When Doris Allen boarded a plane for Long Binh, Vietnam in 1967, she flew with 228 men as the sole woman on board.
Landing in what would become the largest U.S. Army base outside of continental America, everyone headed to their destination except for Doris. She waited, and waited, for 10 hours until someone finally figured out where she was supposed to go.
This was highly irregular but what could possibly be regular in Vietnam. Yet, the story still shocked me. What would I do and how would I feel if this had been me? Neglected, ostracized, uncomfortable? I assumed the problem with Doris was that she was a woman.
Military women weren’t welcome in Vietnam except maybe if you were part of a medical team.
Photo credit Amazon: Long Binh, Vietnam in 1967
When Doris eventually connected with the men on her intelligence team, she made one thing clear: they would have to make room for her. Whatever the reason for the airport delay, Doris shared this story with the archivist for Westpoint’s Oral History Archives noting that she wasn’t intimidated.
For her, it was simply a lack of organization and not a gender or racial issue. As always, Doris believed these issues had nothing to do with her. They were someone else’s problem, not hers.
And feeling like she stood out in a crowd? Doris never worried about that either. She seemed to welcome the opportunity. However, as the only woman working in military intelligence in the Long Binh Operations Center, she had to earn the respect of her male peers. A few days into the job, someone had the nerve to smack her bottom but Doris quickly returned the hit warning the officer never to do that again.
I laughed when Doris recounted this story. It set the tone and Doris would work harder to convince her unit that a Black woman who had not come up the military school ranks could know a thing or two about military intelligence. Like her previous work, Doris was responsible for collecting reports about the movement of the Viet Cong, the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam and Cambodia.
In fact, she saw every report and realized there was a pattern not long into her new job. Doris started advising her supervisors of a potential large scale attack planned for January 31st in 1968, but no one would listen to her. During the Tet Offensive, the U.S. Army made one of the biggest intelligence mistakes of the war. The Viet Cong launched a surprise attack the on military and civilian control centers on the Tết holiday, the Vietnamese New Year. The attack shocked the U.S. government and thousands of people were massacred.
Photo credit: Wikipedia Cleaning up Long Binh Luong, Vietnam
The next year, when Doris spoke up again about a planned attack, she refused to leave the briefing room until someone listened and promised to test her theory.
Her captain sent out a few fire tests, and the secondary explosions from rockets planted around the perimeter confirmed she was right.
This intel saved many lives at Long Bend and Doris knew she had done her job.
Doris became so good at doing her job in Vietnam that the Army gave her the power to be Warrant Officer in military intelligence.
As a warrant officer, Doris worked in the translation branch and interviews Vietnamese maids and domestics to look for signals.
Proudly, Doris unmasked all kinds of plots including a group of women sending hidden signals when they flew kites.
Before the war ended, Doris admits she was aggressively assertive. The bombing and trauma had affected her tremendously and she developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s not something she shares easily and there are certain things that Doris’ can never revisit when she reflects back on her time in Vietnam.
Doris decided to release a book Three Days Past Yesterday: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Incredibility, where she talks about how women’s strength. It’s filled with prose and poetry, and how Doris survived Vietnam. Doris startles easily and is terrified when something goes off, but her dreams are the worst.
Even now, it’s become more important for Doris to avoid places where there are lots of people. Doris extols the virtues of her business saying we should all go about our business and not stress.
She keeps God in her life and jokes about being too wired to be tired and too blessed to be stressed.
Nothing seems impossible when I hear Doris share her idioms. Learning has been a lifelong endeavor. Even when she returned from Vietnam and moved to Fort Holabird, Maryland, Doris learned to be an interrogator and a counterintelligence officer at a Prisoner of War Camp (POW) before retiring in 1980.
Over time, Doris has become a private investigator and later, a psychologist in Oakland, CA. Returning to earn her doctoral degree, her resilience was tested again in a horrifying car accident in 1980. Writing a book kept Doris busy and hoping she could helping someone else suffering from PTSD.
At 92, Doris also continues to serve as a member of an advisory board on Veterans Coalition League, San Francisco. She’s adamant that labels are the blindfolds of our lives and if we just do good unto others, we cross lines and all of the divisive things in life become irrelevant. In this way, Doris continues to build a history that puts less emphasis on what the world thinks and complete faith on what we, as individuals, think.
This independent thought makes Doris one of the most interesting modern women we’ve found. She has always stayed true to herself. How many of us can say that when its easier to just acquiesce and go with the flow? It’s no surprise Doris has garnered 30 years of military service and three tours of Vietnam. She’s earned 3 bronze stars, the United Nations Service Medal and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.
But this is not what matters to Doris. She is proud of her accomplishments and both loves and forgives herself.