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Front line troops, deep in her heart

By Pat Christian

a version of this story appeared in the Sacramento Bee

   AN KHE, Vietnam When soldiers come out of the jungle hot, dirty and maybe a little depressed they need a friend just like Dixie Ferguson of Sacramento, Calif.
   The 23-year-old Red Cross volunteer is trying to boost morale of soldiers who visit her recreation center in Vietnam's Central Highlands.
  If she's not at the center serving doughnuts and punch to 1st Cavalry Division soldiers, she's bouncing down a dusty road in a Jeep on her way to a field hospital to pass out games or books.
   Dixie could also be headed to some remote forward observation outpost to visit lonely soldiers there.
    Visiting these remote posts are her favorite duties.
   "They work three or four men to a post and constantly face danger," Dixie says. 
   She hopes her visits bring these lonely soldiers a bit of home, and says she often sees appreciation in their eyes.
    Dixie has always liked working with  people. 
   After graduating in sociology from the University of California at Davis, she worked registering voters, and volunteered at night in area hospitals including the one at Travis Air Force Base.
    Reading the Sunday paper one day, she studied an article about the Red Cross needing volunteers to work in Vietnam and felt somehow they were looking for her.
   The next day she visited her local Red Cross chapter and turned in an application.
   She and the other volunteers attending the two week orientation in Washington D.C. and ate themselves silly.
   "We thought we would have to do without steaks and other goodies for the year we would be in Vietnam." she said. 
   "All of us stuffed ourselves during the two week as if each meal would be our last."
   Ironically, after arriving in Vietnam, one of her first meals was steak.
  "I was a little apprehensive about coming her," Dixie said. 
   "We all had heard about mortar attacks and camps being overrun." There were mortar attacks, but her base was never overrun.
   Asked about what she misses most being in Vietnam, she answered,  "paved roads and springs in cars."
   Dixie likes to travel, and says that when she completes her 12 month tour of duty, she plans to work as a social worker somewhere else in the world, perhaps with the Red Cross or other organizations.
   So it may turn out to be a while before she gets to travel those smooth, ribboned freeways of  California much.

a version of this story appeared in the Sacramento Bee

photograph of doughnut dolly
military/war/aerospace photography


© 1999 Pat Christian
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