A Vietnam pioneer: NH woman visits the D.C. tribute

  • Donna Moorcroft-Juslin at one of the war memorials in Washington D.C. during her Honor Flight experience earlier this month. She served in the Air Force toward the end of the Vietnam War. Courtesy

  • Donna Moorcroft-Juslin at one of the war memorials in Washington D.C. during her Honor Flight experience earlier this month. COURTESY—

  • Donna Moorcroft-Juslin at the Air Force memorial in Washington D.C. during her Honor Flight experience earlier this month. COURTESY—

  • Donna Moorcroft-Juslin drives her pride and joy convertible car that her father encouraged her to get before his death in 2015. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Donna Moorcroft-Juslin lives near Ossipee Lake, enjoying her retirement years up in Laconia. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Donna Moorcroft-Juslin drives her pride and joy convertible car that her father encouraged her to get before his death in 2015. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Donna Moorcroft-Juslin at her Laconia home with her rescue dogs Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Donna Moorcroft-Juslin turns her pride and joy convertible car that her father encouraged her to get before his death in 2015. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Donna Moorcroft-Juslin puts up the top of her pride and joy convertible car that her father encouraged her to get before his death in 2015. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/23/2023 10:20:06 PM

Donna Moorcroft-Juslin lightly pressed her fingers against a small section of the inscriptions on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington last weekend.

She knew none of the approximately 58,000 names that covered the solemn tribute, with its off-white letters bright against a shiny black granite background, yet she felt something strong. Like a kinship.

She’s a Vietnam veteran herself, like those listed on The Wall, the vets who died during the Vietnam War. They were part of a different era, its survivors fighting circa 1970, now 70 years old or older.

“I did it because they were probably about my age when they died,” Moorcroft-Juslin said. “They were young and at the time so was I.”

She’s 71 now and lives in Laconia. She joined the Air Force in 1975, during the tail-end of the war, and thus is considered a Vietnam veteran. She served her country by maintaining ground equipment that helped fire up jet engines, and that earned her a spot on the latest New England Honor Flight, which landed back home in the wee hours last Monday morning.

And let the record show that Moorcroft-Juslin is now the lone female Vietnam veteran from the Granite State to make the trip.

“There was a lot of love,” Moorcroft-Juslin said. “You will not believe the reactions and you don’t realize how grateful people are, and it will be the best experience of your life.”

The Honor Flight provides free food and a plane ride to Washington, D.C., for veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The core of visitors have been men who have not yet seen the monuments that honor them, all featuring deeply moving tributes that draw large crowds, yet remain essentially quiet.

In recent years, a sense of urgency has evolved. The program sought men who fought in World War II and the Korean War. The youngest vets from World War II are generally about 97, those from Korea around 90.

This trip took 59 men to D.C.

And one woman.

Moorcroft-Juslin enjoyed all that the men have experienced since the program began 14 years ago: spontaneous applause at airports as the line of senior citizens - wearing military jackets adorned with medals and hats displaying different branches of the service – wheel and walk through terminal gates to and from their destination.

“It was amazing,” Moorcroft-Juslin said. “I had tears in my eyes.”

Moorcroft-Juslin was always good with her hands, fixing things. Her father couldn’t fix the lawnmower, but she could. She graduated from high school in Norwood Mass., and says she knew she wanted to join the military by age 17.

But that was in 1971, with the war in Vietnam still raging and Americans still dying. She needed a parent’s signature.

“My adoptive parents would not sign it,” Moorcroft-Juslin said. “They were able to keep my brother from going because he had a medical condition, a knee problem.”

Instead, she worked for a VA hospital in Roxbury and was inspired on two levels. First, she felt badly for the veterans she cared for who had lost limbs, saying, “Some of them were there for the rest of their lives. Family did not want to take care of them.”

Further, Moorcroft-Juslin learned that many of the soldiers had worked in the mechanical field, and that’s what she wanted to do. A job fixing equipment while serving her country? Perfect.

She scored high in a Navy application and was offered a job in the hull of a ship, as a boilermaker.

“I did not want to be down there,” Moorcroft-Juslin said. “It was not for me and I got seasick.”

Then she aced the Air Force application test and joined. Her mother gave her the cold shoulder for six months, unable to accept that her daughter had gone against her wishes. She eventually came around.

Moorcroft-Juslin moved to Laconia 24 years ago and retired as a school teacher. A friend had traveled on a New England Honor Flight exclusively for women a few years ago and told Moorcroft-Juslin to look into it.

She joined 59 men last Sunday. Guardians –sometimes an individual’s child – were assigned to each member of the group. Some older veterans sat in guardian-pushed wheelchairs. Some walked on their own, including Moorcroft-Juslin.

Her guardian was Jody Ducharme of Goffsfown. They spent a lot of time together.

“It was a privilege to be with the first women (from NH),” Ducharme, said. “When you think of the vets from World War II and Korea, of course you think of men, but we learned that women played a role as well.”

Ducharme had been a guardian before and felt the structure’s power. Not Moorcroft-Juslin, though.

She stood in awe at the memorial built in 1982. Two adjoining shiny black walls made of 72 panels, tapering from eight inches tall at each end to 10.1 feet at the apex, where the two sections meet.

Flowers, poems, boots, flags and notes are regularly placed on the ground at the base of the wall. Family members of those who died trace the names of their loved ones using paper and pencil.

Others, like Moorcroft-Juslin, the first female Vietnam veteran from New Hampshire, gently touch the letters. That was her era.

“Heart wrenching, quiet,” she said. “I cried a lot that day. Of course I did.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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