GIVEN BY EMILY STRANGE
flew to desolate fire bases
was my job to perform the miracle
was my mission to raise the morale
was my calling
was the mistress of illusion
When visiting the firebases, it seemed
not to matter what time we arrived. Somehow
you knew exactly when we would land and you planned an odiferous ceremony
welcoming us to your bases. It was
called, “burning of the shit.”
No matter what firebase, no matter what time we landed, we were always
welcomed by the huge clouds of black, smelly smoke emanating from the 55 gallon
I missed my appointment to have my hair
cut before coming to this reunion. I
called Sherry to ask if she cut hair and she laughed for a very long time.
Then she reminded me that, when visiting the firebases, combing our hair
was optional since, the instant the rotor blades reached full torque, our hair
looked like a vacation resort for rats. No
hairspray in the world could outlast the whirling, rushing wind of the rotors.
And no fair ride could give such a thrill.
The Donut Dollie uniform came in 2
styles, dresses and culottes. I
preferred wearing culottes rather than a dress.
There is really no way of getting on a helicopter in a lady like manner.
That first step exposes everything.
But to your credit, none of you guys ever complained.
If you got on the chopper first, you simply sat down, held out your hand
and smiled. You were such
Lunch was interesting at the firebases.
Sometimes it was C-rations. Sometimes
a sandwich. The choice of drinks
was either red or green unsweetened kool-ade made from rice paddy water and
flavored with an iodine tablet.
Occasionally they flew out hot chow in
those metal containers. When that
happened, the Donut Dollies would serve the food because you guys seemed to
think it tasted better if we put it on your tray and gave you a smile.
It was always a good feeling to serve a hot meal at the firebase.
It was a momentary one on one contact with you guys who came through the
line. We would smile, make casual
conversation, ……“how you
doing?” …………..“where ya from? ……. “would you like some
powdered potatoes?” Always the
smile, always scooping the food gently on your trays with a touch of love.
But these many years later, I would
like to give you a behind the scenes look at what was really going on.
I rarely ate breakfast, so by the time we started serving lunch, I was
growing weak with hunger. As all of
us experienced, when the sun was high in the Delta, the sweltering heat and
humidity sucked the life right out of you.
Standing over those heated containers of ………… heaven only knows
what …………... I was getting light headed.
So, as I am smiling, making small talk and gently putting food on your
trays, inside I was praying to all that was holy,
“Please Lord, don’t let me pass
out, fall head first into whatever is in this container and drown.
If it is my time, please make my death look, at least noble.
Please don’t let the headlines in the “Stars & Stripes” read:
Dollie Drowns in Container of Shit on a Shingle While Serving the Troops.”
We went to Vietnam from all over
the United States. We were of
different races with different backgrounds, different religions and we had
different reasons for going to Vietnam.
We came home and went to different
states, different circumstances and went our separate ways, making different
lives for ourselves.
Yet, despite all those differences, the
fact that we all served in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam gives us a bond that
cannot be broken by the differences of our coming and going. It is the being there that bonds us. It is the reason we are all here tonight.
No matter where you were in the Delta,
you could not escape the heat, the monsoon rains, the dust and mud, the incoming
rounds. We were all, at one time,
the FNG. We learned quickly to distinguish incoming from outgoing.
We can still hear the sound of the rotors. And we all remember those who
did not come home.
Words can never explain to someone who
was not there what it was like to serve in Nam.
But here, these many years later, together at this reunion, our
experiences are shared with an understanding that surpasses words.
We understand the reality of war and the bond it forges.
We have our own secrete language:
I am honored to stand here
tonight in a room full of heroes.
Every one of you here tonight is a
hero. No matter where you came from
or what your job was in Nam, when America called, you answered. You put your life on the line for your country.
In most of Vietnam, but especially in the Delta, there was no “rear,”
no “safe places.” In the Delta,
everyone was a potential target.
of you were decorated for your bravery. Too
many of you earned Purple Hearts. Many
of you earned awards but never received them.
That does not diminish your acts of bravery.
I know that some of you believe that
you are not heroes. Maybe you
can’t think of an incident which allowed you to earn the title of “hero.”
And yet, you may have saved lives without even knowing it.
Maybe one of the new guys watched you out in the field, followed your
example and, because of you, did not do something that got him wounded or
killed. Maybe you went on a mission to replace someone else and
walked 3 steps to the right of the booby trap that would have killed the man who
stayed behind. Maybe you said a few
kind words that you don’t even remember that made a guy feel good about
himself and gave him the courage to save someone’s life.
Maybe you took the time to listen to someone who desperately needed to
say aloud what he felt inside and gave him the will to live.
And, if you were the one who stayed
home, the wife, girlfriend, son or daughter, and you stayed home and prayed for
a year that your man would come home safely, you are also a hero.
If your man came home wounded, either in body or in spirit, and you
stayed with him and helped him get through the horrors of war he could not leave
behind, you are a hero. Even if you
met him many years after Vietnam and have come with him to this reunion, you are
For many of you, the war did not end
when your freedom bird touched down on American soil. Sadly, you were not welcomed home as the heroes you are.
But, because of what you endured when you returned, you have made life
better for those who followed you to war.
It is because of what you endured
when you returned from Vietnam, that the soldiers now returning from war are
welcomed as heroes. You taught
America that, no matter the politics of the war, the troops are serving for the
American people. It is because of
you that people stand in airports and shake the hands of men and women in
uniform saying, “welcome home” and “thanks for your service to our
country.” It is a great legacy
that you have left and I know the price you paid to leave that legacy to this
It is because of how the families of
those killed in Vietnam were treated that there is an outpouring of sympathy and
caring for the families of those who are lost in the current wars.
Some of you have ridden your motorcycles to funerals to allow those
families to feel the respect they deserve for their sacrifice.
And it is because you still care
about those families whose loved ones did not come home, that you are still
helping to heal the wounds of war which occurred so long ago.
It is why you welcome the members of our Gold Star families as members of
your Vietnam family. We all
understand what was lost in Vietnam and we all feel the bond that can never be
A guy who found my website, James
(Snake) Stone had intended to come to the MRF reunion for only 1 day because he
had prior commitments. But at the
last minute he emailed me that …………
I had planned to stop by on the 30th
for the day but I'll have to continue my trip further north instead of stopping
in to meet everyone for the 1st time in 37 years. I have been communicating with
Albert. I have yet to meet him. So please forgive me if I feel a little un-easy.
I don't know what to expect. I know all will be OK. We all have changed over the
I began writing a reply to Jim’s
email and found myself expressing things that are meant for all of you here
tonight. So I will share them with
correct that we have all changed in the 30++ years since we were in Nam.
Our exteriors are not as buff or perky as they once were – darn
gravity. Those of us who still have
hair are getting to the point that the color of our hair is all the same.
I prefer to think of it as really light blonde.
when we look at each other, we don’t see the physical ravages of time.
We see the kind heart, the generous spirit, the caring soul that is the
essence of our being. We see friends who have shared the time in our life that
changed us forever and we see the love in their eyes.
not as strong as we were back then. I
don’t think there is even one guy here who could now hump 5 klicks with a full
pack in the Delta heat. Yet, our
strength of character has not diminished. It
has grown even stronger with the passing of years, strengthened by those
difficult times when we felt we could no longer go on, could no longer stand the
pain, the sadness, the hurt, the loss, the guilt.
And we have gained the gift of compassion.
internal organs don’t function as well as they did back then.
Most of us know the true blessing of a flush toilet complete with paper.
But, though our hearts may not beat as steadily as they once did,
the depth of our love for each other has grown and blossomed and produced
the fruit of friendship which we gladly share with each other. There is nothing sweeter.
minds may not be as sharp as they use to be, but we have gained the wisdom of
years, the knowledge taught by life’s lessons.
We have learned to laugh at ourselves and don’t mind if others join in.
We tease each other mercilessly, as only those who share a great trust
can. Together we laugh until we cry
and cry until we laugh. We have
learned that tears are not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of humanity.
memories may not be as sharp as they use to be, but we have each other and when
we are together, the memories come flooding back and it is as if we have never
been apart. And it is a blessing to
get together and make new memories.
of all, the Brotherhood has grown stronger with each passing year.
It was forged so many years ago in a place far away called the Mekong
Delta, where life and death hung in the balance and was measured in inches.
It was built on a solid foundation of trust, assembled brick by brick
with the courage of those who have faced the horrors of war side by side. Its’ steel girders have been tempered by the baptism of
fire. And through the years, its’
interior has become gloriously beautiful as the gentle, caring souls welcome
each other into the camaraderie which has bonded forever our family of Vietnam
say to you, do not feel uneasy about meeting your brothers and sisters of war.
You are a cherished member of our family and we’ve been waiting to
welcome you home. Please, come in.
All of you here tonight deserve
to stand tall and feel proud of your service.
Many years ago in Nam, you were my heroes.
Standing here tonight, you still are.
home and thank you for your service to our country.