During the Vietnam War, Orange County resident Jan Moorehead knew she needed to be working sidebyside with the troops. After applying with the American Red Cross, Jan headed to Vietnam in 1966, where she joined that eras 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 harms way on many occasions, but her dedication to the soldiers remained steadfast.
Wed 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. Thats where she met a severely wounded Marine whod lost his leg and sustained other serious injuries; he wasnt 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 wasnt going to make it, so they really werent doing much for him, Jan recalled. Eventually I got a response from him. He had a wife and a threeyearold 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 Veterans 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 Veterans Day, Jan travels to Washington, D.C. to mark the occasion. This year, shell be staying in town.
Ive kept in touch with a lot of the veterans we assisted in Vietnam, Jan said. My work there was truly the most meaningful thing Ive 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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