Know the Neighbors
Jan Moorehead
Jan Moorehead served in the American Red Cross during the Vietnam War, helping to support the troops in the combat zones.

During the Vietnam War, Orange County resident Jan Moorehead knew she needed to be working side–by–side with the troops. After applying with the American Red Cross, Jan headed to Vietnam in 1966, where she joined that era’s version of the famous Donut Dollies, whose job it was to provide a touch of home in the combat zone.

Assigned to the 3rd Marine Division in Da Nang, Jan and her fellow Donut Dollies spent time in hospitals, recreational centers and in the field, offering moral support and friendship to the troops.

From 1966 to 1969, Jan put herself in harm’s way on many occasions, but her dedication to the soldiers remained steadfast.

“We’d go places and get shot at,” Jan recalls, whose tour of duty took her to places like Bien Hoa with the 173rd Airborne, and Saigon. “Occasionally, something would blow up in front of us. One time, our plane was hit as we were landing, and we careened off the tarmac. In Saigon, shrapnel hit my apartment.”

In 1966, Jan found herself at the Da Nang Naval Hospital when three choppers of wounded had just arrived. That’s where she met a severely wounded Marine who’d lost his leg and sustained other serious injuries; he wasn’t expected to live. Jan kept vigil at his bedside for several days, talking to him and offering encouragement, even though he was unconscious.

“They told me he wasn’t going to make it, so they really weren’t doing much for him,” Jan recalled. “Eventually I got a response from him. He had a wife and a three–year–old at home. I helped him write a letter, and then I left him a note from me.”

Decades later in 1998, she received a call from the Red Cross in South Dakota. Not only had the wounded Marine survived, he remembered her and wanted to get in touch.

“He turned out to be a real inspiration to others with traumatic injuries,” Jan said. “We made the trip together to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall.”

After her time with the Red Cross, Jan worked for the USO, and went to Okinawa in December of 1969. Eventually, she moved to Orange County, becoming a probation officer and parole agent for several cities, including Santa Ana and Anaheim.

“I had a lot of vets on my caseloads suffering from post traumatic stress disorder,” said Jan, who decorated her handcuffs with blue butterflies and pink flowers.

Most years on Veteran’s Day, Jan travels to Washington, D.C. to mark the occasion. This year, she’ll be staying in town.

“I’ve kept in touch with a lot of the veterans we assisted in Vietnam,” Jan said. “My work there was truly the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Published in the Nov/Dec 2011 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Karen Anderson, Photograph by Jeanine Hill

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