Sun Senior News Article
By Sandi Dolbee
It was 1969 and Nancy Calcese was about to graduate from Florida State University in Tallahassee. She was thinking about what she was going to do next, when the Red Cross came to campus recruiting for a program called the Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO), which supported our troops in Korea and Vietnam.
Nancy signed up.
Fast forward to spring 2020, when a profile cropped up about Nancy — as one of the Red Cross’ famed “Donut Dollies.” The profile, headlined “Meet Red Cross Donut Dollie Nancy Calcese,” was published by donutdolliies.com, which is hoping to track down more SRAO workers to memorialize their experiences. A documentary has been produced but not yet released.
Nancy Calcese with soldiers.
Nancy, who was applauded by her other Lavender Friends Club members in a Zoom meeting after the story came out, is humbly frank about why she did what she did. “Honestly, I graduated and needed a job,” she says. “I was not a risk taker and to this day, I can’t believe I went to Korea and Vietnam,” she adds.
She started out in Korea, serving from July 1969 to September 1970 at the 2nd Infantry Division, 7th Infantry Division and Camp Red Cloud. “In Korea, a routine day consisted of either working on creating our recreation programs (games, etc.), in the office or traveling in pairs via Jeep, truck or helicopter to deliver these programs (and donuts!) to units of men numbering from 10 to 200.”
After that, she returned home and went to work as a social worker. Soon, however, the Red Cross contacted her and offered her the job of Assistant Director of its program in Vietnam. Stationed in Saigon, she served there from May 1971 to May 1972. It was, she admits,” extremely difficult” work. From Tuesdays to Fridays, she traveled around South Vietnam to help oversee the programs.
There were no routine days, she says. “Each week, I went to a different unit, visited with the ‘girls,’ went on runs with them to various units, met with the military command to make sure they were getting the appropriate support.”
Sometimes, she had to wait hours for transportation. “I once recorded 81 hours of flight time in nine types of aircraft and 98 hours of waiting time,” she remembers.
And get this: Nancy was the very last Donut Dollie to leave Vietnam as the program and the war ended.
Nancy says she wasn’t there to make a political statement or to take a stand or whatever. She was there, simply, to be of help. Her fondest memory in Vietnam was of a Bob Hope show. A handful of Donut Dollies were in the nose-bleed bleachers, when someone arranged for them to sit closer in the arena.
“As we walked down from above, word spread that the Donut Dollies were there and as everyone saw our uniforms, the entire audience stood up and applauded and cheered. It gave us all chills,” she says.