J. Holley Watts

Holley Watts worked as a Donut Dolly (American Red Cross SRAO program) with the 1st and 3rd Marine Amphibious Forces from ’66 to ’67 in DaNang, Chu Lai, An Khe, and Cu Chi, Vietnam. Holley is the author of the sold-out book, “Who Knew?...Reflections on Vietnam.” She also co-wrote and narrated the Arrowhead Films documentary about Donut Dollies in the film “A Touch of Home: The Vietnam War’s Red Cross Girls," This was the First Prize winner for Short Documentary in the 2009 GI Film Festival. Holley was also interviewed by Scott Simon for the on Weekend Edition on NPR. To hear the interview you can search "Holley Watts" on the NPR home page or enter the following Internet address: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4625960

Click on the link below to hear Holley with music provided by Mike Simpson and Becky Glick from "Heart of the Matter" out of Harrisonburg, VA.

Holley, Live at the Writers' Tent


I noticed him waiting in line
wearing black leather like so many others that day.
The large book lay open under the thick glass
and he approached it cautiously.
Turning them slowly he paused,
his finger first moving down each page
… then finally across.
With shaking hand he copied numbers
on a slightly crumpled envelope.
I knew this was his first visit to The Wall
He looked so lost… and in such pain.
I touched his arm and asked if I could help.
He just showed me the paper, held tightly now
and I pointed to the other side of The Wall’s apex
… past the crowds filling the path in front of us
on this warm sunny Memorial Day.
I saw his eyes sweep the area—they were not the enemy-
but still he did not move.
As the crowd grew I took his calloused hand
and we walked together, his holding mine tightly
until we reached Panel 47W.
I didn’t show him how to leap-frog by tens
down the black granite-carved diamonds along the edge.
It was better to count each row.
35… 36… 37…
“There he is,” he whispered hoarsely
and touched one of the names etched before him.
We stood in silence
and he drew a ragged breath.
Struggling to open the envelope
he handed the typewritten tribute to me
saying only he didn’t think he could do it.
As I read I could feel people slow as they passed behind us.
It was unsigned and when I finished I handed it back to him.
We stood together in the sun, drenched in our pain.
I squeezed his hand and slowly moved away.
Oh, how I wish I’d hugged him…
for both of us.

Mind Games

It was an unrelenting conspiracy of the senses
swinging between overload and vacuum.
Some nights they swore they could hear Charlie breathe.
On others, they were so deafened by the artillery’s roar
they heard only a constant ringing in both ears.
This was a place they could choke on dust
or the pungent smell of their own uniform
while their feet and bunkers were mired in mud.
Jungle canopies and overgrown hills rising into the clouds
held temperature extremes that both melted and froze them on the same day.
The term “ground” was relative and always came in unexpected layers;
from elephant grass that didn’t look taller than them from above, but was
and the jungle so-called “floor” (that wasn’t) with its invisible ankle-height trip wires
to the newly-cleared paths above unseen tunnels that snaked for miles
housing enemy troops and even their hospitals.

In his diary he wrote that he just knew he was going to die one night
when the enemy crept by only a knife’s blade away.
To keep his teeth from chattering and expose him
he made a pact with God… and bit hard on his helmet strap.
He was absolutely ecstatic when morning came to the LZ
and he was still OK.
They were all OK.
But it was the sound of a chopper that confused him.
A dust-off? Had somebody been hit after all?
That’s when he looked up, wiped his eyes and pointed,
Angels! he yelled to the guys. Angels in blue!
I guess two of us Donut Dollies in blue uniforms stepping off that chopper
did stand out against all that grey mud and dust.

It was, he later said,
as if everything in the war changed from black and white… to color.

We were oblivious to his singular terror, just eager to help each connect with home…
Hey, How are ya? Where are ya from?
Philadelphia! came a shout from the center of a sandbagging pit.
I guessed aloud that it was more likely Conshohocken!
and to my surprise he confirmed the coincidence coming full circle to the gas station
where I’d once stopped for fuel… and he’d worked.
We left them with rubber band hand games, remember?
Stretched over pinkie and thumb
the idea was to release it by moving the fingers on the same hand just so,
but it was their facial and body contortions that made us all laugh…
We were still laughing as our chopper lifted off for the next LZ and we waved goodbye.
Goodbye to where the war was fought and the nightmares began.
Hello to all those dear nicknamed and anonymous faces we saw
that still raise questions after all these years like…

Did that kid make it home OK to Conshohocken?


My fingers touch your face
to trace the echoes of laughter around your eyes.
The light stubble of early evening
whispers gray upon your cheeks.

I see your eyes shift focus to Memory
and yop>u are gone, too quickly for me to follow.
I can only wait for your return,
pick up the pieces (there are always pieces),
and welcome you home.

Invisible scents, sights and sounds
spirit you away each time
compressing past into present.
While I fall prey to the speed of your leaving
I am also witness to your return.

My fingers touch your face
to trace the echoes of pain around your eyes
and we hold each other so close
even the memories can't get through.

Where Can I Find Them?

We volunteered to go to war.
Took games to the troops to make them smile
and were all the world like the girl next door
with a touch of home for a little while.
To base camps, hospitals and LZ’s
we’d float, we’d fly, we’d drive
and hoped, somehow, to remember them
would keep each one alive.
War showed us no such kindness
so to honor them instead
we carved their names in granite walls
to be remembered, touched and read.
when it’s SKEETER, DUTCH or BRO
whose real names we didn’t know
. Where can I find them on The Wall?
To match a name with the face we knew,
I played cribbage with THE COWBOY
but I can’t tell you who they were.
I just know that each one was.
They introduced themselves to us as
That’s how we see and hear them still
– just can’t find them anywhere.
Some rearranged their given names
or shortened them instead,
like SMITTY, FOX and BUD,
They talked about their favorite things;
CHIP’s girl, SLY’s dog, BUCK’s car.
If we had a roll call now
I couldn’t tell you who they are.
They went by MOS and size
I’d bridge that gap and ease my pain
if there were nicknames on The Wall.
It’s easy to remember
They’re locked inside my memory
and not going anywhere…
But I can’t reach out and touch their names
that I know are on The Wall.
You see, I never got to say goodbye, or
Welcome Home – that, most of all.