Avis Schwab – Donut Dolly, Vietnam 1967 to 1968

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Donut Dolly Avis Schwab at Tay Ninh, January 1968

By Doug Cerretti
All photos courtesy Avis Schwab unless noted

Heroes Café in Shoreline was privileged to host Avis Schwab, a Peace Corps volunteer and Donut Dolly, on October 10, 2023. She reminisced about her service as a Donut Dolly in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968.

Avis Schwab at Heroes Cafe-Shoreline, October 10, 2023.
Photo by Doug Cerretti

In 1967, Avis Schwab was returning home to Seattle after a two-year service in the Peace Corps in Venezuela. She was glad to be going home but was apprehensive as she had something to tell her parents. 

When her Dad picked her up at SeaTac International Airport, she said, “I have something to tell you. I want to go to Vietnam but Mom is going to get mad.” 

Her wonderful Dad said, “Kid, don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of Mom.” 

A colleague of hers in the Peace Corps had told her about an American Red Cross program that sent young women to Vietnam. They had to be 21-24 years old, have a college degree, be single and have a great personality. Their role was to bring a bit of home to the troops in Vietnam. 

Handing out presents at Trung Lap on Christmas Day, 1967

They did not brandish guns or crawl in the trenches but were armed only with smiles and hand-made games. The Donut Dollies risked their lives every day to achieve their mission of cheering up and bringing a sense of home to the U.S. troops, holding the line in the emotional battlefield of war. 

As Avis learned about this program she thought long and hard about volunteering for a program that would send her to a war zone. The anti-American sentiment in Central America at the time pushed her to apply as she wanted to help our soldiers. Avis applied and was accepted where only one out of six applicants was selected. 

Dragon Mt, August 1967

Donut Dollies date back to World War II where female Red Cross volunteers visited soldiers in the field with special clubmobiles that carried coffee and donuts they made, hence the name Donut Dollies. 

Donut Dollies also served during the Korean War. In Vietnam, their mission was to boost morale with song, board games or just their presence. 

Since they no longer made donuts, they were officially known as Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) program staff; not a name that rolls off your tongue. Instead, they were affectionately known as Donut Dollies and the name stuck.

Cu Chi, 1967. Helicopters were their primary mode of travel

A total of 627 Donut Dollies served in Vietnam. Avis arrived in Vietnam in 1967 after two weeks of training in Washington, D.C. Avis, with other Donut Dollies, visited troops via Jeep, half-tracks, and helicopter in some of the country’s most remote and dangerous regions. 

Avis and her colleagues visited many locations in Vietnam including Cu Chi, Dragon Mt, Dau Tieng, Trung Lap, Tay Ninh, Firebase 6-A and Da Nang. Helicopters were the primary mode of transportation as travel over surface roads was not safe.

Avis with Rinty, 25th Scout Dogs, Dau Tieng, October 1967

Avis even had an opportunity to visit Rinty, a 25th Scout Dog, in Dau Tieng.

Cu Chi, Christmas Day 1967

On Christmas Day 1967, Avis and colleagues flew to Trung Lap to distribute Christmas presents sent from the U.S. They only stayed 30 minutes as the enemy always attacked with rockets or mortars on holidays. 

One unexpected duty Avis and the Donut Dollies performed was to talk with troops on their way home so that they hopefully would clean up their language. You can imagine a soldier’s language is quite different in a war zone than at home.

Avis called this her "Hard Hat”
 Photo by Doug Cerretti
One of Avis’s favorite keepsakes is her cap which she calls her “Hard Hat.” All of the pins, ribbons and badges were given to her by the troops.

After returning from Vietnam, Avis earned her teaching certificate at Western Washington University and had a 30-year teaching career with the Edmonds, WA School District. 

During this time, she married and raised two boys, both of whom served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Avis is a very humble person; she does not consider what she did in Vietnam that big of a deal. 

But Vietnam combat veterans, John Hosey and Michael Reagan, will tell you Avis’s service as a Donut Dolly was extraordinary and above and beyond what is called for by any citizen.

While not in her thought process at the time, to me she lived by the immortal words from President John F Kennedy’s inaugural address that inspired so many of the importance of civic action and public service: “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.” 

Clearly Avis took the meaning of this phrase to heart with her service to her country in the Peace Corps and as a Donut Dolly in Vietnam.

1st Cav A Co April 1968

Before Avis was born, her mother was feeding her older sister when all of a sudden, she heard this very loud noise. Stepping out into the back yard, she saw plane after plane after plane. They were flying so low she could see their faces. It was December 7, 1941 and these were the Japanese planes attacking Pearl Harbor. 

Her Dad was a bus driver for Hawaii Rapid Transit. After the attack he transported women and children from Schofield Barracks to safer areas on the island. At night women on the bus would use flashlights to find their way on the road as it was lights out. 

After Avis was born, the family moved to Washington state in 1943 where her Mom was from. The family felt safer there as the war raged in the Pacific.

Heroes Café – Shoreline
meets the second Tuesday of every month from 9:00am to 1:00pm at the Seattle Scottish Rite Center, 1207 N 152nd St, Shoreline WA 98133

Veterans, Family, Friends and the Community are welcome. 

Heroes Café is the largest gathering of Veterans on a monthly basis. Unique among Veteran Organizations is that there is nothing to join. You Just Show Up! (See our previous article)


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