From Donut Dollie to the Milwaukee VA: Evans marks 50 years of military support

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

As Mary Evans leafed through a box labeled “Vietnam,” she verbally connected the dots along her American Red Cross volunteer contributions, from Memorial Day at the Milwaukee VA in 2018 to her stint as a “Donut Dollie” exactly 50 years ago.

Mary Evans with Donut Dollies pic

Mary Evans, SAF volunteer, holds a snapshot taken in Vietnam during her time as a Donut Dollie.

In the box, amid the color pictures: scenes of Evans with G.I.s in front of Christmas trees covered in tinsel during downtime; a trio of soldiers around Evans, two smiling and one solemn, posed in front of endless barracks. In black-and-white photos: a band rocking out, followed by a shot of Evans, in Red Cross stylized dress, in front of a lineup of military trucks. An illustrated “Pocket Guide to Vietnam” tour book. A laminated Red Cross “Emergency Identification” issued under Evans’s maiden name, de la Forest.

Evans, who lives in Milwaukee with her husband, John, shared the memories from five decades ago in part to keep alive the service of the Donut Dollies, but also in hopes to inspire others to volunteer for service members through the Red Cross.

“The role we had … I think it was incredible,” Evans said. “To all of them, you were like their sister, their mother, their girlfriend. I think we provided a tremendous service in taking their minds off things.”


Click here for a list of veterans and active duty resources from the American Red Cross, as well as to find out ways you can help.


Through a Red Cross program called Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas, American women volunteered to bring refreshments, entertainment and a flash of cheer to military servicemen during the Vietnam War. They were dubbed “Donut Dollies” by service members, a name that stuck, though their goodwill work amid the trauma of war is sometimes misremembered or lost.

Mary Evans with soldiers Donut Dollies

Mary Evans, center, poses with some of the soldiers she worked with in 1968 as an American Red Cross volunteer in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.

Evans said she “felt something was missing” in her life in spring 1968. Graduated from college and working at a bank in San Francisco, she wanted to get involved in a positive way in the war that served as a flashpoint for one of the most chaotic years in global history. Compelled to do something for those in military service, Evans called an American Red Cross office in northern California. And, “six weeks later, I was on my way” to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, off the South China Sea.

Evans and the other Dollies would put together 50 minutes of games, activities and entertainment, amid their namesake snacks and refreshments, at about six U.S. Army sites per day, five to six days a week. There was plenty of time for competition in the activities, and conversation throughout their visits. Evans said she felt the enlisted “lifers” were more lonely and appreciative of the lifeline to something outside of war when the Dollies came. They frequently ran into soldiers at a high or low, as she said they often presented their programs immediately before or after soldiers took leave.

In a warzone, Evans hesitated to call their volunteering dangerous. But it was clear they were far from home.

Mary Evans ID card Donut Dollies

A 1968 American Red Cross I.D. for Mary Evans (nee de la Forest). Evans remains active with Service to the Armed Forces volunteering in Wisconsin.

“Jeeps, trucks, choppers … MPs would pick us up and they would drive us back for several miles to our center. There were flares going up across the Bay, but I felt safe almost the whole time,” she said.

When Evans’s father passed away suddenly, her stint in Vietnam ended so that she could come home to help her mother and family. As free time cropped up, she returned to volunteering with the Red Cross at a medical hospital near her home in Santa Rosa, Calif. Although she couldn’t return to Vietnam with the Red Cross as she had hoped, while stateside she was able to stay in touch with fellow Donut Dollies and Army service members as they returned.

Years on and starting her own family, Evans moved to southeast Wisconsin. It wasn’t long before she dialed the local Red Cross to see how she could contribute, once again for those who served. This call brought her to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, where, during Red Cross volunteer activities, she’s been able to get to know Jaime, a former Tuskegee Airman, and Norm, a combat-wounded veteran with a penchant for polka music. In a different way than her Donut Dollies days, these Wednesday mornings at the Milwaukee VA gave her the sense of providing relief and escape for service members.

“It’s not so much looking back at what they did or what we did. We’re mainly thanking them for their service,” she said.

Mary Evans SAF Memorial Day 2018

Mary Evans and her husband, John, at left, shared lunch with veterans and fellow Red Cross volunteers at the Milwaukee VA on Memorial Day 2018.

Evans has slowed down with volunteering in the past year, with time focused on a few family matters. But she did participate with other Red Cross volunteers in the big Memorial Day barbecue at the Milwaukee V.A. in 2018, bringing meals to vets unable to make it outside. And her foundation in giving herself to service members and veterans hasn’t wavered since the ‘60s, said Richard Seymour, Service to the Armed Forces program director, Wisconsin Region.

“Support for veterans and service members are core to the Red Cross mission, and Mary has embodied that mission for five decades,” Seymour said. “Whether on the frontlines in Vietnam or at a community commemoration in Milwaukee, Mary puts her heart into the volunteer work she does with our service members.”

Find out how you can become a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer here.

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Dying Mother Saves Son from Death

Written by Barbara Behling, Communications Director

In honor of the many men and women who have served our country and continue to serve, we thank you today and everyday for your service. 

VeteransDay

Even from a deathbed, a mother can save a child. This was the case for Neil Starke, serving in the US Coast Guard during WWII. Thanks to the American Red Cross Services to Armed Forces program he was able to share her last breaths, a visit which also saved his own life.

In the heart of WWII, the USS El Paso was situated at 114° North & 120° East. From these decks, air & sea rescues off the Philippines coasts were conducted. It was in the heart of the fighting, he received a cablegram from the Red Cross which explained his father had fallen while riding a bus, with trauma to his head, he was sent to a mental institution. Meanwhile, in another hospital, his dying mother yearned to see her son one last time. His superior officers granted permission for a 38-day leave of absence. It was this stroke of timing that saved his life.

SONY DSCNeil was taken off one ship, sailed to land on another and then boarded a military plane to fly back to the states. Altogether, the journey took two weeks. While at his mother’s bedside, he shared stories, a smile and the unmistakable touch of a mother’s hand until her passing.  Even today, when sharing his story, he remains visibly shaken.

Now with tears in his eyes, it was time to return to duty. “It was the first time I heard my father’s voice falter when saying good-bye.” Neil explains. By military plane, he flew back to the base and was ready to rejoin his ship. He waited a week. Then two, he was eager to join his team. “It was ironic and a blessing, I was pulled off that ship as it was declared lost in the Yellow Sea typhoon.  While I never saw any man I served with again; the vessel was found two-weeks later. The boilers had been destroyed so it must have been tossing around like a toy in a washing machine,” Neil concluded.

A short-time thereafter, an international peace agreement was signed. The war was over. “Until that cable gram, I had been mad at the Red Cross about $.15 lemonade that tasted awful.  Then I learned the greater meaning of their work. It allowed me to be with my mother in those final days and it also saved my life.”

The Service to the Armed Forces division of the American Red Cross helps our military members and their families across the world with one primary function being Emergency Communications. If family needs to get in touch with a service member while they are on active duty, they can call the Red Cross Emergency Communication line for the military at 1-877-272-7337. The Red Cross will get family in touch, and provide vital verification services so that commanding officers can make informed decisions about emergency leave. The Red Cross is the only organization entrusted with this responsibility because of our longstanding history with the military, as well as our Fundamental Principles of Neutrality and Impartiality.

Local Red Cross Encourages Public to Send Holiday Greetings to America’s Heroes

“Holiday Mail for Heroes” Mailbox Open Through December 7

While military deployments and hospital stays may keep many of our nation’s heroes away from their families this holiday season, the American Red Cross is collecting and distributing cards that send words of encouragement, gratitude and cheer.

Between now and December 7, Americans can give something that means something by sending a card of thanks and support to members of the Armed Forces, veterans and their families.

“Holiday Mail for Heroes is an excellent way for America to remain connected with service members deployed overseas under combat conditions.  Simple and nice, these cards convey the message that we still care about the sacrifices our service men and women make on a daily basis. This program is more important now than ever before,” stated Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Roy Krueger, who is also a Red Cross Services to Armed Forces volunteer.

We encourage you to make this a family activity, a school project or a civic group event, or participate in one of your areas card making events such as the Sunday, November’ 4th Packer’s Game and the Packer’s Holiday Blood drive on Wednesday, November 14, from 7a.m – 7 p.m. in the Lambeau Field Legends Room.

The Red Cross is inviting the public to send messages of thanks and holiday cheer until December 7 by mailing them to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes

P.O. Box 5456

Capitol Heights, MD20791-5456

Pitney Bowes Inc. receives cards at the special Holiday Mail post office box, and screens them for hazardous materials. Pitney Bowes screens, packages and ships the cards at no charge, and contributes thousands of volunteer hours at sites around the country. The Pitney Bowes office in Neenah and 27 National Exchange Bank & Trust locations will also accept cards through November 30th.

This is the third year Miles Kimball’s, based in Oshkosh, has supported the program with a donation of 10,000 printed cards! Cards will be available at community events for signing.

Red Cross volunteers across the United States and on military installations overseas then sort and deliver the cards throughout the holiday season. The Red Cross and Pitney Bowes have received and distributed more than 4.7 million cards for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, veterans and their families since the program began in 2006. Locally, the goal is collect at least 20,000 cards and distribute 10,000 cards to local Veteran clinics and hospitals and through Veteran groups. The Red Cross will schedule volunteers to assist in the sorting and delivery of cards.

To ensure that cards are delivered in time for the holidays, they must be postmarked no later than December 7. Individuals are asked to refrain from sending “care packages,” monetary donations, or using glitter or any other kinds of inserts with the cards. More information and card requirements are at redcross.org/holidaymail..

The public can connect with fellow card senders through Facebook at facebook.com/redcross and Twitter.com/redcross using the hashtag #holidaymail.

The Red Cross relies on the support of the American people to carry out its mission of service to the 2 million members of the U.S. Armed Forces, 24 million veterans and their families. During this holiday season, people also can support all Red Cross services by making a financial donation at redcross.org or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS. Individuals can also give the gift of life by making an appointment to give blood at redcrossblood.org or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

About our Holiday Partners

During this holiday season, the American Red Cross is grateful for the support of our corporate partners that generously contribute to our Holiday Giving Campaign. They include:  University of Phoenix, Circle K West Coast Division, and the Community Safety Foundation, funded by AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah Insurance Exchange. Thanks to the generosity of these and other sponsors, the Red Cross is able to carry out its mission of helping people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies everyday here and around the world. Each holiday season the Red Cross gives everyone the chance to support our work by giving blood, signing a card for military heroes or buying a gift through our holiday catalog. To support the Red Cross this Holiday Season, visit www.redcross.org/holiday

Honoring Our Veterans

Image Courtesy of Social Vibe

Friday, November 11th is Veterans Day. This annual and federal holiday in the United States (Armistice Day or Remembrance Day are celebrated on the same day in other parts of the world) honors those who have served or are serving in the Armed Forces.

An important holiday worldwide, Veterans Day is especially significant throughout the Red Cross because of the organization’s ties, through the Services to Armed Forces (SAF) program, to the United States Military.

– The Red Cross provides pre-deployment briefings on the support systems and resources available to service members and their families while service members are away.

– The Red Cross provides – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – a lifeline between service members and their families by verifying and transmitting emergency messages.

– Additionally, the Red Cross provides military families with access to financial assistance in partnership with military aid organizations as well as referral information and assistance to veterans.

So this Friday, take a few moments to thank those who have bravely and generously served our country through membership in the Armed Forces.

 – Post a thank you message on Facebook or tweet a thank you message on Twitter.

– Participate in the Holiday Mail for Heroes program by making a
holiday card for a service member, veteran, or military family. (Click here <http://www.redcross.org/holidaymail>  for more information about the Holiday Mail for Heroes program.)

 – Donate blood at one of the hundreds of Veterans Day blood drives
going on throughout the country. (Click here <http://www.redcrossblood.org/make-donation>  to find a Veterans Day blood drive in your area.)

– Donate a monetary gift, in honor a service member, veteran, or military family, through the Red Cross Holiday Giving catalog. Even a small amount ($50 = 1 military comfort kit, $20 = 1 military phone card, and $30 = hygiene kids for 3 homeless veterans) can make a tremendous different in the life of an active duty service member or veteran. (Click here https://american.redcross.org/site/SPageServer?pagename=gc11_index&s_src=RSS11100ERCG to shop the Red Cross Holiday Giving catalog.)

My sincerest thanks to all of our veterans, and happy Veterans Day.

Veterans Day November 11th – Honoring Our Service Men and Women

Veterans Day is a time to reflect and honor those who have served and are currently serving in the United States Armed Forces. The Red Cross has a long-standing history of supporting service men and women and their families. Whether it be helping a family transition to a loved one’s deployment or welcoming home wounded service men and women, the Red Cross is there!

Also, during this time of year, the American Red Cross coordinates Holiday Mail for Heroes – sending cards of thanks and well wishes to our service men and women who are unable to be home during the holidays. Join us in honoring those who serve our United States Armed Forces.

 

Check out the following links for area Veterans Day Celebrations and to learn more about the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes.