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After 50 years, the mystery of these Vietnam War photos of ‘Donut Dollies’ is solved – Boston, Massachusetts

Boston, Massachusetts 2021-11-28 09:07:16 –


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“The only thing I’ve always wanted to do was say’thank you’,” said Jim Roberts, a 75-year-old computer science professor.

Vietnam War veteran Jim Roberts will look up the document at his home on the outskirts of Pittsburgh earlier this month. He was trying to find a donut dolly he met and photographed in Vietnam during the war. (Photo of The Washington Post by Michael S. Williamson) Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post

It took me half a century to get the chance to say a word. Just “Thank you”. that’s all.

For Jim Roberts, this desire has become fixed as part of a long-standing process for accepting the darkness he saw as a lieutenant in the Vietnam War.

The woman he wanted to thank was “Donut Dolly”. Two of the 600 women who worked for the American Red Cross traveled to Vietnam to give home-longing troops a few hours of rest, play word games, or just sit and chat. .. A forced landing by a mechanically troubled helicopter took Dolly, along with two other soldiers, to a remote village where Roberts was a lonely and lonely adviser to the Vietnamese army.

Only a handful of the time he spent with Dolly (a short walk, lunch, a little talk) almost disappeared from his memory. Even their names have been lost over time. But the feeling they gave him was protracted. A moment of joy.

Over the years, Roberts didn’t have to do much to find a young woman. Only two photos were taken in 1971 in a village tens of miles away from Saigon. One young woman wore a ribbon. In her hair. The other had his hair split in the middle and had a dented chin.

Their identity was a mystery in his life. Finding them and expressing gratitude meant more to him over time.

A few days ago he finally began to speak. His eyes were full of tears, and Roberts saw the face of the woman he met long ago for the first time in 50 years: Gwen Hezil Roussel and Karen Jankovski.

Karen K. Jankowski, at her home in Peachtree City, Georgia, shows her photo from the Vietnam War when she was one of the “doughnut dollies” who visited the army. (Michael A. Schwartz / The Washington Post)

“The only thing I’ve always wanted to do was say’thank you’,” Roberts, a 75-year-old retired computer science professor living in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, told Dollies the other day via Zoom. ..

He may have said more, but he couldn’t. He overcame his emotions and couldn’t continue. He tapped his tears with a tissue.

What he learned in the next 30-minute conversation was that he wasn’t the only one who needed to express his gratitude.

“Oh, Jim, thank you, thank you,” Hezil Roussel told him. “Fifty years later, I heard you say” thank you “with that feeling, and it makes a lot of sense. I feel just like,’Wow. Wow. We made a difference. “” “”

After a while, Jankowski said: It’s overwhelming. I’m not really and really a wordless person. But I’m speechless. “

The reunion was the culmination of years of quest. Roberts was showing photos at a veterans’ breakfast club gathering. The Veterans’ Breakfast Club is a group that connects former troops and talks about their experiences. He made them look like well-connected donut dollies. He posted them on the internet. He didn’t go anywhere.

Roberts and the two ex-doughnut dollies finally got together later An article was published in The Washington Post on Veterans Day Details his quest to find them. This work prompted hundreds of comments, emails, and phone calls. Former soldiers talked with Donut Dolly about their own special moments.

Within minutes of publication, Roberts’ obsession became an obsession with readers across the country. Dozens of hints flowed in.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, a woman named Reesa Eisler was called by a colleague in a church group who provided moral support to people experiencing difficult times. During a training session a few months ago, each volunteer was asked to tell the group what was unique about them. Eisler told them she was a Vietnamese donut dolly.

“I look like a typical gray-haired grandmother,” Eisler later said in an interview. “You wouldn’t think this is half the world going to war.”

Eisler immediately recognized her long-died friend Gwen by pulling out a post that a friend called to warn her. Her hint set the post on the road leading to Augusta, Georgia. There, Hejl Roussel, now retired at the age of 74, lives in a cross-denominational religious community.

On the phone, she confirmed it. She was Dolly with a ribbon on her hair.

Gwen Hezil Roussel on the left was shot earlier this month at his home in Augusta, Georgia. She was another person that Donut Dolly Roberts was looking for. Right, she visited the US military in 1971 in Dong Xoai village, Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of Elijah Nouvelage / The Washington Post and Jim Roberts)

Hejl Roussel then shared a letter with The Post welcoming her to Vietnam. It was from a young woman named Karen Leader. In it, the leader wrote that she was from Lubbock, Texas. The final clue was provided by the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross has dug up an old ID with important new details. It’s Reeder’s middle name initial “K”.

Post found a woman named Karen K. Jankowski in Peachtree City, Georgia. She confirmed it: she was Dolly with a dented chin.

In an interview, he talked about both Hejl Roussel and Jankowski coming from a military family — Hejl Roussel’s father was in the Army Air Corps of World War II. Both her parents worked at a military base in Georgia.

Jankowski’s father was in the Air Force and worked in Vietnam for two years. She grew up in military bases around the world.

In the early 1970s, both wanted adventure. Hejl Roussel, then 24, didn’t even travel outside the United States. Both young women went to Vietnam because of their father’s opposition. They joined the American Red Cross group, which took its name from World War II donut dollies — the name given to them because they made donuts for the army. Dolly did not make donuts during the Vietnam War, but the old name stuck.

Hejl Roussel recently graduated with a degree in psychotherapy from the University of Georgia, but was uncomfortable with his career path. I remember she had a little “savior complex” at the time.

“I had to go out and do something,” she said.

Jankowski said, “I remember hippies and everyone was against the war. I wanted to see for myself what it was.”

They arrived in Vietnam at a time that Jankowski called a “vulnerable time”. The war was dragged in and no clear victory was seen. Frustration was boiling. She witnessed anger and despair. They met young men — some of them may have been better described as boys — not only their bodies but also their spirits were hurt.

Their job was to get rid of some of them for a few hours. Jankowski, who was 22 at the time, first arrived there. She was based in Da Nang, central Vietnam, and regularly stayed north of Quang Trang. Hejl Roussel arrived in 1971 and was sent south to the Mekong Delta base.

Almost every day they jumped on a helicopter. Choppers often landed on fire bases, where soldiers were isolated and tired. Once upon a time, Hejl Roussel remembers that fellow Dolly hung his foot from the side of the helicopter for a while and then settled inside. When they landed, there was a hole in the ammunition where her colleague’s foot was shortly before. (Three dollies have died in Vietnam.)

They traveled in pairs, wore blue uniforms, and carried games and other materials in large black bags. They will meet dozens of soldiers at once. Hejl Roussel remembers that many of the soldiers were “shy” at first and don’t know what to do with these young women coming down from the sky.

The soldiers will later send a letter to Jankowski. Some people asked for the date. Some said she considered her a “sister” of the family.

She read about their broken life. “My wife and I are no longer together. That’s what she wanted. She found another companion, loved him, and (a) had a child.”

Like Roberts, a few hours with Dolly were slowly entering them. It was more than a casual conversation — it was a lifeline.

Still, talking to ex-Dolly will eventually tell you something like Hejl Roussel told The Post in an interview. I received much more than I was given. “

After returning to the United States, Jankowski married a helicopter pilot he met in Vietnam. She later divorced, is now remarried, and works as an independent court reporter.

Hejl Roussel in Macon, Georgia, is a girl who has never spent a day abroad before the war and went on a trip. She and several of her colleagues, Dolly, took the Trans-Siberian Railway across the Soviet Union to Moscow at the time. When she returned to the United States, she eventually rejoined the American Red Cross and worked in the northeastern United States and South Korea as a liaison between the military and family. She later married and was a New Orleans housewife. After the divorce, she returned to Georgia and worked for 14 years to manage the state’s workers’ accident compensation claim.

They continued their lives. Then Jim Roberts came.

When Hejl Roussel and Jankowski were contacted by The Post, they were initially confused. But after hearing more about Roberts’ long-standing search, they wanted to see him.

At a post-arranged zoom conference, Roberts, along with his 50-year-old wife Linda, will be by his side in a book-lined room where former Dolly can fill some of his memory voids. I wanted to know if. The memory of their visit was even poorer than he was. Jankowski remembers having once experienced a mechanical problem and boarded a “fallen from the sky” helicopter. Maybe that was it. She is not sure. However, while the helicopter returned to the base to deal with mechanical problems, the woman adapted to Roberts’ memory of being left at his base.

In such a small group, Jankowski cracked, “We were probably a little frivolous.”

Hejl Roussel has a vague memory of the day, as it was rare to meet only a few soldiers. Over the years, Jankowski, now 73, told Roberts that he sometimes felt guilty about his time in Vietnam. Dolly was like a “celebrity”. She said at the zoom meeting. “At that moment, there are many people who want to be in your life.”

She tried to pay all the soldiers their coveted attention. But she often felt it wasn’t enough. “So, fifty years later to get me to tell me that someone touched them, it makes you feel less guilty,” Jankowski told Roberts.

For Hejl Roussel, seeing this man who influenced her long ago felt like “the moment of God, the moment we weren’t expecting.”

The Zoom meeting was about to end, but Dolly and the soldiers each finally asked for another contact information for each other. They had a lot to say to each other.

The Washington Post’s Alice Crites contributed to this story.



After 50 years, the mystery of these Vietnam War photos of ‘Donut Dollies’ is solved Source link After 50 years, the mystery of these Vietnam War photos of ‘Donut Dollies’ is solved

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