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Red Cross “Donut Dollie” Continues to Work with Red Cross

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

In 1969, nightly news headlines droned on about the U.S.- Vietnamese conflict, and parents and friends worried as they watched the daily numbers of our boys lost in the conflict.

But Constance “Connie” Dugan Popel wasn’t watching the news. Instead, she was buttoning up her bright blue uniform, climbing in the helicopter, and heading out to a fire base to see our boys.

After graduating from college, Connie joined a small group of American women who volunteered to serve in the Vietnam War through the Red Cross Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO) program. They were better known by our brave military men as “The Donut Dollies.”

Connie Dugan Vietnam, from 1969-70, as a member of the Donut Dollies with the American Red Cross.

“My year in Vietnam was September ’69 till November ’70,” Connie said.

Of the 1,200 women who worked for the American Red Cross in Vietnam between 1965-1972, 627 were part of the recreational activities program known as the Donut Dollies. The program was begun during World War II, but unlike the participants during the earlier war, the Vietnam-era Donut Dollies did not actually deliver donuts to the soldiers.

Traveling in pairs or small groups, the young women were flown by helicopter to various landing zones where they interacted with the soldiers and provided recreation. Their mission was to give the soldiers a laugh, a shoulder to cry on, and reminder of real world back home. Centered around the soldiers’ interests of sports and music, Connie directed activities such trivia games or simply played pool, ping pong or card games, anything to act as a diversion from the war. Usually, her groups averaged between 20-30 young men, but they could vary as few as five to as many as 100 soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines.

The Vietnam Donut Dollies did not serve donuts, but they did serve Kool-Aid, and Connie’s group became known as the Kool-Aid Kids as they walked up and down the Flight Line at the base serving Kool-Aid and cookies to the mechanics repairing the planes.

Although not on the front lines, Connie was never very far from the combat. Once, during a visit to Quang Tri, a mortar attack sent her scurrying to a bunker in her flak jacket and helmet, Connie recalled. But this danger did not deter Connie.

“It’s the oddest thing,” Connie said. “I never was afraid. I don’t know why.”

Perhaps Connie’s greatest attribute as a Red Cross ambassador to our boys fighting in the conflict on the other side of the world was her smile.

“I think my role [as a Donut Dollie] was to be myself,” Connie recalled in a recent interview in Redstone Rocket commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. “I’m known for my smile, and I smiled and smiled and smiled. And I think that I represented maybe an American girl who cared, who hoped that I brought some kind of happiness for a second in a horrible, horrible war.”

After her tour with the Donut Dollies, Connie worked from 1970-72 as a Red Cross recreation aide in the psychiatric ward at Valley Forge General Hospital outside of Philadelphia. There she provided games, readings, songs, and movies for troops returning from Vietnam.

As a young wife and mother of two children, Connie continued volunteering with Red Cross in Pennsylvania as a Blood Services Ambassador. Later, she worked for 17 years with Continental Airlines, from where she retired in 2019.

After her retirement, Connie renewed her volunteer service with the American Red Cross. She currently lives in Madison County. She continues her membership with the American Red Cross Overseas Association and tries to make the yearly meeting to reconnect with the other women who served as Donut Dollies.

Here is our Donut Dollie Today

Connie has volunteered with the Madison County chapter of the American Red Cross on the Disaster Action Team since January 2019, and she works at the office Monday mornings.

Today, through her work as a DAT volunteer, Connie’s smile and outgoing nature continue to bring hope and relief to North Alabama families facing their own disasters.

(By Diane Weber, with information from Red Stone Rocket article by Skip Vaughn)

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