cross charged for donuts. [chuckles] And we had to learn why the Red Cross charged for donuts and defend the organization. I mean, they didn't even have a choice. The secretary of war said, “You've got to do it. All of our allies, they can't afford to give away food, and we are giving it away. So either you charge or you don't have it.” So the Red Cross started to charge. And people have forgiven the Japanese and the Germans, but they haven't forgiven the Red Cross, and it's over a stupid donut and probably a nickel or a dime. It's just—it's really just the principle. [laughs]

TS:

I actually didn't know that they charged.

HW:

They had to. They had to. There you go. But the thing I liked and I learned when I was writing my book about the term “Donut Dolly,” because Mary Louise Dowling, who was in charge of the Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas Program, SRAO, hated the term Donut Dolly. But what I didn't learn for years is that that began in World War II. It was certainly used in Korea. And even though some of the people that worked in SRAO were men, maybe they were called Donut Dollies, too, or teased about it, but there weren't that many. The name came because troops used to come by ship and to greet them with something American like a donut is wonderful, but you had women who were cooking up to twenty thousand donuts a day when the troop ships came in. Donut Dolly seems like a really good term. But it was a term of endearment. And that, I mean we—I still have women in Red Cross—In fact, I had a woman who is writing a book called Donut Dolly is one—I've made a note when I was talking to her, [she said] “Don't ever use the term Donut Dolly.” She just loathed it, and she had worked in both Korea and Vietnam. And I thought, “Okay, you're really hypersensitive about this, but if you don't want to use it, I'm never going to mention it to you.” And now she's writing the book and that's the title—Okay. It just—the whole concept of, even in World War II, just being there for them was nifty.

I've forgotten who I was talking to the other night. We were talking about Christmas, and I said, “Christmas—My best Christmas ever was in Vietnam.”

And he said, “Oh, you saw Bob Hope?”

I said, “Oh, no. No, I missed him. I saw him twenty years later; that's when I got his autograph. It's because I was there for everybody else but me.”

I didn't want any presents. I mean, I—you got presents every time the guys looked at you and smiled. That was great. Or just somehow appreciated and showed their appreciation. And nowadays they write us thank you's and say things like, “I had never talked to you then. I couldn't get closer than thirty feet because I was afraid of you.” [chuckles] What? Or, “I yelled at you and I told you to go home and, 'What in the blazes were you doing here,' and I really apologize because I know how much it meant to Joe and Mack, and both of them were killed, and you may have been the last round-eye they ever saw.” It's hard to say how or why they appreciated us, but it's nice to know they did.

TS:

Yeah. All right, we can get on the plane now.

HW:

Okay, on the plane. I have to—I have to refer to my book.

TS:

Okay.

HW:

Because of this—

TS:

And your book, is—

HW:

The book is titled Who Knew? Reflections on Vietnam.

TS:

When did you write that, Holley?

HW:

I started in 2002 and actually got it printed in 2004. But the ride. Oh! That was a long way. There were two things about the trip that I thought were—that I think are worth noting. First, we stopped [laughs] in a very wet—We got on the plane at what was called Friendship [International] Airport. Now nobody probably remembers that Friendship Airport was once BW—Or BWI [Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport] was once called Friendship Airport. But it seemed that when we finally took that trip, we were in uniform. And we were on the bus from Washington, probably through national headquarters, and it took forever just to get to the airport. But that was just one of those things. The—we went from there to San Francisco. I think we went to Travis [Air Force Base], probably.

TS:

You want me to pause it while you find the page?

HW:

Yeah that would be good.

TS:

Okay, let's do that.

[recording paused]

TS:

Okay, Holley, we're back on here.

HW:

That's what you think. I'm throwing things on the floor. Okay. Well, this tells me which—where—where we went. Our Continental Airlines flight—and that was the first time I'd ever heard about Continental Airlines, new to me—took us from Friendship Airport, now BWI, to Travis Air Force Base in northern California, then into the night and a downpour in the Philippines. We did stop in Hawaii, too, by the way. We endured—Well, that was interesting. They told us we couldn't have alcohol while we were in uniform. So where does everybody, all the guys on the plane head? Right for the bar! So if you're talking to anyone, you're standing in the bar. So I said to the fellow at that counter, “I can't have anything with alcohol in it. Can you put something in it so people know I'm not drinking alcohol?” I think he put an umbrella in it which made it look like it was a fancy alcoholic drink. Oh, god. I didn't get into trouble in anyway. I didn't get thrown out.

I had said we'd already endured the downpour in the Philippines. We had already endured thirty hours on the plane in our dress uniforms. So when we found ourselves in the hanger for our four-hour layover, we started to play Frisbee. And that was to relieve our boredom and get some exercise. The MPs [military police] stopped us almost immediately, saying, “Somebody could get hurt.” I remember the look that passed between us, “You've got to be kidding! We're going to Vietnam and a Frisbee could hurt us?” [chuckles] So then I said that the rain was pretty loud on the hangar's tin roof, and that was very fortunate because they couldn't hear what we were saying. Oh, we were so mad. [clears throat]

But then I—this is—I don't know if anybody else has experienced this. I've never seen this man since. I only met him on that thirty-hour flight. But that was—we were flying into what we thought might be oblivion, so I wrote a piece called “Indelible.”

[Reading from her book:]


“Just yesterday and forever ago”—I addressed this to him—
“you sat next to me on a plane flying halfway around the world.
They turned on the lights for our final approach
while we tried to get a few more minutes sleep.
The plane rose suddenly, sank, rose, sank again,
banking sharply in the night sky, then dove for the runway.
With heads almost touching our eyes flew open.
You must have seen the terror in mine,
and without a word you gently defused my fear
...with a wink.


A cheerful voice announced that we were avoiding some enemy fire
and apologized for the angle of descent.


Six months later I was in An Khe and you sent me a message
from the base they called Hong Kong
that you were still avoiding some enemy fire...


I'd like to think I'd recognize you after all these years
with those indelible brown eyes
and I've wondered since then if you were luckier than most
in avoiding some enemy fire...from within.”

And that was dedicated to Linn Bishop with the 1st Air Cavalry then and wherever you are now. I just hope he made it. But that—that was always the thought.

TS:

Right.

HW:

But I—he came—He was a dark-haired one, and there was another fellow who was blonde and he was sitting next to me, too. But it was, I think, when I fell asleep [clears throat] and I—and the plane started to dive down toward the runway and I—my eyes—It was like that children's game, Owl Eyes, where you both open your eyes at the same time and keep your heads together. It reminded me of Owl Eyes, and I just never forgot his face.

So another training, that then we were in Saigon for two weeks. And all I wanted to do was sleep. God it was hot. We took—well, the other—this is where my singing comes in. Whenever we got on our bus, I would lead everybody in what I considered my old camp songs and they'd follow along. And so we were driving around Saigon—well, not around, going from our hotel over, over to headquarters—and we'd be singing. And I commented that people kept looking at us strangely when we sing. They must not have music—well, that kind of music. How would they have ever heard it? It was camp songs from the U.S.A.

TS:

Can you remember any of the songs you used to sing?

HW:

Oh. [pause] Not at this instant. Actually Margaret Hodge—Maggie, was Goodrich, Hodge, the one we referred to as Donut Six—she became unit director, although I worked with her when she was program director in Da Nang—was the one that said—she reminded me that we had even done this. I'd forgotten. And she said, “Well don't you remember when those kids—.” We were singing and these kids were watching us, and then we kind of pointed to them and they both tried to hide behind a light pole, which was so skinny it was like a cartoon, one of those Wile E. Coyote things. And then the light changed, the traffic cleared, and we took off and they just stood there with their mouths open.

What songs would we have sung? Probably “If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.” [claps] “If you're happy and you know it—.” I'm sure we did some weepy ones like, “It is better to light just one little candle then to stumble in the dark.” You never know. I got into singing professionally, but I don't—it's been years.

TS:

That's all right. It's good to hear a good voice.

HW:

I think I actually wrote some things, because a lot of the book came out from seeing pictures. And I actually—Linda Maini said it to me. She said, “I've been scrambling to get pictures. I can't remember things and I know these will help.” And they do. Margaret, I was encouraging her to use some of her slides because she spent time in An Khe also, and to donate them, the use of them, to Arrowhead Films for the production of A Touch of Home: The Vietnam Red Cross Girls movie documentary that's supposed to be coming out in 2008. And she said, “I haven't looked at those in thirty-five years. I'm not going to remember things.” Well, we took them to Wal-Mart or Costco and had all the slides transferred to CD and we started watching these things, and she remembered. “Oh! That's so-and-so! I didn't know I knew his name.”

TS:

So it's a trigger.

HW:

Yeah, it does. It comes right back.

TS:

Let me ask you a question. I had another woman indicate that one of the things she remembers when she got off the plane was the smell.

HW:

Oh! [laughs]

TS:

That there was a certain smell about Vietnam.

HW:

[Reading from her book:]


As I stepped off the plane my first impression
was that even the air smelled different.
It was warm, humid in the middle of the night but I wrote simply
It smelled so...Oriental.
Crossing the tarmac we were herded back together
and quickly ushered into the terminal
for our first encounter with “hurry up and wait”
...for luggage,
...the only “western” toilet in the airport was (not a hole—just a hole in the floor),
...instructions for the next day,
...transportation into Saigon
...and each other.

Oh yeah, it had a certain smell, and all I could do was identify it as oriental. I had—I mean, I had never had the concept of oriental besides Japanese—oh, a Japanese or Chinese restaurant. But I will have to say—I mentioned in the preface in my book that for my sixteenth birthday—I was always fascinated with planes. We were on the—I could see planes flying and circling to land at what was—What was [John F.] Kennedy [International Airport] called? Idlewild [Airport]. They were landing in Idlewild. LaGuardia [Airport], I think—I'm not sure which. Maybe Idlewild is newer than LaGuardia. But one of them was being built. We were still on the flight path, and I would go out and empty the garbage, my job after dinner, empty garbage, and I'd go out and I'd look up and I'd salute the planes. I said, “Someday I'll be there.” I just was fascinated with flight. And for my sixteenth birthday—and I loved Japanese food—my sixteenth—and I knew how to use chopsticks at that point—my mother—Japanese or Chinese food, my mother didn't like that kind of food, and the only time we could ever take advantage was when she was too ill to cook. So she had a lousy cold we said, “Yay! Daddy will take us out and we'll eat Chinese!” So I learned how to use chopsticks. And again, my sixteenth birthday I got—we went to Miyako Sukiyaki which is a Japanese restaurant in New York City and an hour-long—it was an hour-long flight over New York Harbor in a helicopter. It was a many—it was very plush helicopter, a commercial venture, but that, hey, I was hooked.

TS:

So you didn't have probably any problem when you were flying around in helicopters in Vietnam?

HW:

No, but I think you will, as you talk to anybody, we have a common experience. Yes, it smelled different. And I would bet you dollars to donuts, and I'd win both of them, that whenever there is a helicopter in the area, one, we feel it before we hear it, and two, we're back.

TS:

Interesting.

HW:

Well, I had been in the flight path for Pegasus, which is the helicopter, medical helicopter for Harrisonburg, Virginia. I wasn't that far from the hospital, so by the time Pegasus was getting near us, we were—it was pretty loud. But again, I felt it before I heard it.

TS:

Well, let me ask you, because I did read your book, so let me ask you some questions of things you wrote in there. You don't need to—I want you to shut it because I want you to remember what you can remember. And one of the things you were talking about, your first duty was at the III Marine Amphibious Forces. And the type—I kind of want you to give an explanation to the people that are listening to this, or reading the transcript, about what—how you were helping the soldiers. You know, what sort of activities, and maybe also kind of the reaction that you were getting back from them, and the kind of things, activities that you were doing, or things that you were providing to them.

HW:

Well, it wasn't 'til—I think it wasn't until the wall [Vietnam Veterans Memorial] came that we realized we had done something important. I'm not minimizing the fact that I was there, I don't think I'm minimizing it.

TS:

So what did it feel like at that time then to you?

HW:

Yeah, that's what I'm trying to recall. [pause] My cousin went to Vietnam, which is the first time I really thought about it beyond kind of vaguely knowing it was on television, which was always in the smoker at Rosemont. I didn't smoke, so I didn't watch television. I'd listen to radio. And I—So Vietnam was kind of vague until Johnny went. And then I think I had a newspaper article or a picture with a map that I scotch taped onto my closet wall in my dorm room, and that way I knew what it was.

But to know—I would probably insult them because I didn't know any better. I used to play classical music. Well, most Marines [chuckles] would probably go, “What?” So I'd play the—I think, oh yeah, what—[hums song]

TS:

You need my mother here, she would—yeah.

HW:

I mean, I would say, “Here come the Marines,” and I played that theme. Well, that is—that was probably insulting. I didn't mean it. It's the only way I could interpret what I was doing. Or I'd use that to indicate the—I think I've played probably [Theme of] Exodus, and that and Beethoven 5th [Symphony No. 5 in C minor]. [hums song] That I could—you could get good Marine with that. [hums song] The Exodus theme gave the, kind of the march. But I wasn't really very smart. My best—I mean in terms of picking appropriate music to relay.

I think my best—My best ability was to just listen. And boy, did we listen. [chuckles] The—oh god, we'd—we'd hear about—You'd just sit down with people, and they were all so different. [We] had two guys, Clifton P. Slone, S-l-o-n-e. He would never tell me what the P stood for. He's from Roanoke, Virginia. He's probably still around. But he's the most spit polished guy. He was just part Cherokee Indian because he had really dark hair, and he was a jazz musician, but he never—I mean, for a Marine, he looked like he stepped out of the laundry. Everything was cardboard stiff. I—to this day I don't really know what he did, but it could not have been more than an office job. And I thought he was fascinating, but he wasn't the guy I was supposed to—I mean he had everything he needed. He—it wasn't—but he's the one that kind of clung on to us. Russell, his friend, also—Russell was more of a Marine—looking Marine. A little rough and tumble. And he, he became friends with—because we were told, “Don't touch the men,” but I have a picture of Russell with his arm around Lynn Schwartz, who was one of the “Donuts” in my unit in Da Nang, and so apparently we broke the rules, or he touched her. Well, I guess that could be construed as okay.

What we—I think I followed—as talkative as I may be here—I think I followed a lot of people's lead as—because I didn't know mostly what they were going through. 1st LAAMB [Land Anti-Air Missile Battalion] battalion, good grief, these guys were on the land anti-air[craft] missile battalion at the top of Monkey Mountain. It was beautiful up there. And I guess if they came off the mountain top, they had to experience real life down below. But the—there were twin Marines stationed up there, Brad and Barry Witham, from Portland, Maine, who taught me how to play cribbage and remembered me after twenty years. And these are the pictures that are kind of flashing through my mind. I'd sit and play cards, and I'm sure I knew how to play hearts and blackjack and everything, but I can't remember now, I just don't play cards. Or they thought I was terrible and they put up with me anyway. [chuckles] It could be. But there were so many. I think the part that is most real is just hearing what they had to say. And I did write in the book that they tell us about their girlfriends, and we'd hear about their kid sister, and God, what a pest they were! And then they get this look in their eye like, “I'd give anything to be pestered.” But yeah, they—There was always something wistful when they were talking about home.

When Johnny came out of the field, my cousin, one of the guys came to the office door and said, “Anybody here named Jeanie?”

And I said—with my nametag that says Holley—I said, “That's me!” because I knew he was coming. So he was standing there in the middle of—probably had twenty people kind of milling around. We were in a large—it was Quonset hut at the time, maybe a double Quonset. And he was standing there in the middle. And I yelled, “Johnny!” and everybody turned around and looked, and I went flying toward him and threw my arms around him, and he just stood there and shook. He didn't try to hug me back or anything.

And I said, “What's the matter?”

He said, “I hadn't seen a round eye in thirteen months.”

And I just didn't get it. “This is why we're not supposed to touch you? Because you'll shake?” No, I didn't say that, but I couldn't imagine why anyone would be so shook to see their own cousin. In fact, I think I said, “I'm your cousin!”

He said, “That doesn't make any difference.”

And I thought, “It doesn't?” [laughs] Thick.

We were so naïve. I look back and think I could do things so much better now if I—because I'm sure I stepped on people's toes or I mentioned guys who had been just killed. Or instead of asking, I'd just kind of plow into conversations. But they're a very forgiving lot.

So, yeah, I think that the thing I enjoy now—and I mentioned running into this guy who turned out to be from the next town over where I lived. I recognized the accent. And being armed with a smile and a good ear for regional accents, that became my strength. And it was always a game I used to play, anyway, as a kid. Because I could link almost immediately to where they were from. Because if I didn't hear it from them first, my question was, “Hey, how are you? Where you from?” And that was pretty standard.

I didn't rise through the ranks of Donut to become program manager. I remained a worker bee through the whole tour. Probably because other people recognized that I was not leadership material. And that I was—I had decided when I—.

Oh, I did keep a diary for a little while, and I looked back on it, and I thought, “I'm not proud of this.” I was boy crazy. I was, “Oh, he reminds me of Peter O'Toole, and he looks like so-and-so.” And I'm thinking, “Holley, this doesn't have anything to do with the reason you're here.” And I basically stopped writing because I didn't like who I looked like in my own diary. And I have remained boy crazy. [laughter] I just think men are fantastic, and the vets even more so because of the amount of things they put up with and still managed to live through—and help each other. Gee whiz. What a—they are much—

This is funny. I think the men were more supportive of each other and us than we were of ourselves. And I say that because I know when the nurses moved—When we were there in Da Nang, we were first. The nurses were mostly on hospital ships. So there was this sense of ownership like these were our guys. Now the USO [United Service Organizations] was there. They—we all lived in Harrisonburg—we all lived in Da Nang, hello! But it was territorial. And I remember somewhere in my tour—and I couldn't say that there was an epiphany, but somewhere I thought, “We're all on the same side.” And it wasn't until Edie Meeks spoke at the wall in—at the 25th infantry—at the 25th—yeah, hello—the 25th anniversary of the Wall [Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall] in November last year that my love of the helicopter and hers were for—she didn't love it. It wasn't—to her it wasn't a freedom, it was more wounded. That was their—their alarm. For me it represented getting out. And, as many of the guys—I mean, we were tuned into them in that way, so that they would feel that they were supported and that we wanted them to go home, too, safe.

TS:

Was Edie a nurse?

HW:

Edie was a nurse.

TS:

That's why she had that—

HW:

Oh, yes.

TS:

I see.

HW:

Yeah, but she said that just—and she knew how important it was to the guys, so of course they couldn't say, “Oh, god, more helicopters.” It just meant this guy was going home. But you didn't want to send them home in a bag.

TS:

You also mentioned in your book that you—you've mentioned about wearing smiles a lot.

HW:

Oh, yeah.

TS:

But you also mentioned in your book about perfume.

HW:

[gasps] Perfume. Would you believe I still have Madame Rochas? Actually, it doesn't smell bad. I wore it the other day just for the fun. Yeah, the only nurses—again, we were ahead of the American nurses coming into country, and we went to—there were nurses, Filipino nurses, but American women wore perfume. That was our signature, but I didn't realize that until I came into a ward. And it was pretty close to the OR [operating room] so it was kind of dark and gloomy at that end. But there was a pilot who was sitting on his bed. His whole head was bandaged. His eyes were covered. And somebody had pointed out to me that he was there. And he—it looked like he was going to be okay, but he didn't know that yet. But not to bring up his hopes and don't—and the other thing was, “Don't ask them what happened,” although she told me it was a—or he told me, somebody did—it was a phosphorus flare that he—that had blinded him temporarily it turned out, or maybe it limited his vision. I don't know. I just know he was talking, and as I walked in the guys turned around to look at me, and I put a finger to my mouth like, “Don't tell him I'm here.” And I reached in my pocketbook and I took some perfume and I doused some Kleenex and I just waved it under his nose. This, I still remember this. And he stopped in mid-sentence. He was talking about something and his arms were going and all of a sudden he goes, “Wait. Wait! You're American. Where is she?!” His arms went out and everybody got a big kick out of that. So I gave him the [Kleenex (added by veteran)]—I said, “Hello. I'm right here.” [laughs] It was—that was really something. Something that simple, you don't even think of it.

TS:

Yeah, exactly. I lost it—you had said something and I was trying to go back to—

HW:

The wards in the hospital?

TS:

Well, actually, yes. But the reason why you weren't supposed to ask them what happened.

HW:

Oh, yeah. Because sometimes it would've been, “Well, I'm here because I have a social disease.” When they were in the hospital, depending on where they were in the hospital—If you couldn't be in the field, you were in the hospital. There was no—I mean, you could have a slight cold; you don't get it. But if you twisted your ankle—and I think my first visit to the hospital, I did document in the book, because I walked in and I said, “Hey, guys. How you doing?”

And they said, “Okay. Here she comes, full of questions.”

And I said, “What? No, no. I just want to say hi. I've got some paper and pencil activities for you.” And I'm with whoever I happen to be with.

They said, “Well, why aren't you asking us what happened?”

I said, “Well, it's okay. We don't have to know why.”

“Well, he fell down a [manhole (added by veteran)]—.” “He threw his back out playing volleyball.” “Oh yeah? Well, I stabbed myself in the eye with a screwdriver.”

I mean, the problems were really stateside problems. “I twisted my ankle.” “I hurt my eye.”

And I looked at them and said, “War is hell guys.” [laughs] Hello!

And then things got more serious down the ward a bit. But they would tell us what was the matter. We didn't have to ask them. But I think it was just to maintain that professional distance, any more than we were allowed to sit on their beds. Oh, no. [chuckles] No, no, no.

The other thing is, as Nancy Smoyer said, I learned to look them in the eye. Because sometimes the wounds were pretty bad, and they couldn't cover them because it was too hot. They were going to be medevaced out and they knew it. They were going to Japan or Hawaii or back home. And some of them didn't make it, but I don't know how many of those that I saw were in that position.

TS:

How was that, when you were visiting the ones that were seriously injured?

HW:

Well, all we could—That's where we could touch them. Just to say, “Thank you. You're going home. You'll be okay.” And we didn't know of course. And some of them may not have ever heard us. But I remember one time, the ROKs, the Republic of Korea Marines, were badly—I guess they won, but boy, at such a cost. Because there were—they were jammed into this one—it was a Quonset hut hospital setup.

And I said, “I don't speak Korean.”

They said, “It doesn't make any difference. Get in there and say thank you.”

“Okay.”

And that was—I think that was the worst I'd ever seen anybody. It was really dark and all we could do was move from bed to bed and say, “Thank you. Thank you for helping us. Thank you. We really appreciate your help. Thank you.” And I said—I would've liked to have said more, but I didn't speak Korean. I have since learned how brutal—I wrote that in my book—how brutal they were in battle. But if you wanted somebody on your side, they were the ones you got. I mean you went after them to say, “Come on guys, let's go.” But they were—they were brutal.

The hospitals were kind of fun. I remember celebrating a birthday. I walked in on someone who was naked. I didn't see a thing, but everybody thought I did. And they were roaring, and one of the guys later—and I just found it the other day—gave me his—they're crossed swords. It's a Marine Corps pin. I guess I'm still pinned to him. I don't have any idea who it is, but that's nice.

But they'd give me their pictures. We had one guy, Mike Cripe. Mike was a Marine, and he was MIA [missing in action] for a little while. But I think he was MIA because he was in Cambodia or Laos, and he wasn't really there, of course. Yeah. [chuckles] And he came back and they gave him a Silver Star. They presented that to him and a couple of other guys in his unit. And he was lucky to have gotten out of there. I think Mike was from Oakland or someplace out near San Francisco. And he told me, he said, “I'm going home, and I'm coming back.”

So my question is, “Why?” [chuckles] “If you're going home?”

He said, “I've got to help these guys.”

And I said, “Well, how can you help?”

He said, “I'm escorting bodies home.”

So he did. And I didn't—I never heard from him again. But he just felt that he would have a much better understanding of what was going on. I think he did.

TS:

Was there anything that—[pause]. This is a very emotional book that you wrote—

HW:

That's why I keep referring to it, because it keeps me from crying. [laughter] I've got words here I can hang on to.

TS:

Yeah, I know and I understand that. But in here, what was the hardest thing to write?

HW:

Putting into words the loss. Because there are three names in the center of the book, but there's a fourth one. He didn't make it to the wall because he took his own life, as I understand it. I would be happily surprised if he didn't, but I think he did. I think that's the hardest thing to write, because actually the book began with me looking for a picture of a guy I dated after I came back from Vietnam. I was at Portsmouth Naval Hospital. I was dealing with the Marines and the [U.S.] Navy and the [U.S.] Army guys who stepped on the land mines, who'd gotten sniped out of the trees, who didn't—couldn't return for that second tour. Well, some of them actually did, but they were the miracle boys. But the— [pause] I just lost my train of thought.

TS:

We were talking about the three—

HW:

Oh, the three, yeah. Sorry. How could I forget? It was—I found some letters from [Navy Hospital Corpsman] Harry Bowman and he—I think we only had—we had fewer than ten letters in the—January, February, March, April, May—the five months he was gone. One, I'm a lousy letter writer, but two, he didn't have a whole bunch of time to write letters. But I kept thinking—When I found the letters, I sat down and thought, “Oh, Harry.” And I could remember his eyes, because he had these gorgeous eyes, long eyelashes. And he had this heavy New Jersey accent. And he was funny. He'd apologize for something—and actually he wrote me a letter in blood. [laughs] I don't think it was his. In fact, I think he told me it was from one of his patients. He'd just overdrawn the amount of blood he needed and then he wrote a letter for me, falling on his sword as it were. [chuckles] It was pretty funny. I still have the letter, which kids now a days go, “Ew!” And I say, “Look, AIDS was not even in existence then.” You know, it's been forty years since this guy drew this blood, so I don't even think it has a problem.

And when I was trying to remember him, I couldn't come up with anything beyond his eyes. And I thought, “I've got to have a picture.” So I started going through my slides. Hundreds of slides, and why I have hundreds more of temple roofs in Thailand, I don't know. The things you take pictures of are really kind of hysterical. Why is that important? People, I should've had more people. I should've identified the people. Well, when I got pictures back that did include people, fortunately I had written on the edges of slides what it was I was seeing, and on the backs of pictures. Not everything, but quite a few. So that helped me remember.

But I wasn't finding any of Harry Bowman. So I went on the web, because I did at least have his unit number from the left hand corner of his envelope. And I found several names of his unit members. And I called one whose name is Jerry Lomax and he had written a tribute to Bow, so had a guy named [Rocco] “Rock” Giambrocco. I can't remember Rock's real first name, but Rock. His tribute was called “The Bravest Man I Knew.” Jerry's for some reason—it wasn't as wordy, because Rock's was a bit longer, and Rock had—now I've discovered he felt partially responsible, because he was—he and another Marine got into a situation and the guys went toward them, and he just felt he set him up, but he didn't. There was nothing anybody could've done. I contacted Jerry, through the help of the internet, and I think I said something—he got on the phone and I said, “My name is Holley Watts, and I was in the Red Cross. You might know me as Holley McAleese.”

And there was this long silence, and he said, “I think I recognize the name.”

Well, I thought, “Cool. At least he mentioned my name.” And I told him I was really looking for pictures.

And he said, “Well, I think I've got a couple for you.” And he sent me—

And I said, “I promise, promise I will return them.”

So he sent me a picture of—or he sent me a slide that had been made from another slide and it had been enhanced. The color was horrible. So I said—I begged for the original and got that, and then a friend of mine helped scan it and color balance it and that ended up in the book. Well, a couple of them did.

But in talking to Jerry, I realized how important this guy was to the men in his unit. And he was a corpsman. He was like the fellow I married, Hal. They are “Doc” and they practically walk on water, everything they do. When your life depends that heavily, that easily on somebody else—and it's not an easy burden by any means, but it's such a fluid relationship—they have a love that transcends any fifty-year marriage I've ever seen, and they get it in less than thirteen months. It's phenomenal. They had—When I got Bow's information—actually, I should be probably jailed for plagiarism because when I talk about how the men loved him, that's almost verbatim from what Jerry said. And I told him that.

And he said “I didn't say that.”

And I said, “Yes, you did. But I was the one that scribed. I wrote it down, so it's permanent, and I know it. I know how much you loved him.”

And in fact last summer, I went, drove over to Nashville because they were having a reunion. I said, “I want to meet the guys.” And I didn't have the money. One of them paid for my hotel. It was great. And I just—I felt like a fly on the wall, and sometimes I just didn't—I wanted to talk about him. And at this point they're not moving on, but they do talk about him. And he kind of becomes—it's like he's there all the time, and they don't have to talk about him. So I was asking for things that made them feel uncomfortable. And Rock, poor guy, he was on a motorcycle, and he's got kind of long hair. Somebody decided he didn't—I guess it was kind of an Easy Rider kind of moment for this driver, and he ran Rock into a cement—one of those cement abutments that are separating car lanes on roads. And Rock is a mess. I mean, his back is hurt. He wears a brace on this leg. He's a mess, and he's in pain all the time. But I think he thinks that somehow is justified. It's okay, because, you know, if he hadn't done something, Bow would still be here. They didn't call him Bow, just Doc. And they were the one—

Well, before Jerry and I hung up, he said, “His parents are gone, but would you like his sisters' addresses, and their names?”

“Yes!” and I immediately—Well, no, it wasn't immediate because I think I contacted him in spring of two-thousand—maybe the fall of 2003, because I didn't start in 2002 till later. I was just collecting things, looking for stuff. It wasn't 100%. I wasn't sitting down to write a book, anyway. I was just writing some feelings that came out [that] I didn't even know were in me.

When the book did come out [chuckles] timing is everything. It was the day before I was scheduled to give a talk on the book—it was a little dicey there for a minute—at the Library of Congress. And all my books arrived on Thursday, and I had to be there on Friday. So that was a lot of fun. I hardly had time to look at the book. But when I came back in October or November—well, I came back the same day, or the next day—but in October or November of 2004, at that point, I sent the book to both Judith and Pat Bowman—now married with other names. Judith lived, at one point, in Charlotte, which is the last address that Jerry had had, but she moved and I sent it media mail, so it never made it to her house. Pat's arrived and I had stuck in my little business card, and I said, “Harry was very special to me.” And I just—and I put it in with the beginning of what they would see would be my testament to him. And she called me up and said, “What—.” How did she put that? [pause] “What a gift. We always knew Harry had someone he loved. We just never knew how to find you.” Well, she actually paused. She said, “We never knew how to find—you.” And I went [crying sound].

So I actually flew up to Syracuse and I went over to Interlaken, New York, where they have a house up on the Finger Lakes.

And I tried several times to get a hold of Judith Larsen, and she couldn't meet me, and it became obvious that she didn't want to. Because I called Pat back, who I've become fast friends with, and I said, “I don't think that Judith wants to meet me.”

And she said, “No, she doesn't.” [chuckles] But she said, “We all handle Harry's death differently.”

When Pat was eight years old, on her eighth birthday, she wished for a baby brother, and nine months later he arrived. And Pat is eight years different. So when she was getting out of high school, he was just getting out of grammar school, et cetera. So he became closer to Judith, which is one reason I really wanted to talk to Judith, to get some rounded picture. But she's never wanted to talk about him, although Pat said, “She has—Don't take it personally Holley. She hasn't talked to him about her—she hasn't talked to her children about him either, and she has a son named Harry who is the spitting image of Harry Bowman.”

Which I would love to see him sometime, but I'm not going to. Well, I may show up at her doorstep and not give her the option, although she'll probably recognize me. Pat said she went to see her and she said, “I don't know if it was for me,” because eventually I did have her address and sent her the book. I don't know. Pat said she didn't know if Judith had done it for Pat's sake, to make her think that she was looking through the book, but she said it was on the coffee table.

So I said “Okay. Since you have a doubt, I'm not going to put any weight on that hope.”

The other—the other thing, John Clarke was—he was the kid. He was this blonde. And I say that, you know, and I have this vision in my head of a blonde Marine. And I have a couple of pictures of guys, and I have no idea who they are. And I had emailed, contacted a cousin of his. His parents were dead by the time I got around to John. And I thought, “I'm not really sure I have his picture, but to say I would never forget him, and then turn around and say to someone 'but I can't remember what he looks like,' that's not—that's not balanced.” And so I had been in touch with his cousins, and to this day I don't have a clear view of who this guy might be. I had one fellow who was his point man. John was getting ready to—he was short. He was ready to go home. And he went to his CO [commanding officer] and said, “I want to be on this—I want to be on this—” it wasn't a mission—

TS:

Patrol.

HW:

Patrol, yeah. And the guy said, “You are too short.”

He said, “No, it's going to be okay, because we're going to be in the so-and-so it's not going to be a problem.”

Well, of course, it was. He was killed. But the guy that wrote about John's death—apparently, John was very, very firm. He did not want to die. Because they put him on a helicopter, on a medevac, and he—they said he died, they revived him, the helicopter got shot down, they revived him again. I mean, they didn't get everybody killed, and then on the way he died. Like three times, the guy—had he not been shot down, had he not lost that time, he might have made it. But who knows what? I'm just—John was—I'll have to show you. He helped—Tandy [Vurgason Graham]—who figures in the book, too, a woman I grew up with—had sent me Christmas card and the Christmas card was a dorky looking picture of Santa Claus. You couldn't see his face, just the stupid red nose and the hat over his eyes and his beard, so it was all this white thing, and a red hat, and this nose, and this little smile—at least, an implied smile. John happened to be in at the center when we were making things and he said, “Ah, this needs the peace sign.” So he made the hand with the peace sign, and he put the cotton balls on to make Santa's face. And I could never throw that out. I brought it home with me. And I wasn't in love with John. He was one of the guys, but he is so representative of—I can give that to you, for the archives.

TS:

That would be fantastic.

HW:

I could do that. That Santa Claus is really special because I've had people say, “What are you keeping this for? It's so yellow!”

I said, “No, no, no. Don't touch that.” [laughs] “This is John Clarke.”

[End CD 1—Begin CD 2]

HW:

The other—I had John Clarke. I had Al[exander Kearney] Ward. And I had Harry Bowman. Al Ward was a student at Villanova University. He graduated in the class of '63, I think it was. I didn't find out until just recently his father was an admiral. And so Al had a longer history in the service and quite a devotion. He was madly in love with Sharon Gibb—something or other at Villanova. She didn't finish college. They got married, and he went to Vietnam. Of course, I didn't have a clue that he was there except that somebody along the line, while I was still in Da Nang, which was somewhere between October—by the time I finished training in September in Saigon—and June—even though I part of that was TDY [temporary duty assignment] to An Khe. Somewhere in that time frame I learned that Al Ward—because I knew the name, because he fell in love with Sharon Gibbons. That was her name, Gibbons. And they were inseparable. [laughs] You'd see Al, you'd see Sharon. You'd see Sharon, and Al was not far. He might have been around the corner in the Pie Shoppe. P-S-h-o-p-p-e, Pie Shoppe. That's the student union at the time at Villanova.

When I heard he was there, I think I remember being at the airport. We had a place that we called the Dew Drop Inn. Get it? Dew Drop—D-e-w. [laughs] But the guys coming and going out of Da Nang—out of Tan Son—out of Da Nang, not Tan Son Nhut [Air Base], would come by. And a lot of them, after R&R [rest and recuperation], they'd be in their dress uniforms, they'd be sitting in their chair with their mouths gaping open because they were sound asleep, because they hadn't slept much on R&R. It was really funny. But I'd heard that Al was in Quang Tri, and I was able to get through to him. Now whether or not the man even remembered me as more than just an American woman who called him and said, “Al! This is Holley McAleese! I—” because I had changed [my name]. I had gone as Jean through grade and high school, as using Jean, my first name, as my name. And when I got to college and my total rebellion, I decided to go for my middle name, which was Holley. So it's the only way Al Ward would've known me. That and as Betty McAleese's little sister, who Sharon was in my sister's class, so I had a prayer anyway of having him remember something.

I talked to him for a long time. And then for some reason, I did not realize—I heard that he was killed, but the strangest thing for me is the fact that I thought he was killed while I was still in country. He died after I left. But I still for so [long (added by veteran)]—and I wrote this because I believed it—that I was the last American woman he spoke to. Now since I've come out with the book, I've contacted his wife, who did remarry, and his daughter, who is his daughter from their marriage. And his daughter said to me, “I want to know everything you know about my dad.”

And her stepdad was—I mean he absorbed them and hook, line, and sinker. They love him dearly. But I said, “I'm going to have to disappoint you. I didn't know a lot about him. I even had the date that he died as being while I was still in country.”

And so I think she thought, “Well, who is this bogus lady,” but I was going on memory, which isn't always accurate. And I know I spoke to him, and I know that Quang Tri was overrun. But I didn't know that from any other information, just from memory, so somewhere I got that. Whether it was while I was at Portsmouth Naval [Hospital], which would've been the time that I heard—and it was kind of like, “But I just spoke to him,” You know when somebody dies, you say, “But we just talked yesterday,” as if that's not possible. I don't think so. It's entirely—especially in a war.

The one person that—and the hardest, I'm not answering that question yet, I'm avoiding it—the one that was difficult was thinking I was going to find Jeff, who had—he was with, I think, a mechanic division in Cu Chi. Jeff Nyman. And what I knew about Jeff Nyman was he was madly in love with his long blonde-haired sweetheart, and they were going to get married when he got home. That he was an artist, and that he was from Kalamazoo, Michigan. And I thought, “Okay. I know where Kalamazoo is.” But I was—when I came back to this country, I lived in Portsmouth, Virginia. I married Hal from Michigan and moved promptly to California—Sonoma and then Barstow—and then back to Lansing, Hal's home town. And it wasn't till I was in Lansing, oh, gosh, a year or two—so that takes up four or five years later—I thought, “I'm an hour from Kalamazoo! Jeff Nyman's there!” And Jeff had drawn me a picture in I think it's either acrylic or chalk—and I had it framed immediately—that he had drawn of—it's kind of a landscape of the palm trees and the tropical stuff.

TS:

You had it framed in Vietnam?

HW:

No I had it framed here. He gave it to me there—

TS:

I see.

HW:

—I brought it home and I had it framed. Maybe I didn't have it framed then, and I'll tell you why. I think I know when I had it framed. I had it protected with—in a tube.

Because I decided I'd call him. Now, at the time, to call somebody you had to use long distance. And I talked—and you talked to a real-life operator. And I apparently called somebody who was actually in Kalamazoo, as that's unusual nowadays. And the—just making sure the bathroom door is open so they—cats' litter box. Thought I'd explain that to the transcriber. [laughter] Anyway, I talked to the operator and I said—giving her my short history, that I had been with Jeff in the 25th Infantry in Cu Chi and he was back in Kalamazoo. So by the time the operator and I had finished the call, she knew quite a bit more about me and Jeff. And he was a buddy. He was just a sweet guy who was so in love with his girlfriend. I swear she looked like Alice in Wonderland from the way he described her, and I don't remember ever having seen a picture. And she said, “Well, we have several Nymans in Kalamazoo, so let's do this: we will call them one at a time.” And because it's person-to-person, which is what I wanted to do because I didn't want to have to pay for all these calls—which to me now seems ridiculous, but then it was expensive—that she would request the—she would—I forgot to turn off the radio. Good heavens. She would request Jeff, to speak to Jeff. And we had—We went through all the calls, and she said, after she finished them, she said, “The response to the first call I made—.” And I hadn't heard them.

TS:

You had or had not?

HW:

I couldn't hear what they were saying. She said, “There's—.” She said, “Frankly, I think somebody's not telling us something.” I mean, I have a sleuth on the other end. The operator was wonderful. And it was because she said, “There's—it wasn't, 'I've never heard of him. There's no one.' It was like, 'There's no one here by that name,' but it wasn't quite put that way. 'I don't know what you're talking about.' I mean, some people would say, 'I don't know any Jeff Nyman,' but there was—it was, 'Jeff Nyman. Well, there's—there's no one here at this number by that name,' or something like that.”

Anyway, she was suspicious. And she said, “Well, wait a minute. Let me see if I can find out what's going on.” And she—the phone—I got put on hold, and she came back and she said, “He used to work at Kroger.”

And I said, “Okay. I don't know.” I don't know where she got this information.

She said, “He's not here.”

I said, “Oh, he moved out of state?”

“No,” she said. “He's not anywhere, and he committed suicide.”

Now, I didn't—I didn't—that was a complete shock. I remember saying—yelling, “No,” and sliding—We had a wall on a kind of a center post and I leaned against it, and I slid down on the floor and I just bawled. Because I was so close, and I was going to see Jeff. And how she found out any of this, I have no idea, but there—I guess I don't remember having looked again. I just—that was the close of the chapter for me.

I, to this day, I am curious, but I don't want to find out. What I did was I took his picture that he drew for me, and I took it to a framer, and I said, “I want a plaque that says his name right up front.” So he inserted a brass plaque that says Jeff Nyman. And it may say the year, but I can't even remember. It's in the other room. But that was—that was—that was my wakeup call that things—that happened—that bad things happen after the war. And I couldn't figure out why. I have no idea why, unless his girlfriend didn't marry him and they went through some traumatic stuff and whatever he brought back from Vietnam. As far as a mental burden, I couldn't tell you. I don't have that clue.

TS:

Well, we should probably take a little break I think.

HW:

Yeah.

TS:

You've been talking for a little while. So we're going to turn it off for just a little bit.

HW:

Okay.

[recording paused]

[cough]

TS:

Okay. We're continuing with Holley Watts, and she's going to talk about some more hard things to write.

HW:

The—Actually, it's beyond the first book, Who Knew?, and into the second book. One of the things that I found that I had not done, even though I had talked to the men in—in Harry Bowman's unit, and even though I had visited—Well, I didn't even tell you that. [chuckles] His sister said that she felt his presence at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is where he's on their wall because they were New Jersey natives. And one of the things she sent me was a tape that he had made to his parents. And I was invited in October of 2005 to speak at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in New Jersey. And so I took the CD with me that—she'd converted it to—the tape to a CD. And I really was nervous about listening, and I knew I—I didn't want to sit in my house and listen. I wanted to be in the car where I couldn't escape [chuckles] essentially. So I put on the CD. I put it into the player and absolutely nothing happened. And I thought, “Okay.” So I pulled it out and I thought, “Maybe it's a faulty CD or something's wrong with the player.” I pulled out another CD, some music I had, put that in and it played fine. Took that out, put Harry's in again, and nothing happened.

Now Harry was a great kidder [chuckles]. And I thought, “Okay. I'll play your silly game.” And I'm driving down the road and I yelled, “Harry, I just want to hear your voice. Stop kidding around! Let me hear you!” and he started. And there was no long pause in the beginning of that. When you plug it in any other time, it goes and starts right away. So I immediately said, “Okay. We're going to have a great ride.” [chuckles] And I just listened to that over and over and over again, and I got to know him from a different perspective. And then I realized—

I went to New Jersey. I gave the talk. It rained while I was driving though. I stayed with some friends in Lambertville and I had to drive up to Crest Haven Cemetery [Clifton, New Jersey] and—Okay. I forgot the actual name or place where it's located, but if you're driving along the New Jersey Turnpike, you can actually see at one point the skyline of New York City from the opposite side that I would've seen it, being from New York coming in from Long Island. Which is—in one of my pieces I talk about that we saw each side of New York. I made some reference to the city from our perspectives. Well, I called—what I realized I was doing was I wasn't letting him go. We were never intimate. We were—I think we had all the possibilities. And I was angry with my mother for a long time because she was the one that said, “Well, you can't go.” I mean not that she wasn't allowing me, but the guilt trip of not having been home for two Christmases at that point, and “How I could even consider not being with the family.” After all, we weren't engaged or anything like that. And I just—I guess I never really quite got out from under my mother [chuckles] because I told this to my sister years later, and she said, “Well, that's stupid. Why did you do that? You just should've said, 'Well, sorry. I'm leaving.'”

I said, “You don't understand. That wasn't my relationship with her.” I couldn't do that at the time. Now I could. I could think of a hundred things I'd like to say. “Okay, Mom, listen up.”

I drove to Crest Haven, and Pat had given me specific instructions. I was parking on Patricia Lane. I think it was funny that it was her name and the street I had to park on, because that was the part of the cemetery he was in. And I was to walk through the break in hedge. How do you like that? Then you walk six or seven headstones and you'll find it. Well, it was raining. I couldn't see any—It wasn't a headstone. It was a flat stone in the ground. I didn't know if that's still a headstone. It doesn't—It's not a vertical headstone. It's horizontal. And I had a very difficult time finding him because I couldn't count, because things were submerged so badly at that end of the cemetery. And I finally noticed—There were no trees around. The wind had blown and apparently it had knocked a twig onto the ground. And the twig was in the shape of a hand. It was like mostly index finger and thumb and then a couple of little things off to the side. And it was on the water and it was kind of bobbing like it was pointing to the—his gravestone. It was on top of it. So I finished that by saying I kept the twig. Well, I did. I kept it in my car, and then one day it just disappeared. And I have no idea, to this day, whether one of the men fixing my car thought, “What is this?” and tossed it out or, you know. But I kept the twig.

But that whole experience. And then I had talked to—back to Jerry and back to Rock and reading what they had written. I said, “I've got to bridge this gap.” So I wrote a piece that says, “Introduction to Bridging the Gap” and “Bridging the Gap.” And I probably still haven't quite let him go, but we're comfortable. And it's—I think it's the way that anybody deals with the death of somebody close to them when they're dealing with war. You want to turn that situation over and over in your hands and say, “Well, it could've been different. How could this have come out some other way?” And the unit was on a—an operation called Houston Two, and I had said that it—You mention Houston Two, and you could see them all. They look away and they're back there, if you just mention the name, because that's just who we are. [chuckles] That, to me, is the advantage of having been there. That part I understand. I do not understand watching somebody get blown apart. The horror of that I can't even begin to imagine, nor do I want to. But at least I have the commonality of having some sense of the same kind of loss, and just understand it. [I] empathize maybe more than others.

And I always find it interesting, and sort of ironic, that the women, who are pretty neat ladies, frequently don't even bother to tell their spouses they were in Vietnam. I've heard that over and over. Well, it's like Margaret. Her son came home from school—and he was in college I guess at the time, maybe high school—no, it was high school because he was still living at home. He came to JMU [James Madison University] and they were living in Charlottesville [Virginia] at the time.

“Mom, I've got to write a paper on Vietnam. Do you know any vets?”

“You're talking to one.”

I have a feeling that that polka dot helmet didn't come out until that talk.

TS:

This is Margaret Good?

HW:

Margaret Good. Yeah. Margaret Kieran K-i-e-r-a-n Good. But the other—the other hard part—Well, Harry Bowman was special because I had a permanent—I had a personal relationship with him, but his—my relationship with Bow began when I came home. With John Clarke, and a friend of mine said it was—Now I understand why they don't talk about it. When John Clarke was killed, it was just under two months I think after his twentieth birthday. He'd just turned twenty. The reason we kind of hit it off—and they didn't—He didn't have an accent I recognized. He was from Danbury, Connecticut, and my friend Tandy used to summer every year in New Milford [Connecticut], which is right—We'd go to church in Danbury, so it was—I knew the territory. So John and I—all of a sudden I was the girl from home, even though he knew where I was from, you know. When he—when his friend came in, and he said to me, “Do you remember John Clarke?” Oh, that was a loaded question, because I knew why he was asking, and of course I did.

TS:

Where were you at?

HW:

I was in Da Nang. This is Da Nang, Vietnam. I'm in country. Because actually Bow died after I finished Vietnam, and apparently Al Ward died after, certainly Jeff Nyman died after. John was the only casual—Well, he's the one I had a personal relationship with in country. And it's almost like this is why you don't get close to anybody. When he asked me if I remembered John, I—to this day, I cannot remember the conversation with him, but I remember my response. Again, I wrote about it. [laughs] Do you get tired of hearing that? “I wrote about it! It's in my book!”

TS:

No, no it's wonderful.

HW:

It was, “Oh.” And then I thought about it later, and I thought, “God, he must think I'm a real jerk.” Like “Oh. Oh, John died. Oh.” And it wasn't like it was not a big deal; I just didn't know how to respond to it. I ended up excusing myself. I remember that part. And I walked into the office—because we had an office area where we had papers, all the stuff to make the programs that we used to take out to the men—and I think I tried to organize something. I couldn't concentrate on what I was doing. But I did find out something that I didn't know I did. I walk in circles when I'm in a great deal of pain. And I did a lot of circle—walking that day. When I came out, I was Chatty Cathy, “Blah, blah, blah. Hey, how are you? La, la, la.” And I kept that up for months.

May rolled around. And before—this may not sound like connections—but before the holiday, we had a dog named Angie, who is pictured in the book. And even the women who were there in 1970 said, “Angie was still—! She was—. Holy cow, how old was that dog? She was still producing puppies in 1970!” And I said, “Yeah, she was an active little bitch.” For better—That's a true word isn't it? Anyway, and she hated men. That was an interesting thing. But not male dogs apparently. [TS laughs] Anyway, we used to give away the puppies to men in the unit, and we'd keep track of them, because they were our babies. And I think it was Jackie who'd—Jackie was dating—I'm trying to remember. It was Winnie Fatooh and Jackie Fooshe. Yeah, I think that's the combination. Jackie Fooshe was dating one of the guys who was in a unit away from Da Nang, and he was killed, the puppy was killed. The base was at—that he was at was overrun. And this was in May. And when I heard that the puppy died, that's [pause, crying] when I cried for John. So I only stopped that for months. I didn't do years like some of the other guys. And I can't imagine what would happen if some of them let go now. Maybe that's why they're afraid to. [pause]

Tandy—that was funny. When I left country to go to Vietnam, she was getting married. It was a failure from the beginning. But she moved out to the Midwest; she was in Kansas City somewhere. And I gave her a bracelet and I said, “Something to keep me in mind. Keep it on, Kid, and I'll be back.” And at the point at which she was feeding her baby, her child—she was no longer married, or in the process of the divorce—and she reached beyond the high chair to get something and the bracelet caught on the chair and broke. And she was convinced that that meant I was dead. [crying] But I called her that night and said, “I'm home.” I don't know why I cry over that story. It's a happy one. [laughs] It was—

TS:

There's a lot of emotion attached to that, too.

HW:

You think?

TS:

Yeah.

HW:

Yeah. So it was just—The timing was phenomenal. But we'd been like that, I mean, for years. I'd think about her and then I'd get a telephone call, or she'd think about me and I'd call her. Ooh, spooky. I was executor for an estate for a friend of mine in Charlottesville. She was in her eighties when she passed away. And Barbara, the last thing she read was my book. I was pleased because I didn't know she was going to check out that night. I don't know if she did. But she said to me that it was the story of John that really got to her. She had been a WAC [Women's Army Corps] in World War II, and she said it was the story of John that got to her because she was reading along about this guy, and there's this picture of this dog. And she had no idea what the dog meant in relationship to John. And she said, “It just took my breath away, because somehow I just understood that it was all so symbolic.” Yeah. [deep breath] Okay.

TS:

You're doing good, Holley. Well, after that, you should probably talk about crash landing. [laughter]

HW:

Oh, that was hysterical. Oh, yeah. Well, this was Alan, Clark, and Holley had a folk singing trio. And I fell in love with Alan. That was a disaster, but that's okay. Clark is a lawyer in Santa Rosa, California, and I saw him last year. He's hysterical, too. He's just a little right of Attila the Hun. Anyway, we used to do some gigs at the Vietnamese American Cultural Center, and—a lot of Peter, Paul and Mary, Kingston Trio. Make up your own words. Change the words and make it your own. We never got paid. That wasn't the point. It was very entertaining, and we just loved what we did. And—where did I go with this? Fell in love with Alan. It turned out that when I—he—I was going to quit work and leave my job, and then he got—he had rotated back to the States, so had Clark. And I didn't hear from them for weeks, which was unusual because even though telecommunications was primitive by today's standards, it was—He could get in touch with me, but he just didn't. And I got in touch with his mother. I think she was in Panama City, Florida. And I said, “What happened? Where's Alla?” And here I am.

And she said, “Oh, I've heard so much about you, but no, I don't know where he is. He used to do this in high school, too.”

And I said, “Okay. Well, I tell you what. I'm withdrawing my application. I'm staying here. I'm going to finish the first job I've ever had that's full time because I like what I do. And you tell him to just—when he figures out what he wants to do, I'll be in touch when I get home.”

So I withdrew my resignation and I was moved to 25th Infantry. I found out later that Alan was a binge alcoholic, which is why he used to disappear. And then he—when he finally did get married, he had three marriages and then finally produced a son. But I'm not in touch with him, haven't been for years. So I don't know whatever happened to him. And where was I going with this?

TS:

Well, you were going to take a plane ride.

HW:

Plane ride! Yes. I was looking forward to coming home. Quite tangents, aren't they. I was so excited. Lynn Schwartz and I had been in Chu Lai, which we did not have a unit, a separate unit, until, oh, early '67, but I had left—No, no. It must have been mid—I left Da Nang officially in June, so maybe it was August or so when they established a separate unit in Chu Lai down the coast. At that point, that was the Americal Division [23rd Infantry Division, U.S. Army] that had—because it was the Marines when we first got there, so we were dealing mostly with Marines and CBs [construction battalions] when we went down the coast to Chu Lai. We were coming back. This is a connection to Rosemont College. “What?” We were coming back in an airplane that I'm sure I at one time knew the model. It sits crooked on the runway. The front end's up and the back end's down. It hold about, oh, twenty, thirty people, and you each get to sit on the side and look out your little window. And it's fairly small. And we'd touched down, just, in Da Nang. Admiral [Thomas] Weschler, this was his plane. Now, Admiral Weschler happens to be the father of Kim Weschler, who was a former student at Rosemont College the year behind me, I think. If she was in my class, I apologize, Kim. I just—We weren't close. But she was there. I mean, that was her dad's plane.

Well, we touched down and we had no brakes. But Holley, in her excitement and stupidity, as we touched—as the wheels touched down, I pulled off my safety belt and said, “We're here.” And I think that was about the last thing I said to Lynn besides, “Whoa!” because the pilot discovered we had no brakes. So in an effort to slow the plane down, because we were doing a hundred or so miles an hour, he started fishtail—I mean, not literally. Just steering, slowing, trying to do a snaky turn, hairpin turns on the runway. And so, of course, with nothing to hang out to, I went what I described as “ass over teakettle” down the aisle, and my skirt was up around my head. And the guys eventually thought it was pretty funny. Nobody was laughing at that moment. And we did hit the radar tower, and the kid that was in the tower broke both of his legs. I mean, what else can you do with a plane in your lap? And the pilot and I were the only casualties on board. He had a real big gash in his forehead and he was bleeding pretty profusely. I had bumps and scrapes and bruises, but mostly I was embarrassed because I was—

I said, “I almost died from embarrassment.” And I've had a couple of people say, “Is that really fair to the servicemen?” And I said, “No. It isn't if you want to say that everything's equal, but nothing was equal in that war.”

I was embarrassed. I was mortified. And I think I remember they got us off the plane as quickly as possible. And I said to Lynn, “Oh, my God. If the plane blows up, my purse is on the plane. Everything I am is in my purse!” So—But we obviously were able to get things back. But that was the plane crash. That was scary. And it wasn't till after something happens, then you start to shake, and you can't control it. Yeah. [chuckles] I think I got up and got outside, and then I kind of had to hang on to things.

TS:

So do you buckle up now?

HW:

Oh, you betcha. Do I buckle up in the car?

TS:

Well, I guess you buckled up. It's just that you unbuckled.

HW:

Yeah, I do. I do wait until everything's completely stopped. But I had—I used to have a really hard time landing in any airplane.

TS:

Oh, my goodness. I bet.

HW:

So—but I'm not one of the ones that was in the C-5A Galaxy when that went down in '73 with the—

TS:

Orphans.

HW:

All the orphans, yeah [Operation Babylift, April 1975]. Because there was a Red Cross, a gal who'd been with Red Cross and the Special Services, Sharon Wesley, who was on that flight. And she was on, unfortunately, the first row. I just read about that the other day. I thought “That's something that should've never have happened,” because it was mechanical. It was just awful.

TS:

Oh, and you had—

HW:

You're smiling.

TS:

Well, this is interesting because a couple of women have talked about this, how—

HW:

Oh, okay.

TS:

—when you're out in the field, or in this case you were in an airplane, I think, or maybe it was a helicopter, but the guys had you speak on the radio.

HW:

It was a C-130.

TS:

Okay. It was a C-130.

HW:

Oh, I loved that. In fact, I think a month and a half ago [clears throat] I got a telephone call. And I picked up the phone without looking at the—it was about eight o'clock at night. “Holley Watts.” And this voice said in this very sexy, almost breathy thing, he said, “Tell me about the time that you used your southern drawl to call the airfield.” And I thought, “Is this—?” Oh, I got the creeps for about thirty seconds. Not even that long, three seconds maybe, ran over to the phone and realized it was a friend from the 199th. And he has a—I didn't work with him, I since met him since he came home. He lives in West Virginia and he does have a southern accent. But that was—that was really fun, because we didn't make it up. It was the guys in the cockpit that were setting the scene, and they just—I—they knew exactly the expectation of the—I mean, there was no expectation that an American woman would be on that flight. None. Zero. Zip. In fact, that's one of the reasons that was so frustrating to make a call on the landlines, because you had to go through Sparky operators like they do—like they did on M*A*S*H. “Hey, Sparky. Is that you? Well, patch me through to so-and-so.” Well, you'd have to go from one place to another and they'd all stay on the line because we were American women. We were talking to each other, and they loved—It didn't matter what we said. “Just keep talking.” It's like that was out gift. [cat meowing] And so, anyway, yeah, that was—that was really fun, and especially because I thought, “I'm a damn Yankee! What do I know about southern accents?” So I used my worst—my worst illustration of Vivien Leigh [sic, Butterfly McQueen] in “I don't know nothing about birthin' no babies, Miss Scarlet!” [cat meowing]

TS:

Okay.

HW:

We have a cat helping us here.

TS:

That's all right. Well, just put her in the lap here.

So what did they say to you? Did they set it up like, “Oh, you've got to do this because it's going to be so—.”

HW:

Well, they didn't say anything. The pilot—well, there were the pilot and the copilot. He signaled—I guess he said something in his headset that perhaps I didn't—I don't remember hearing, but the copilot took over. But the pilot wrote down instructions. “I want you—You've got to call in. They don't know you're here, but ask for landing instructions.” And then he gave me the parameters, whatever those were. And that's when I just couldn't resist. I mean, I thought, “Oh, they don't know I'm here. Oh, goody!” [laughter] What a surprise. I wish I could've been there to see their faces. But when we landed—and I say the tower windows—it was like two stories up. It wasn't a big tower like we see nowadays. And they were just waving and smiling and, “Geez. It's good to see you.” And, “My god, it's an American woman.” And, “Whoa.” It was fantastic.

TS:

Well, I like that story a lot because it talks about, you know, the mischievous nature of—

HW:

Oh, yeah.

TS:

—of a lot of people.

HW:

And the thing I liked was once they wrote it out, when there was no response, that's when it was funniest for the guys in the cockpit, because they thought—They could just see them going, “Wait. Did you hear what I heard? Did you—,” you know, “What was that?” And it's, you know, like I used to say. I worked for public radio, and I said—something happens on the radio and you're doing something, what do you do? You turn around and look at it like it's going to give you a response. It doesn't. But that's what they must have looked at each other like. “Did you hear what I hear?” I can't imagine what they went through, having not heard an American woman's voice for months.

TS:

Yeah.

HW:

Yeah. Well, it was great, because I guess if instant gratification existed, that was it: their smiles, their falling out the window. Well, we had—the other thing, the guys used to come over and they would—not come over; they would be on trucks in front of us, and they'd suddenly realize. You could see somebody notice that there were American women behind them in a jeep. And suddenly everybody in the truck was abuzz, and then they'd turn around. We'd have guys fall out of trucks. We had them try to take pictures, which is why they fell out of trucks. They were leaning too far forward and others were hanging on to them for all they were worth. And then Ann Alloway—Ann Stingle now, used to—She was from Houston, Texas, and so she used to say, whenever she saw an army truck, which was always with the star on the door, “I'm from Texas, too! You're—it's the Lone Star!” Well, no. Of course it isn't, Ann. But who cares. They'd hear this female voice and that was a hysterical moment, too, because then she drew attention to everybody. [laughs]

TS:

Yeah, that's right.

HW:

“I'm from New York!” We don't have a star. [chuckles]

TS:

[chuckles] Well, the other thing I was going to ask you about is you had mentioned something about the Twister game. A little bit. Just a little bit. But I kind of wanted you to talk about—maybe not necessarily the Twister game, but some of the games you played and how that, the interaction—

HW:

Well, that was—Twister was an easier game to play in the center because we had a flat surface. Frequently you—We had dirt floors if we had some kind of a thing over our heads, like a made-up mess hall or something. A lot of times we programmed out, out. There was no floor. It was dirt and/or grass, up against a bunker, or, oh gee, sometimes a mess tent—wherever guys could gather. And some of them walked by nonchalantly. They saw us every day. That was like, “Aren't you happy to see us?” You know, after a while you crave the recognition, kind of like my cat today. You crave the recognition and start meowing. And the question again?

TS:

Just the Twister and the games that—

HW:

Oh, the games. In fact, I pulled out this game, which was not in my book here. Oh, this one was on—this is Gretchen, Gigi Schaefer and Judy Smith.

TS:

Describe what this is that you have, first off.

HW:

What I have in front of me is an 8.5x11 three-hole-punch paper. [TS laughs] No. And I'm saying that because people think we just drew this out of a hat. We had to write down the objective, the activities, where we got them from, and how this was going to be done. So we had the objective, activities, resources, presentation, and then you had to also do an evaluation. So this was not just a brief fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of thing. And we did not have the internet, so we had sometimes word of mouth, but we did have some resources. We frequently had—the units were adopted by chapters, Red Cross chapters at home, and we were able to get stuff from the chapters, but also dictionaries, history books, things like that we could use—not big ones, almanacs, something of that sense.

I remember—I'm looking at this, and this is on—the name of it was Military World, and the subject was weapons. Ooh, that's exciting. But we used to pick out programs that would be something that the guys could identify with, which put us in the position of being the people that probably should've invented Trivial Pursuit but didn't quite get it together in time. But we knew we'd pick on movie stars and television programs and sports, sports, sports, cars, weapons, good heavens. I'm trying to think of all the categories. And I think if a woman in Red Cross heard me, especially another Donut Dolly, they'd be yelling at the radio, “Well, don't forget so-and-so!” and I already have.

We had flash cards. Oh, that was fun. In fact, what we were doing one time, I was with a unit and it seemed like there was a pall over the unit. We were inside and I don't—I think it was one of the 25th Infantry units. I can't remember who I was programming with, but I do remember we were using television show programs. And this goes back to things like Mister Ed and Superman, the fifties and sixties programs that were available—not to the guys in 'Nam, but when we were growing up. And my part of the game was to hold up a flash card, which we made. We handwrote these things and colored them in so they were nice and big and bold. And they would have to—we would divide them into teams, and inevitably one team was always “The Lifers.” They were stuck; they were going to be here forever. And the others were “The Short-timers,” and they were going home, like tomorrow. [chuckles] And if they won, they got to be a short-timer. And we'd hold it up, and they would have—somebody on that team would have to sing, whistle, shout, hum, whatever they could, the theme song of the show we were flash carding.

And we'd gone through the usual Lone Ranger and Mister Ed, and they just weren't really very lively. And I don't think at that point I understood what had happened, but something—somebody got killed. I held up—there's this one guy that I was kind of looking at because the men kept looking over at him, and it turned out he was the gunnery sergeant. He was a very black, black man, dark anyway. But he was standing there as if he didn't want to be there in the first place, and he was kind of by himself leaning against a wall. And he didn't—he didn't have anybody standing right next to him. I remember he was just kind of there by himself, but something was going on between him and the men, or they were concerned about him is the thing. But when I held up Mickey Mouse Club, he stepped forward. His whole demeanor changed, and he thrust his fist out, and he said, “M-I-C-See you real soon! K-E-Y!” [crying] And there I go again. They cheered. He got right into it and they cheered. And I remember thinking—I know my eyes are pretty wet now, but I don't think I bawled, but I certainly teared up. And I saw guys wiping their eyes, too. And it turns out he'd lost a really good friend. So, yeah. But, you know, it was just the way he broke out of it and how everybody rallied. So I don't know what else I could've done. I couldn't even tell you where it was.

TS:

Yeah.

HW:

I was just glad I was there. I think we probably—I can't remember this for sure—but we probably made them all short-timers so they could go, “Congratulations. It's a tie!”

TS:

[laughs] That's a good way to do it. You have a hat over here, too, and you have all these pins on it, and I'm curious as to how—how you acquired those pins?

HW:

Should we weigh it?

TS:

I don't know. I didn't try to pick it up.

HW:

You'd get nothing but crinkles if I pick it up. But I saw somebody doing this and I thought, “Oh that looks like a good idea.” And the hat is a—an army winter cap. It belonged to a fellow at headquarters by the name of Tom Costello from Omaha, Nebraska. I remember all the important things. Tom said he didn't think he'd need a winter cap in Vietnam. I think he was right. So the last two weeks in country—because this is when my idea struck—I decided I would ask each unit that we visited for one unit's insignia and I'd put it on my cap and I'd wear it. The only insignia on that cap that I didn't visit—where I didn't visit was 4th Division, which is right there in the front. But I was wearing this going home at Tan Son Nhut and this guy came up to me as he's pulling off this insignia.

He said, “You've got to have—you don't have 4th Division on there.” I guess he was walking around me, because he was making sure I didn't have it.

And I said, “I didn't visit 4th Division.”

He said, “Yes, ma'am. I know that. You've got to have it anyway.”

“Yes, sir. You've got it.” He wasn't even an officer, he was a, I guess a E-4 or 5 or 6. But what I did—and I'm almost afraid to turn it over and look inside—I had written in some cases who gave it to me and where they were from. But a lot of that is faded, even though I wrote it—I think I wrote it the last time, darkening it all, in indelible ink. Because the hat's in such bad shape, I may not have it all. I have to—I have to take care of that like pretty quickly. But it's a great hat. And I have a couple of, let's see, sergeant stripes. I've got some air wings—

TS:

Yeah.

HW:

—the important stuff.

TS:

I'll get a picture of it—

HW:

Oh, yeah.

TS:

—take some of that.

HW:

The other special part of that was during Christmas when I was in Da Nang, Linda Waldron and I were sent—Well, we needed volunteers to go to Chu Lai, because there were hospitals to visit down there, and men in units. And at Christmas time, Bob Hope was coming to Da Nang, and he was going to Qui Nhon, and he was going to—in the [Mekong] Delta. I don't know. He just had other places to go, and Chu Lai was not one of them. And they needed some volunteers in the unit and I said I'd go. That was the one I called my best Christmas ever. And I—this was long before I ever thought of this hat—in 1986—that was Christmas 1966; I was in Chu Lai. In 1986, I was working for the public TV station at James Madison University, and Bob Hope was coming to town. He was doing a show. Well, I was director of development, so I wrote some copy in the hopes that he would read it. And I contacted the coordinator of the venue, and they asked him if we could get a hold of Hope's manager, and he did. And I got his permission to tape him doing a couple of fundraising spots for us. And I fully had—I had every intention of taking him my hat, but not until we were done was I going to ask for his help. And so he very dutifully read the copy, and things worked out fine except I was never able to use the copy because it turns out there was no audio, and we didn't realize that the problem existed until it was too late. And had we—when I tried—I asked for two copies of two spots that we'd read. I'd just wanted him to do two spots. And at the last minute, I decided I needed an alternative in this one spot, but he wouldn't do number three for me. So he was pretty strict. But when I did—I said, holding out the hat—

He said, “My God, what's that?”

I said, “I missed you twenty years ago in Da Nang.”

And he said, “Give me that,” and he signed it. So, you know, he made his peace with me. [chuckles] It was really fun.

TS:

Yeah. That's a great story.

HW:

Yeah, it was—because there are a lot of memories in that hat. Including—I've got Jimmy Murphy's pin, because he's the one I introduced to one of the Red Cross gals, and they eventually got married. And I'd gone to school with him at Villanova.

TS:

That's nice. Well, I hate to take you out of Vietnam, but—

HW:

Okay.

TS:

—we've got to—

HW:

—head back.

TS:

We're going to head back, and you've got an interesting story about heading back, too.

HW:

Which one would that be? [laughs]

TS:

Well, you know, one thing we haven't really talked about is—

HW:

Coming home. Well, I could tell you about coming home.

TS:

Yeah, coming home, coming home. And the cultural differences.

HW:

Yeah.

TS:

And what year are we in now?

HW:

We're in 1967.

TS:

[Nineteen] sixty-seven.

HW:

Right. We're in September 1967. I would say that the war had turned—the population of the United States had turned against us. So we didn't want to tell a lot of people, at the same time that we were proud of what we did, helping the men, serving, and feeling that we did an incredible job representing the United States of America. We just didn't want to tell anybody. I have a story I never wrote. Want to hear the story—

TS:

Oh, absolutely.

HW:

—that's not in my book?

TS:

Absolutely.

HW:

The woman named Kitty Boots, her dad was a career officer and, I think, army colonel. Kitty was someone that was in our class, meaning we were all trained together but not necessarily working together.

TS:

In the Red Cross?

HW:

In the Red Cross, right. That class; that time that we go over is considered a class. You go over in September, you're in the September class. Kitty was a very—she's wiry and she looks—she's just a serious, sarcastic, marvelous sense of humor kind of woman. No guff. [She] wouldn't take guff off anyone, which made her perfect. And she's not pretty. She's a handsome woman. But definitely someone you could trust with your life because she was just a neat lady, and capable. She was coming—she—I had heard at a reunion some fifteen years later that they were all—she was coming back—because we didn't all fly back on the same plane—she was coming back from the guys from 'Nam. Their freedom bird brought them home, and they decided they were going to go to an upscale restaurant in San Francisco and put on the dog. Now, putting on the dog, when you're on an airplane for some thirty hours, is a smelly proposition. And as I understand it, she went to—and I have—I couldn't confirm this. This is why I couldn't get a hold—I wanted to get a hold of Kitty because I like the story, and I don't think it was made up because I see her doing this. They went to a restaurant in San Francisco, and she had—she made reservations. They're all standing there waiting because they had to wait, and this woman strode in and looked around, looked down her nose at all the servicemen, and said, “I'm so-and-so. We have a reservation, but I want to be seated as far away from this scum as possible.”

I think Kitty's reply was only two words, “That's it!”

And she took her right arm and gave this woman a flying chop across the chin, knocking her over this stanchion, this velvet post, and the maître'd came flying over. I don't know who the lady—supposed “lady”—the woman supposedly was. And she said, as he's hastening to pick her up, “You either get these baby killers out of here.”

[He] said, “I'll take care of everything, So-and-so.”

And he grabbed Kitty by the elbow and her troop followed her and [crying]—He took them around to a private dining room [pause] and gave them dinner on the house. [pause] Now if they only gave them drinks, I don't care. [chuckling] Oh, poop. Whoops.

TS:

[talking to cat] Come here. There you go. Oh, you just want some.

HW:

Gadzooks.

TS:

Wow.

HW:

So, I'm just sorry I couldn't put that in the book. I just couldn't confirm it. But I can see Kitty coming across the chin. [TS laughs] She was wiry and she had a temper.

TS:

I think so!

HW:

She wouldn't take that guff from nobody, and especially what this woman said. And I think that the guys understood Kitty enough to know that that's nothing. They didn't need to step in and save her. They just needed to let her take care of it, the situation, herself, and she did. Yeah, that was quite something.

I always—I said—because I could remember Linn Bishop on my flight into country and it said—I wrote, “Do I remember who my seatmate was on my freedom flight home? No.” That was—you know, I was going home, I didn't—I didn't have that same kind of need to know.

But I didn't—I'm grateful forever for the wall, because that's got a lot of—That has been such a healing place for so many people, especially I think if people were to go down there at midnight. That's when they find their—I have something to show you on the internet. A fellow had pieced together—that's when—I'll finish one sentence—that's when they find that they're closest to their brothers, both the ones in and behind the wall. I mean in front of and behind the wall. There was a fellow—Nancy Smoyer[?] is a Red Cross gal in Alaska. You'll just have to go up and visit her. And she also comes to Washington, D.C., on Memorial [Day] and Veterans Day, and is a park ranger at the wall. She is a guide. And when we all marched in the parade, one of the men that took a picture of—did a little Adobe Photoshop, and he combined the Donut Dollies walking from behind the wall through it. And in front of them are—is the Vietnam veteran—women's memorial. We're walking through the wall to the Vietnam Women's Memorial and you can see the three men, the three soldiers that are guarding the wall, there, too. It's really quite—

TS:

Wonderful.

HW:

It's a beautiful picture.

TS:

Yeah. It sounds really wonderful. Now what was your experience upon leaving Vietnam?

HW:

Well— [blows nose] excuse me. Can't cry without blowing the nose. I had lost thirty pounds. I always said, “Well, it took a war.” When I recently lost thirty pounds, it was because of the move, and I said “Well, I guess I have to go through traumatic incidents in order to lose the weight.” What I did was, when I came back in to country, I went and stayed with my aunt and uncle for about two weeks for a couple of reasons. I'd lost a fair amount of weight and Aunt Peggy, in her wisdom, said to me, “Why don't you go to this Eileen Feather,” was the name of the gym. So I took some exercises so I could firm up my abs and stuff.

And I think it wasn't just that. It was some downtime. She's a nurse, and I don't know what it was she saw but—or how she dealt with it, but I'd already applied, I think at that point, for working at Portsmouth Naval Hospital, and she probably figured I wasn't going to be able to come back out to the west coast for a quite a while, so it might be good time for me to just stay put. So I was out on the west coast for two weeks. One thing, I had an article written about me in the Sonoma Index-Tribune before I left. I'm standing there pointing at this map of Vietnam with my white gloves on my hands, thinking, “I wonder when on earth I ever wore those white gloves again.” And I had my little cap, which looked very much like a stewardess cap. It was a nice picture. And then when I did the book, I actually went back to the Index-Tribune and brought back the article and I said, “I want you to do another one on me,” and they did, so that was fun.

The—I went to—I went to New York. I stayed with my folks for a very short period of time. And because I was going to start the Red Cross, my dad helped me pick out a good little used car, an Opel Kadett Wagon. I think I ended up having to borrow money from him. It was about $3000, and that was fairly expensive. But it wasn't even new. It was used. And so we—I had at least a car to work with and I could move my stuff. It was a fairly roomy little bugger and got decent mileage. In fact, I remember I was walking along Van Ness or Geary Street in San Francisco and I stopped at this used car lot on the corner because I knew I needed a car for work when I got home. But this is the two weeks after I got home from 'Nam. And I didn't say anything to the guy about where I'd been. But I was looking at this yellow Corvette. Ooh, pretty. And even now when prices are over three dollars a gallon for gas, I was concerned about gasoline mileage on cars. As the salesperson came—as the guy came hopping out of his little corner hut there, I said, “What kind of—”

He said, “Do you like that car?”

I said, “Oh, yeah. It's beautiful. What kind of mileage does it get?” You don't ask a corvette owner what kind of—

He says, “Oh, eleven miles to the gallon.”

And I said, “Ew, that's terrible. Thank you.”

And I turned around and walked away. So I think I've ended up—all my cars have always had over thirty, which has been good. That's been a good lesson for me.

But I didn't mention—I really—the only time I mentioned anything was the cab ride home. I got to New York and I wasn't—didn't give my parents any exact time when I was coming in, and I told them they didn't need to pick me up at the airport, that I could get home. And so that's when I—I guess I—somehow I got on the train out to Long Island and then I took a cab. And when I kept commenting—I was in civilian clothes. I looked like anybody else who's fairly new out of college or something. I must have been saying something like, “Geez, it's so cool, and the trees are so green, and the roads are so—There's no dirt on the roads, no garbage in the streets, no pedicabs!” [chuckles] I don't think I mentioned that.

And he said, “Lady, where have you been?”

And I said, “Vietnam,” thinking, “Okay. I'm safe. I'm almost home.”

And then he looked in his rearview mirror and he headed straight for the curb. Now, I hadn't been home, and I didn't drive when I was there, so I wasn't really sure where I was in town. I thought, “Oh, shit. He's going to throw me out.” And when I say to people, “Right hand on the steering column shifting into park,” I think, “I wonder if people know what I'm talking about.” The shift knob was on the column, the steering column. But anyway, he shifted into park, and when he came down, he came down on the meter and he stopped it right away. And I thought, “This is it,” and I was petrified. I had my luggage in the car, and I wasn't going to hop out and run. I'd leave that stuff behind. And all I could do was press harder into the seat. And he turned around, this big black guy, and that's when he said, “Welcome home. This ride's on me.” [crying] I don't think I cried then, but I always do. Felt good, yeah.

Then I found out I was only a few blocks from my house, but later on, I had somebody—I was walking around the neighborhood, and I remember some guy stopping me and saying, “How do I get over to so-and-so.” And I knew I'd recognize the name of the street, but I had no idea where it was. And I said, “Geez, I'm sorry. I'm just visiting here. I don't know anything about this town.” I thought, “I could tell you around Da Nang, but not anywhere around Freeport.” That was funny.

TS:

So what'd you do after that, Holley?

HW:

Then I went to Portsmouth Naval Hospital and—

TS:

When's that?

HW:

I was still—I was so comfortable with the guys, even though they had holes in their legs and some of their legs were gone. They'd give their—they'd give their stumps names [laughs] because you'd have these phantom—where the stump just starts bouncing up and down. And I remember one guy, and his fiancée was so sweet. She was—I mean they were the ideal couple, because it didn't make any difference. She wanted him back, and she'd take him in any condition she could get him. And she said, “Besides, they miss you more than parts.” And he had—he had—I guess he got his prosthesis and was in good shape.

A couple of things I remember. A guy named Ken was a SEAL [US Navy Sea, Air, and Land Forces] and he ended up—He was an artist. He was really talented. And I gave him a beautiful picture my brother had drawn of a dog we used to have, Toby, who was a cocker spaniel. And it was a face-on dog and he was going to copy it for me, because it had some spills on it. And at the time, I didn't really know the capabilities of copy machines or even if they existed at that moment very well to redo a color picture. Anyway, Ken walked off with that picture and I've never seen him since. I've been tempted, if I find something with his last name on it, to contact the SEAL team group and see if he's still around and if he still has it. And say, “I want it back.” Really, I do.

There was another SEAL named Fred Miller, and Fred was from Arkansas. And Fred was sniped out of a tree, and he was determined. They wanted to tell him his career in SEAL team was over, and he said, “No, it isn't. I will grow bone. I will get back in.” He did. I don't know what on earth the man knew, but he was probably in a lot of pain doing it, but he used to go down to Virginia Beach and he'd run. Well, they had a SEAL team training center there. Maybe not in the beach—Hampton—well, in that area down at the shore. And he—I think he went back to 'Nam. With a name like Fred Miller it'd be a little hard to know whether he made it home. I hope he did. He was pretty special. And he used to say to me, he said, “I couldn't live like you do.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

He said “I have—I have no expectations.”

I said, “What?” I just didn't get.

“I can't live with expectations,” he said. “You're always getting disappointed.”

I said, “That's life. But I can't live without expectations. Why go on? I mean that seems—”

Well, we had obviously very different versions of life. We did—he did quite well, but I just couldn't identify with that. I don't think he put it exactly like, “I have no expectations,” because I used to think about that for a long time, what it was he meant.

TS:

That he was saying that he—

HW:

He couldn't live with any expectations. I said, “Well, how can you form relationships?” Well, he didn't. Hello! There's—you don't—you just don't tangle with someone who—if you—If you even hope that you have a relationship, then you might be disappointed. And then if you're disappointed, you're going to get hurt. And if you get hurt, then that will be painful, and that's a pain he couldn't endure.

TS:

You think that might have been connected to depression? With the, you know, post traumatic stress?

HW:

I don't think—I don't know if it—because it seemed to me that was his philosophy before he ever entered the service. But he must—you know, in saying a philosophy and living it are two different things. Because his expectation was he would get better, he would improve his leg, he would grow bone back if he had to, he would stay in the service. That's pretty big expectation, and he lived up to it. So how can you say you never really do that? I don't know.

TS:

Interesting.

HW:

Just going on what he told me. I probably have it written down, and I'll look at this in about a month and a half when I find it, then I'll go, “Ah! That's not what he said at all!”

TS:

Well, when you get the transcript—

HW:

Right, I can correct it.

TS:

—you can talk about it again. There you go.

HW:

I'll have a second opinion.

TS:

Well, we had—let me see if I've—I haven't been following along here very well.

HW:

Oh, no.

[End CD 2—Begin CD 3]

TS:

You didn't talk too much about when you got back and the way the country had—we talked a little bit about the way the country had changed. So this is '68 when you got back then?

HW:

Seven.

TS:

[Nineteen] sixty-seven.

HW:

Close to '68.

TS:

Oh, you are getting close to '68.

HW:

You want Tet [Offensive], we got Tet.

TS:

Yeah, well, Tet happened right after you left then, right?

HW:

January '68. I left in October, so there were three months, but they were building up to it, I'm sure.

TS:

Oh yeah. But did you—so the countercultural movement and all that that was going on, do you have any thoughts about that? Or the anti-Vietnam—

HW:

I think I ducked.

TS:

You ducked?

HW:

Yeah, I didn't confront anybody. I didn't agree with them. I didn't march for or against. I just hid. I'm not particularly proud of that, because it just it seemed like I should've stood up for something. But I didn't.

TS:

You mean once you got back because I—

HW:

Oh, once I got back, yeah.

TS:

Because I—[chuckles]

HW:

No, I was—I knew why I was there.

TS:

Yeah.

HW:

I just wasn't—I was having a—Well, when Hal got back, too, there's plenty going on. What—when did Kent State [shooting] happen?

TS:

Seventy, I believe. Nineteen seventy, the spring.

HW:

Yeah. We were—he was back. We were in Barstow, because that's the year my son was born. And we were pretty safe in southern California on a Marine Corps supply center. But then when we went back to Michigan, his home town—he had a job waiting for him at GM [General Motors]—we didn't talk about it. Well, we didn't—that's part of the reason we got divorced. We didn't talk about our own experiences.

TS:

With each other?

HW:

With each other. I couldn't get him to do that. In fact, he never actually got—he never actually got to talking about Vietnam until probably around 2002. About the same time I started writing my book, I found some pictures that were his. They weren't mine, but I brought them with me. And I didn't really feel comfortable keeping them or throwing them away or something like that. We didn't talk for twenty years, but that was a completely different reason that didn't have anything to do with Vietnam. That was after we were divorced. But in 2002, the men in his unit found him and invited him to a reunion, and he went. And—

TS:

Where was he—where was he at?

HW:

He was with the 1st or 3rd of the 26th Marines up in Quang Tri area, Red Beach, Da Nang. And they got moved to the Marine air wing and was re-stationed in Iwakuni, Japan, for the last four months of his tour. So he didn't have the entire thing, the entire time in Vietnam, but he had enough. And it helped tremendously to have the guys haul him in. [chuckles] Because he really needed to talk about it with somebody, and he—I guess he decided I wasn't it. And at that point, there was nothing I could do. In fact, I said to him, before I moved to Virginia from Michigan, I said, “I've never been so lonely in my life.” And there was nothing I could do to make him talk. But once he saw the guys and once he had the pictures back and once I would call him and talk about something, he started opening up to me, and now I would call us good friends. It's lovely.

TS:

That's great.

HW:

Yeah. He came to the—we had a reunion in Dallas where we were introduced to the documentary, and I had called him in January—we're in touch monthly at least—I called him in January and said, “This might be kind of fun, you did meet a couple of Donut Dollies. It would be—we're doing this reunion in Dallas and showing the movie, and I helped co-write it and I'm narrating, so you ought to come,” thinking he'd go, “Yeah, right.”

And he said “I might think about it,” and so he did.

TS:

Oh, great.

HW:

Then he came during hunting season—ooh—he came to the veterans—to the 25th anniversary of the wall on Veteran's Day. Another coup, another change. He gave me a copy of his diary, and I—I mean that was pretty intimate.

TS:

That he wrote in Vietnam?

HW:

Yeah, right.

TS:

Oh, yeah, that is intimate.

HW:

Yeah. In fact, some of the things I use in a poem I called “Mind Games” is something he did. He thought he was going to die. And he felt like he—he was so close to Charlie that he said he bit hard on his helmet strap, I think is what he said, thinking, “If I make a noise, if he hears my teeth chatter, he's going to know I'm here and he's going to kill me.” And he thought he was going to die. But he didn't, fortunately. And there was something else in “Mind Games”—no, no. It was in another one. I wrote a love poem, and in the first part—it's called “Essence”—in the first part it said that:


In the furnace of our together,
Once we'd leveled entire stands of old growth,
And discovered through our flood of tears and
Chilly winds and frigid nights and thin ice
That life breathes below what seemed barren,
And that thaw brought us a tomorrow
Richer than we could have ever imagined.

And I said, “That's [phone rings] you, Hal.” [laughs]

[recording paused]

HW:

Yeah, that's good.

TS:

All right. I hit the record. We have a Bunny tale.

HW:

Bunny tale. This Bunny is spelled B-u-n-n-y. I met a lot of people in Da Nang. It was very much an international city, and one in particular was an Australian named Bunny Olsen. And so I wrote this because he gave me a present, and I'll be telling you about that. [reading “Remembering Bunny Olsen”]


They were always telling jokes, so why not with a name?
When he said to call him “Bunny”...well, I thought it was a game.
After all, his accent, cockeyed hat, and mates
were all a part of the contingent from “Down Undah”
who'd perfected to an art the tug and pull on all your limbs
before they stole your heart.


I was absolutely taken with his voice and gentle soul,
his twinkling eye and hearty laugh, his conversations ever droll.
Older than most boys I saw at base camps and LZs
his topics of discussion showed his schooled facilities
of matters far beyond my ken of politics and wars and men
and why we went and what was then...
But “then” is now four decades gone and generations passing by
see other wars in other lands and even Bunny Olsons die...


There is a little friend I have that keeps his mem'ry new.
A rabbit-furred koala bear, “a gift,” he said, “from me to you.”
Thanks, my friend, for gentleness amidst the throes of war.
For friendship I can ne'er forget—a “Bunny” bear with open arms...
That's what arms are for.

I suppose when I wrote that last line, “That's what arms are for,” I was thinking of, “I'd rather hug than shoot.” [laughs]

And as far as what my experience has meant to me, I think is pretty basically the question of how have I been affected by—what is—what does it all mean? What's it all about, Alfie? [first line from 1966 movie, Alfie] [chuckles] Oh, that one's taken. I can't use that. What I think it helped me appreciate was who our veterans are, that they're not just mindless machines. And I'm generalizing because we have some idiots [chuckles] everywhere. Somebody might even classify me there for having gone to Vietnam and when I really didn't know—I wasn't for the war. I was always for the men. And I—do I know what that means? Not exactly. But I just wanted them to know that no matter what they did, I was I was there for them. I represented community, family, and home.

I wanted to do something, and I couldn't imagine going through boot camp at the time, because I thought of going into the service, but my mother was not—she was opposed to that. She had definite ideas of who “those people” were that went into the service—who women were. And I didn't know what she was talking about. But once I met women in the service, despite my jealousy over the fact that—having been in Da Nang as one of the first groups of women, and then having to kind of give that up for the sake of the nurses, and realizing what special people they were, sometimes I felt like, “What on earth am I doing here?” We were always getting mixed up with nurses, and that was probably the only time I wished I had completed my nursing course at Villanova.

I think what it's—the whole experience has helped me be a lot more conscientious as a citizen of this country and not to take everything for granted. That's the word I was looking for earlier. It's earned. And I worked with a woman for years who said that she didn't vote because—ever—because she didn't want to be put on a jury and have to vote for someone to death. And I said, “You have got to be kidding.” Is that the flimsiest excuse you could ever think of? She's—that to me was such an inexcusable impossibility. I just, she just didn't get it. She just did not get democracy and didn't know about personal responsibility.

TS:

What is democracy to you?

HW:

Oh, it's becoming educated about issues and working when you can with the people that represent what you believe in, whether it's a party or a local-level school group. I mean, it just—it's how you interpret it. But you've got to vote. [chuckles] You think, God, how can people not vote? When they say 37%, I think, “I know the people that work in the polling place, because I'm there every time.” And I want a sticker that says, “I voted.” Yeah. Because I don't want somebody to say, “Oh, yeah. Well, I didn't. I wasn't that interested.” Get interested, because you're going to say at some point, “Well, that's really stupid!” Well, hello! You didn't vote stupid in. You didn't vote stupid out. But you're bound to be tied up in things that affect you, whether or not you really believe in them.

I mean, you're—I had a gal—I was interviewed by Scott Simon on NPR [National Public Radio] and he was—I can't remember if I recorded this or if I saw it, I'm sorry to say. I know what she said, but I can't remember how I know what she said.

When he said, “Well, you said, Holley, that you loved the Vietnamese people. You loved the men that you worked with. You loved your job. After thirty years—,” this was April. He said, “Was it worth it?”

And I replied, “We did so much damage.”

And what I was thinking of when I replied that, I was thinking of the people, us, the Vietnamese, the napalm, the poisons we poured on their land. We did so much damage that it's going to take centuries to undo. And we did so much damage—I can't remember the second statement—and then I just stopped.

And he had said, “Was it worth it?”

“No.”

And Harry Bowman came to mind when I said that, because in my piece—Did I want to say everybody died in vain? I'm angry at the fact that the [Gulf of] Tonkin Resolution was a lie, that the weapons of mass destruction is a lie, that people have to die because somebody is too haughty, too self-centered, too power-hungry, too something that they think they've got more answers than talking.

When this woman replied, she said, “You were my driveway moment. I was in the car when he asked you the question.” She said, “My husband was a Vietnam vet, and we were divorced because he was into drugs and he couldn't face reality, and then he committed suicide.” She said, “When you said, 'No,' you were so right.”

And I certainly don't expect a lot of people—I can see that they get angry with me because I said, “No, it's not worth it. No war is worth it.” There are a lot of ways that we could try to at least talk to each other. There are whole institutes that are set up for peace and reconciliation, and this “eye for an eye” is crap. [laughs] But I can't—no.

I have an image that I wrote about Harry, and it's so typical. I said, “He would—he would walk on his hands when he was with his nieces and nephews in order to bounce the change from his pockets of his pants and have them chase him and get—pick up the coins that he dropped in the lawn. He was so grateful to the guys in his unit. He developed a—He took spare parts and he built a shower, the first one the guys were going to have. He took a shower, and then he had—they had orders to move, so he wasn't upset because he knew how much that the guys coming in were going to appreciate what he had done.” He had—in his tape home, he said that he had taken—that a lot of the—he had done a couple of services, some religious services, of just a faith—I mean, it was just a spiritual coming—together. That he was a quiet listener. He was devoted to jazz. He really—he wanted with equal—with equal—well, he just wanted them equally, both a really fancy Japanese stereo equipment and a little transistor radio. He didn't care one way or another. He loved the Vietnamese, and he loved his men. And he was grateful, I think, every day for the opportunity to serve. And he said to his parents, “I'm at peace. I'm where I need to be. I'm doing what I need to do.” And I said, “He was good at life.”

And he stands as an example to, I know, his family. They seem to be hit with tragedies. His mother—or his sister Pat has three children, and one of them had a son and daughter, and Samuel was the older son. And I went up to New York to visit them. Samuel was the only one I didn't meet because he was home ill. He and his mother and father and sister were going on a cruise the following week, and he just didn't want to—he needed to stay in bed. He was that sick. So they had only—I'd only met them over about a three or four hour period and went back home. And the following fall, this overachieving senior in high school, who was also taking classes at the junior college down the road, was on his way to school when he rounded a corner, and the early morning frost that was on the leaves created an icy condition that he had no warning, no anything, and he ended up in a tree. And he was—He had his safety belt on. Everything was working, but he was killed. And I said—I wrote about that, because Samuel—I said to Pat, this is her grandson, I said [crying] “It was as if you were on a train, and when it stopped at the station, he suddenly got off. But if anyone were with him, [whispers] Harry would be.” One more [time] for the transcriptor—“Harry would be.” So that's all we can do is just imagine. Because that didn't make any sense either. He wasn't even driving too fast. Well, it turns out it was too fast for conditions, but he didn't even know there were conditions. So, no, it's not worth it. But I would—what is it? I would defend to the death my right to say that, because it's a free country so far.

[recording paused]

TS:

Okay.

HW:

Yeah, I don't know if this is something—

TS:

We took a little pause so we're back on again.

HW:

This is—okay. I wrote this because Diane—okay. I went to Villanova in nursing. The other areas open to women were medical technology and electrical engineering. A medical technology student by the name of Diane Kusrow was the year behind me. When I transferred—K-u-s-r-o-w—When I transferred out of Villanova to Rosemont the following year, Diane did the same. I do not know her major at Rosemont, but she was the year behind me. I graduated, went to Vietnam, came back, and talked about my experience to the senior class in which Diane Kusrow was sitting. She went to Vietnam. I said, “Are you following me?” She was there for seventeen months, I think, until she walked into the CO's—and I don't know if this was the army CO or her supervisor, because she was a unit director at the time—and said, “How can I stop this?” She was crying.

And he said, “You go home.” And she did.

But she said, “Holley, part of my always misgivings is that I never learned their real names.”

I have another sidetrack story for knowing their real names. I was working at the public radio station—and actually this is in the back of my book—it's a “small world” thing. And this man called in a pledge and gave me his name and his wife's name, which he kept changing from one to another, Japanese, American, Japanese, American.

And I said, “Well, pick one. It sounds like you two got together when you were overseas.”

And he said, “Yes. I was stationed in Southeast Asia.”

I said, “Oh, really. When were you there?”

“Nineteen sixty-five through nineteen sixty-eight or -nine.”

And I thought, I said, “Whoa. You had a long tour. Which branch of the service were you in?”

“Well, I wasn't with the service. I was with the American Red Cross, and I was in charge of all programs in Southeast Asia,”

And I said, “Including SRAO?”

Well, the same silence that was emitted from that airplane cockpit when the guys heard my voice for the first time, this man said, “You've heard of SRAO?”

And I said, “Joe, you were my boss.” [laughs]

Ever since then—it was funny, I had never met him. He was living about forty-five minutes away in another community, and I happened to be at a music concert, and I saw this man walking, tall white man with a short Japanese woman, and I took a wild guess. I walked over and I said, “You've got to be the Carniglio's”

And he said, “Yes.”

And I said, “And I am—”

And he said, “Holy smoke. I recognize your voice!”

So just couple of months ago I was at a holiday—a Christmas concert, and he came up to me and said, “Hi—” I hadn't seen him in a couple of years and he said, “Hey, Holley. How are you?”

And I looked at him and I said, “I have no idea who you are.”

And then Chris appeared at his elbow and I said, “Except you're Joe Carniglio, aren't you?” because without—they were such a pair. So that was pretty funny.

TS:

Context always helps.

HW:

Context, yeah, that's what I said. It was really cool. But that was the—that and a friend of mine in Grottoes, a little town nearby here, has had a house concert once a year. He invites very good musicians and then invites seventy or eighty of his closest friends. We all have a potluck dinner, and Francis and his wife just turn their house over and we have this cathedral ceiling and all these chairs in the living room and it's a delightful experience. And he asked me, before I'd actually put the book together as a book, if I would read some of my “pieces,” is what I was calling it. And it was May, so they were kind of pushing the July Fourth theme and Memorial Day all in one. And I got up and I read the piece that I had about being the first—getting the first hot water in An Khe, and that I was pretty lucky in having that be my first day in town, in that base, to take advantage of their things. Well, during the intermission, this guy came up to me and he said, “You know, when you talked about taking your shower in the An Khe unit in January of '67?”

And I said, “I didn't give you any date.”

And he said, “Well, I know, but I made your shower!” [laughs]

And I just screamed and gave him a big hug. You know, here I am in Grottoes, Virginia, and this guy is standing there saying, “Oh yeah, I made your shower in An Khe.” It was so funny. It was—small world.

But when I was talking to Diane Kusrow fairly recently—she lives in California in the mountains—she said one of the things that really got to her, because it was so frustrating, is the beauty of the wall and not being able to touch, look, talk to—which we all do—to the guys on the wall, because we only knew them by their nickname. And she mentioned a couple of names that she knew as nicknames, and then I got on the on the web and I asked the Donut Dolly listserv for the names of guys they knew they lost. And then the guys started handing me some names. So I wrote this. Can I read this?

TS:

Yes, please. Please do.

HW:

Okay. It's called “Were Can I Find Them?”

[Reading from her book:]


We volunteered to go to war
Took games to the troops to make them smile
and were all the world like the girl next door,
with the touch of home for a little while.


To base camps, hospitals, and LZs
we'd float, we'd fly, we'd drive
and hope somehow to remember them
would keep each one alive.


War showed us no such kindness
so to honor them instead
we carved their names in granite walls
to be remembered, touched and read.


But those lists of names are useless
when it's Skeeter, Dutch, or Bro,
Four Eyes, Gramps or Greaser,
whose real names we'll never know.


Where can I find them on The Wall
To match a name with a face we knew
To find each one who gave their all
like Ski, Pops, Corky, Kid, or Stu.


I played cribbage with the Cowboy
and wrote letters home for Buzz
but I can't tell you who they were
I just know that each one was.


Of course I still remember
Stony, Big Mike, Ace, and Jer.
Because I see and hear them
but can't find them anywhere.


Some rearranged their given names
or shortened them instead.
There's Smitty, Fox, and Bud,
Yank, Mac—big help—LT and Red.


They'd talk about their favorite things
Chip's girl, Sly's dawg, Buck's car.
If I had a—If we had a role call now
I couldn't tell you who they are.


To just reach out and touch their names
But there is no Doc or Too Tall Paul.
I'd bridge that gap and ease my pain
If there were nicknames on The Wall.


It's easy to remember
Rusty, Gabby, Swede and Bear.
All locked inside my memory
And not going anywhere.


But I can't reach out and touch the names
That I know are on the wall,
I never got to say goodbye, or
Welcome Home, that, most of all. [crying]

When I went to Memorial Day in—Oh, yeah. This was something. [Reading]

I noticed him waiting in line wearing that black leather like so many others that day—this was 2005—The large book lay open under the thick glass and he approached it cautiously and turning them slowly, he paused, his finger first moving down each page and finally across. With shaking hand he copied numbers on a slightly crumpled envelope. I knew this was his first visit to the wall; he looked so lost and in such pain. I touched his arm and asked if I could help. He showed me the paper held tightly now and I pointed to the other side of the wall's apex, past the crowds filling the path in front of us on this warm sunny Memorial Day. I saw his eyes sweep the area. They were not the enemy, but still he did not move. As the crowd grew I took his calloused hand and we walked together, his holding mine tightly until we reached panel 47W. I didn't show him how to leap frog by tens down the black granite carved markings along the edge. It was better to count each row, 35, 36, 37. “There he is,” he whispered hoarsely and touched one of the names etched before him. We stood in silence and he drew a ragged breath. Struggling to open the envelope, he handed the typewritten tribute to me, saying only he didn't think he could do it. As I read, I could feel people slow as they passed behind us. It was unsigned, and when I finished I handed it back to him. We stood together in the sun drenched in our pain, I squeezed his hand and slowly moved away. Oh, how I wished I'd hugged him for both of us.

And thus ends the reading [laughs] of “Mud Socks 'n Other Things.”

TS:

Well, you covered a lot today, Holley, for sure. And there's so much more there, I know.

HW:

I still have—[laughs]

TS:

Yeah. We'll have to talk about some of that.

HW:

Yeah.

TS:

Is there anything that you'd like to add for people who don't—maybe young people that are listening to this recording or reading the transcript—

HW:

And saying, “Why is this woman so weepy?” [laughter]

TS:

And the interviewer! [laughter]

HW:

Actually some, you know, some of these are happy thoughts, but they get kind of—

TS:

Very true.

HW:

—brought up the poignancy. To a young person: Don't be so eager to go to war; vote; learn what you can about the system; study the Constitution, it's your Bible; and keep your eyes open. Yeah. And when I say keep your eyes open, I mean be aware of history. Yeah, somebody said, “The history books are written by the winners.” Well, we didn't win, and I wrote a book. In a way we won, because we finally got out. And now we're talking and dealing and buying from and selling to the very people that we said were the enemy. And there are some people that will carry hate and dislike and distrust for the rest of their lives, and they're never going to change because that's who they are. But I keep thinking if you can go ahead in life, if you can fast-forward fifteen years—which is the length of the official Vietnam War, although it went on longer—if you can fast-forward that and say, “Okay. Now we're talking to them and everything's not hunky-dory. Okay. We're still finding landmines. We're still returning remains. We're still looking for remains. We're still looking for the missing.” Then why can't we do that before? Why can't we just leave off the part that says, “Kill, fight,” and maintain our humanity with words instead of actions? I mean, negative, horrible, frightening.

Now we see the effects of mostly traumatic brain injury on a lot of our returning vets. PTSD has become part of the American vocabulary. Mostly everybody knows that it means post-traumatic stress d—[laughs] disorder, or I've heard it—but they get the post-traumatic stress out of it. And what it means is we are putting ourselves in situations that we can't handle in our humanness. So why do we have to put ourselves in that position in the first place? We don't! We can start talking. I just pray and hope—I have a friend who actually—I moved them because I was praying for someone else. I have votive candles. Only, she said—I happened to mention that I forgot to turn the coffee off one day when I went to work, and she said, “Oh, I've got exactly the perfect thing.” What she's given me are battery-operated votive candles so I can't burn the house down. [chuckles]

But it's—I just think peace all the time. The other day—this may not seem that it's even related—the other day I had had some tire problems and had my tires all checked on my car. And it was raining pretty hard one night, and I stopped by a friend's house.

And he told me, he said, “Hey, you're missing your hubcap. Did they forget to put it back on when they fixed your tire?”

Well, it had to have happened that day. And I said, “Oh, no. I've lost a hubcap. The last time it happened it was $25.”

So I decided instead of going home twenty miles, I would retrace my steps, and I found it.

And what does that have to do with anything? It's just I envisioned that I would find my hubcap. I envision peace. And I think from this—I mean it all starts with just one person—and don't put them on the deck of a carrier. [chuckles]

Anyway, we just—I admire people who organize. I still—I'm afraid. I'm afraid of what—I'm a people pleaser, so I'm afraid of what people might think if I went totally off the end. I said to my kids one time, “If I got thrown in jail for protesting in front of the White House or protesting, what would you do?”

And they'd say, “Yeah. Mom's in jail. Okay.”

But I think I could do that now, where I couldn't years ago. And a lot of that was based on never really indicating to somebody where I—what I—although I worked for a National Public Radio affiliate—where my politics lay. Lie? Lay? Well, anyway, were.

TS:

We'll get that book out later.

HW:

Yeah, we'll get that book. What my politics were doesn't—I was fundraising, so I couldn't ask people if I were going to be too vocal about where I was put in my political voice. I say that; I never really tested it, so we don't know. We could erase all this part can't we? Okay. [laughter] Yeah, she's a wishy-washy—I'm not as wishy-washy as I used to be.

But it was surprising when Hal and I were married and Kent State—it was almost like, “Oh god. Here it comes.” It was—that probably drew us closer together, like we were the enemy or we were going to be attacked. Just recently, Bernie Boston died, and he was the one who took the picture of the pictures—took the picture of the soldiers at Kent State [sic—Washington, D.C.] and of the students putting flowers in the end of their rifles. So that was his picture. And he lives near. He used to live here, in Basye, Virginia. It's a small world.

TS:

Yes, it is.

HW:

So the young people, there's a reason that was it Churchill that said that, “If you don't know your history, you're doomed to repeat it.” Somebody said that. I guess I'll look that up on the web, then I'll check out snopes[.com], make sure it's true. [chuckling] So we have a huge advantage having the internet today.

I just remembered who that is with Lindsay. It's Char Stanett. She had really short hair when she was in country.

TS:

See, I knew eventually you'd get that one. She's [Holley is] looking at a picture on her refrigerator.

HW:

Yeah, it's of a reunion, one of the Red Cross reunions years past.

TS:

Well, I'm going to—Is there anything else you'd like to add?

HW:

Oh, no. I'm sure I could think of a hundred things to say.

TS:

Well, we'll go over some of the items you have over there. We did talk about a couple of them. But I want to thank you so much, Holley. I really appreciate it everything you've done.

HW:

You're welcome. I enjoyed it. I didn't know I was going to go through this much Kleenex, but I'm glad I did.

[End of Interview]