Just as she did in Vietnam, Nancy Warner offered a comforting voice at NH Veterans Home Friday

Nancy Warner during her service in Vietnam.

Nancy Warner during her service in Vietnam. COURTESY—Nancy Warner

Nancy Warner (left) during her service in Vietnam.

Nancy Warner (left) during her service in Vietnam. COURTESY—Nancy Warner

Nancy Warner, center, during her service in Vietnam.

Nancy Warner, center, during her service in Vietnam. Courtesy Nancy Warner

Nancy Warner (center) during her service in Vietnam.

Nancy Warner (center) during her service in Vietnam. COURTESY—Nancy Warner

Nancy Warner (second from left) during her service in Vietnam.

Nancy Warner (second from left) during her service in Vietnam. COURTESY—Nancy Warner

Nancy Warner (far right) during her service in Vietnam.

Nancy Warner (far right) during her service in Vietnam. COURTESY—Nancy Warner

Nancy Warner gets a hug from Bob Blairs from the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 41 at the New Hampshire Veterans Home Vietnam War Veterans Day ceremony in Tilton on Friday.

Nancy Warner gets a hug from Bob Blairs from the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 41 at the New Hampshire Veterans Home Vietnam War Veterans Day ceremony in Tilton on Friday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor staff

Published: 03-30-2024 7:00 AM

Modified: 03-31-2024 7:54 PM


Nancy Warner was one of 625 women who formed the Donut Dollies, a Red Cross-fueled program that mirrored other efforts to entertain soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Through the years, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knew this. In the historical narrative, the Andrews Sisters and Bob Hope got the headlines for giving of themselves, popping in for an appearance in front of soldiers and then whisked away to a world of air conditioning and praise.

The Donut Dollies, however, made year-long commitments, yet lived on as one of those footnotes, forgotten after not receiving big headlines in the first place, but certainly worthy of mention and reflections all along.

“There was no recognition for any of this, but it’s sort of coming in late,” said Warner, who served in the Vietnam War from July of 1969 to August 1970. “I’ve heard from a lot of the girls who always said that the greatest gift is the thank you we get from veterans when they know we were Donut Dollies. Some saw us and some never heard of us.”

Warner, who lives in Ipswich, Mass., shared her stories of pride, fear and sadness Friday at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton. March 29 is officially Vietnam War Veterans Day, which marks the anniversary of the departure of the last American troops from Vietnam 51 years ago.

Warner and other Donut Dollies were deployed to any area that might need a comforting voice under horrible circumstances. She played cards with United States Servicemen, at outposts easily within enemy artillery. She served them meals, or simply spoke about home.

“We went around to forward bases in the jungle,” Warner explained in advance of her presentation. “We spent many hours a day to get it done. We would go out to the field where there were no women and you’d spend time with them and try to boost their morale and give them an hour to lighten things up. These guys were living in mud and heat and terror and that was our purpose, wherever we came from and whoever we were, to work hard to fulfill the missions as best we could.”

Warner was bored taking graduate classes at Old Dominion University when a friend suggested they research the Donut Dollies. Warner was 23.

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“I wish I could say I had lofty goals when people ask me why I did it,” Warner said. “I wouldn’t say that I was really thoughtful about it, like I was going to save the world. I wanted to help and I knew guys over there serving their country were fighting and dying and I wanted to do something to help.”

They learned that the group served during the Korean War. They would be paid $5,000 for their one-year tour of duty. 

She had grown up on military bases and lived in Boston and thought she had the street smarts and background to appreciate what she was signing up for and how to adapt.

“I did not think it all the way through, what this would mean and how difficult this experience would be,” Warner said. “I did not think of the dangers. I thought of the travel.”

They passed out meals and ran recreation centers, playing cards and shooting pool. “Given there were no front lines in Vietnam, we were often at risk,” Warner said.

She said the hardest aspect of her role was meeting wounded soldiers in hospitals and not knowing the fate of men they just met.

“We’d be with a group of guys one week and then you’d hear they had been medevacked out and we never knew what happened to them,” Warner said.

As for the Donut Dollies, few recall the role they played, a key role treating the emotional wounds suffered during battle. Warner once dressed up like Santa Claus, the perfect look for someone trying to spread joy to those who needed it most.

She swooped in by helicopter on Christmas to various towns and villages – leaving a trail of red and green smoke – to cheer up soldiers at the height of the war.

“I spent the best Christmas of my life there,” Warner said. “We served turkey dinner. This was a life-defining year. These guys thought that they’d been forgotten.”