Rene Johnson was born August 15, 1946 in South Carolina, where her father was serving on a military base. She is a 5th generation Floridian though, and that is where she presently lives. Her father was a World War Two veteran who stayed in the military after the war, and he was based in West Germany for part of the 1950s, and that is where Rene spent some of her early years. Given her exposure to military matters, Rene was well aware of the Cold War, and she had known from an early age that she wanted to go to Vietnam, or Indochina as it was once known. The 1960s saw considerable protest, and Rene remembers running into this on campus, something which further pushed her to want to go to Vietnam to seek out the truth. And it was at this time that a friend told her about the Red Cross program, prompting Rene to decide to become a Donut Dolly. It would be her job to support the troops in Vietnam, doing everything from running programs and games to serving meals to just listening as the soldiers unburdened themselves. Rene returned to the United States to find a very divided country where she struggled to find herself, so she opted to return to Vietnam for a second tour. There too she found disappointment, seeing how the nature of the war had impacted the American soldiers and the Vietnamese civilians. She notes that while PTSD was not well understood at that time, she was certainly suffering from it; a return trip to Vietnam almost fifty years later did help her to find a kind of peace. Rene met over zoom with Crestwood students alongside Vietnam veteran Ray Amelio, whose story can also be found here. We thank the Veterans’ Breakfast Club for facilitating this discussion.
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