—the Donut Dolly
—and the Three Legged Cat
By Raymond Caryl, Catkiller 32/42
Marble Mountain was a shared airfield between US Marine and Army aviation units. The dominant unit on the Army side was the 282nd Assault Helicopter Company, the Black Cats. The company logo was a black cat with yellow eyes and three visible legs. Allegedly, the three-legged cat represented good luck. The three lift platoons all had the black cat inside a yellow circle painted on the nose of each helicopter. The gun platoon had a clever variant: A scruffy, grimacing, pale green three–legged cat with patches of fur missing, a chunk out of one ear and a bandaged tail. It was holding a firing mini-gun under its raised front leg. They went by the moniker Alley Cat—good choice. When they were ready to depart on a mission, you´d hear something like this: "Marble Tower, Alley Cat 22, flight of two, ready to lift from the litter box for a North departure." Clever. Most of the 282nd pilots were young Warrant Officers. They were aggressive, competent, professionals in flight and always ready to party when on the ground. Among the company Commissioned Officers was a tall, handsome, black Captain who was one of the unit platoon leaders. We´ll come back to him in a moment.
The CatKillers were represented by the Third Platoon, and as such we had to rely on the 282nd for billeting, meals and most importantly, the Black Cat "O" Club for a real poker table, juke box filled with current popular songs, live entertainment and a bar. The "O" Club was always well occupied every evening and the booze flowed freely. The entrance to the club consisted of a full outside door, a short entry area and actual swinging "wild west" doors that opened into a well appointed interior with a stage and simple but more than adequate bar. Inlaid in the floor just inside the swinging doors was a large yellow circle and a large, black, three–legged Cat, the unit logo. It was placed intentionally so that as you walked through the swinging doors, you had to step to your left or right to avoid stepping on the Cat. If you stepped straight ahead, you would step on the Cat. If you stepped on the Cat, you got to "buy the bar." That meant that you got to buy EVERYONE who was in the club a drink. Even at .50 cents a drink, that could be expensive when the club was full of pilots—and it usually was. We will return to the 282nd "O" Club and the Cat on the floor shortly.
All the troops in Vietnam were occasionally blessed with a visit from gals someone dubbed "Donut Dollies." These ladies were young women from back in the United States who volunteered under the auspices of the Red Cross to come to Vietnam and spend time with the troops. They would show up unannounced and bring a slice of home with them—playing cards, smiling, laughing, and sometimes just listening to lonesome young men a long way from home. These gals were like your sister or maybe even your mom—good listeners, always smiling and in good cheer even though their hearts may have been breaking for the guys they were trying to cheer up. Some were cute, some were pretty, but they ALL were "ROUND EYES"—and THAT made them BEAUTIFUL! They were also dedicated, patriotic Americans who in their own right were heroes.
One fall afternoon in 1967, several Donut Dollies graced the 282nd and by default, the Third Platoon of the 220th CatKillers at Marble Mountain Airfield with their presence. They were of course accompanied by several Field Grade officers and the usual company grade straphangers. Everyone was in high spirits and smiles and laughter swirled around them like a heavy perfume. Noticeable (and notable) among the young ladies was a tall, statuesque, drop-dead GORGEOUS black gal. She had a million dollar smile, all the right curves in all the right places and quite rightly seemed to be the absolute center of attention for everyone—especially the tall, handsome black captain from the 282nd. Later that afternoon, after the Black Cat "O" Club opened, the beautiful young lady reappeared on the arm of the black captain—who at that moment became known to the rest of us as "Captain Wonderful" as we skulked around in a state of absolute depression and envy at his good fortune. Of course, he didn´t help matters much by parading her in front of us, obviously HIS date, as we silently envisioned ways to eliminate him and steal away with the prize—ah, but happiness verging on a state of ecstasy has its price.
After strolling with his "date" around the company area for all to see, Captain Wonderful steered her toward the Black Cat "O" Club. No doubt to ply her with liquor and attempt a conquest—at least most of us were convinced THAT was his intent. Hell, THAT´S what we would have done. I was already inside, sitting at the bar, so was witness to the following events as they occurred:
Captain Wonderful, being an officer AND a gentleman, gallantly held the outside door of the "O" Club open for his lady and even moved forward with great élan to push the swinging doors open for her. A Grand Entrance was in the making for Captain Wonderful and his prize. And then, IT happened.
The beautiful Donut Dolly strode straight ahead, chin high, lovely smile upon her face, THE center of attention with the proud Captain Wonderful right behind. In a heartbeat, Captain Wonderful suddenly realized what was about to happen: SHE WAS GONNA STEP RIGHT ON THE CAT!—and the "O" Club was PACKED!
Pilots, good ones at least, have pretty good reflexes, and those of Captain Wonderful were exemplary. Without hesitation—and without, I´m sure, conscious thought—he reacted automatically, much like he would have had the engine failed in his Huey—he reached out with is free hand and VIOLENTLY yanked his Donut Dolly back! Two things then happened simultaneously:
1. The Donut Dolly, thinking she was being assaulted, quickly pulled her arm loose from Captain Wonderful´s grasp and gave him a look that would strike any mere mortal dead.An incredible cheer arose from everyone inside the "O" Club. Not only were we ALL going to get a free drink, compliments of the now hapless and completely deflated Captain Wonderful, we–the unwashed masses–got our revenge: If WE couldn´t have her, HE wasn´t going to get her either! Combat does strange things to young men—especially when you toss a beautiful woman into the mix.
2. She stepped on the Cat.