As a newlywed in 1968, the last thing Jean Donaldson expected was for her husband of five months to come home from a trip to Salt Lake City with news that he was leaving college to join the U.S. Marine Corps. She was five months pregnant with their first child (who happens to be Loudmouth’s own Amy Donaldson) when he enlisted, and she delivered their second child as he slept in field in Vietnam on Christmas Eve 1969.
She talks about how the Marines gave her husband, Dan, purpose and direction, as he’d struggled most of his life with losing his father at age 13. She talks about how she found out he’d been wounded, and what it was like to work with veterans when she became a community mental health specialist in her 50s.
Check out this article that Amy wrote for the Deseret News about running with her Mom: https://www.deseret.com/2016/10/23/20598898/amy-donaldson-running-ragnar-hawaii-with-my-69-year-old-mother-offers-lessons-in-perseverance#a-post-race-selfie-with-from-left-to-right-my-mom-jean-donaldson-69-sisters-michelyn-pylilo-46-and-loralee-faucheux-38-and-amy-donaldson-48
And check out this episode of We Happy Few with Dan Donaldson:
Jean Donaldson: [00:00:00] My name is Jean Donaldson. I live in Soldotna, Alaska, and my husband is, Dan Donaldson. He served in the United States Marine Corps from, I'm trying to think, 1968 to 1971. Oh, okay. He was a second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served in Vietnam.
Jason Comstock: [00:00:26] Where were you guys living when he first joined the Marine Corps?
Jean Donaldson: [00:00:31] We had just gotten married and he, we were going to school. He was going to school in Logan, at Utah state. And, we had been married about Oh, five months, and he went into the, wherever they have to go with, with to, yearly. Check in or whatever. He had just went down to salt Lake to see about, I don't even know, can't even remember what it's called now. the civil service that they had to go and check in. And he said he talked to a recruiter there and he was really impressed with him and he decided that he needed to join the Marine Corps. And so, he joined the Marine Corps and then he came home and told me that he had joined the Marine Corps.
Jason Comstock: [00:01:17] Had, had you guys had any discussions about him joining the military at all before that happened?
Jean Donaldson: [00:01:23] Oh, yeah. We had, because it was a big deal, selective service. you could, you would not have to go into the military if you were in the, in school and, you could get a deferment if your wife was pregnant.
And we were in school and I was pregnant, and so, we didn't have to go. Yeah. This was something that he'd always wanted. His uncle had been a Marine, so that was always very, he always wanted to do that.
Jason Comstock: [00:01:49] What was the attitude of the, I guess, the, the country at this time when he joined?
Jean Donaldson: [00:01:56] Well, it was. It was kind of, mixed at that time. Of course, I came from the real, you know, pro American. We do. We thought the war was, you know, we were supposed to be there, but we were in Utah, so, and we, we believed in what they told us. We, we thought that that's what we should be doing, was serving our country.
And he wanted to serve his country.
Jason Comstock: [00:02:25] So what was your response when he came
Jean Donaldson: [00:02:27] home? I said, you don't have to go in. You didn't have to sign up. Well, I know, but I felt like I should. I said, well, you know, you're in school. I'm pregnant. You don't have to go in. But you know, he was quite happy to be going. So
Jason Comstock: [00:02:45] how long after he had signed up, did he leave.
Jean Donaldson: [00:02:49] It was probably, well, he left in June and we got married in August and he left in June the next year, June to go into the, to go to boot camp and I was about seven months pregnant when he went to boot camp. He left in June to go to San Diego.
Jason Comstock: [00:03:15] How do you cope with, with suddenly being alone? What did you do?
Jean Donaldson: [00:03:20] I went and stayed with my mom. I went back home to Heber City and, and stayed with my mother, so I wasn't left alone. I was happy to be back home with my mother. I was really homesick for my mother, so that was okay. and he, right he went in was sworn in.
I drove him. I drove him there. I drove him to the. To the airport where he was, where he got on the plane, and then I went back home. Just the wait for a man. We figured that he figured that he would be, when you finished bootcamp that he would be probably right over to Vietnam because it was, he went, is in as enlisted. He was a junior in college when he left. And so, When I had, I had Amy in August, and he, the day I had the day I came home from the hospital, he graduated from boot camp. And, he was very excited about graduating from bootcamp. He was so happy and that's all he could talk about. And. My aunt was very upset that he didn't even ask how I was. Nothing about the new baby, but how excited he was because it was quite a dif. I think it was much different than it is now when you go in bootcamp, the bootcamp that he went through, but he was waiting, you know, he was waiting to go to Vietnam at that point.
Jason Comstock: [00:04:47] So let me ask this, why stick it out? I mean, you've only not even been married for a year by the, when he leaves. Why, why stick it out?
Jean Donaldson: [00:04:57] Well, we did, you just didn't have a choice back then. That's what you did. I mean, and basically I think he, I'm trying to think when, I think we got $425 or $400 a month. That's what we got. As, as our, you know, payment for him being in there, which, was good at that time for us. I mean, I was staying with my mom. I didn't have to pay, I had to pay $25 for my first child, so there were some benefits. But, his big deal was that he was so excited to get to Vietnam and, then when he, after a couple of months, they just kept holding him back from going over. He found out that he could, become an officer. Can't I, it wasn't argument. I can't think of what the term that they called it, but so then he went to Quantico, Virginia to officer's training school that March, he came home the first time he came back and saw Amy was when she was four months old. She was a, it was in December with Christmas time, and he came home and she did not like him at all.
Jason Comstock: [00:06:13] So basic training obviously is not the same as combat, but it still can have a great impact on somebody. Did you see a difference in him?
Jean Donaldson: [00:06:21] Oh yes. Yes, completely. He was, he was, his father died when he was 13 and he was this kind of rather less, I guess. I mean, he, he just didn't really have a, and the Marine Corps really gave him, it gave him some structure that he had not had, you know, so he, and he, and he loved it.
He didn't like, apparently he spent a lot of time in the pit. He would have to do lots of pushups,
Jason Comstock: [00:06:54] What is the pit?
Jean Donaldson: [00:06:57] But I guess when they got in trouble or they did something, they had to go to lots of work. I don't know. It was, it was quite interesting listening to some of his stories about this. So in, in, in March, I went back to Virginia and we went through a Well, he had, he graduated from OCS and then they had their training that they had to do before they completed there, before they could go anywhere. So we were in Virginia from, from March until about the next August, about August, from March to August, like three or three months of training. I think he had three or four months of training. After he became a second Lieutenant. and that was interesting.
I, Dan, Dan does not like to, you know, he's always late, you know, so getting to, getting there on time was quite a one story. He, that I will tell you that he came home and he said, ah. My captain is going to call you. You have to pretend like you don't like it here is it? What are you talking about? He said, well, he asked me why I was always late, and I said, sir, it's my wife. She's not happy here. So I, I said, Oh, okay.
So, they were, the wives were quite nice to meet there. And at Quantico.
Jason Comstock: [00:08:29] So, now still one child at this point.
Jean Donaldson: [00:08:34] I still, I still, yes, but, but I did get pregnant with Mikey. So then we went to, we went from Virginia to, sent, to, he went back to San Diego. We went to, we lived in San Clemente and he went to camp Pendleton.
Jason Comstock: [00:08:50] Okay.
Jean Donaldson: [00:08:52] And, So that took us a month and we were in San Clemente for a month, and then he got his orders to go to Vietnam and
Jason Comstock: [00:09:02] had had the just had the atmosphere in the country or what you were hearing about the war changed at all at this point?
Jean Donaldson: [00:09:10] it was getting, it was getting more anti, you know, there was still a lot of, you know, I think that the. That we still, that there was a lot more anti, war parades and things going on. but we still were basically supportive of, I mean, we, we were just kind of in our little bubble and he was in his bubble and he actually wanted, he said he's quite a good writer. He wanted to write about it, you know.
He said, I just feel like I need to go there and and see what's going on and learn about it. So I came back to, I came back to Heber, stayed with my mom again, and he went to Vietnam. He left in, I'm thinking he left in October sometime to go to Vietnam. and Michelyn was born in December, and I went to. To the same hospital in Provo that I'd had Amy 16 months later. And, I had the same nurse, the same doctor, and I said to the nurse, I really do have a husband. I will bring his picture next time. So I had my first two children with when he was in the military, but, he, she was born on Christmas Eve.
And his story is that he was out on a firefight and. it came, they whispered it across the radio that he had an, a new daughter and mother and daughter were doing fine.
Jason Comstock: [00:10:47] What was your ability to communicate with him?
Jean Donaldson: [00:10:51] You know, it, it was, it was basically letters. I think I had, I don't think I had, I may have had one call from over there. I think it was when he was in the hospital over there. When he was injured, but basically it was letters. I know that because when before he left to go to Vietnam, he said, I don't care what we have, boy or girl, I want it named Michael. And I said, okay. So when she was born, she was born at Christmas Eve, so I named her Holly, and I said, we called her Holly for a whole month.
It took about three weeks to get a letter. From him. And he said, she's not a bush, we're not naming her Holly. My mother said, well, let's name her Michelyn, and like your friend Michelyn. And so I called up Michelyn and I said, Michelyn, and how do you spell your name? So now she's Mikey.
Jason Comstock: [00:11:50] What was, obviously you just had a baby, but what was that? Do you have any memories of that Christmas? Obviously with knowing that you know, your husband's. In war, who knows what he's facing at that moment. But what do you remember about that Christmas?
Jean Donaldson: [00:12:06] My mother had, my father served in world war II in the Navy, and so my mother had a lot of memories from when she was a wife of the veteran.
And when I, when she went home, after I had Mikey on Christmas Eve, my mother went home. And, She told me she woke up, Amy woke up and Amy was like 16 months old. So she had Christmas with her and that was very hard on her cause she, it brought back lots of memories for her of being, being there with, she said I loved having her, but it was, it was sad for her.
I was just happy to not have to have another baby.
Jason Comstock: [00:12:52] When he did get injured, what did, how did you find out about that then, and what kind of, what were you thinking when that happened?
Jean Donaldson: [00:12:59] well, you know, you just go on, you know, you write your letters back and forth, and, I mean, Heber City was as much smaller town when I grew up in it.
And, I had It was, it was strange because I had had a real strange feeling the whole day before and that day. And, I had gone with my two little girls up town and my, my aunt, my aunt Mabel, who always came over every Thursday she came to my house, she was at my house, had when I pulled into the driveway, I could see that there was a car there that I didn't know. And when, When I pulled in the driveway, she came out and got my, my children, my two little girls, and she said, there's somebody in there that wants to talk to you. And so I walked in and there was the Marine Corps official, and I just didn't the, I mean, you just don't even know what to do.
You just look at him and he said, Oh, it's okay. He's not yet. But he had just been injured and I said, Oh, okay. You know, and it was. It was quite a relief, but because it was, Heber was such a small town, the next day it was all over town that my husband had been killed in Vietnam and I had people calling and I said, no, he's, he's just been injured.
He's, it's not dead
Jason Comstock: [00:14:24] Because you just have this information. "It's okay, he's not dead." How do you, how do you process that? How do you, because it's going to be a while, obviously before you hear anything else.
Jean Donaldson: [00:14:35] Well, you know, you just, you go with what you've, you've known in your life. And, my friend's grandfather, Guy Duke had lived across the street from us and he had in world war one had had his arm, you know, so that he couldn't use his arm. It just was there, hung there, but he'd have to move up. And so they said he had injured his arm. And so that's what I, that's the only thing that I had to relate to. And I'm thinking, will he be able to use it? What, you know, how bad is it? So you just kind of have to just, you just worry that it's going to be, you know, something not so serious that, you know, will affect that in a bad way
Jason Comstock: [00:15:17] Does he come home as a result of the injury?
Jean Donaldson: [00:15:20] No, he, he did not. He was, I don't know how long he was in the hospital, but I think fairly soon after that they moved his whole battalion out or his whole. I think he was, I'm not sure if he went over there with the 26th Marines, but I think he was with another group then.
But he became, they moved them to Okinawa and, he became the career planner on Okinawa.
Jason Comstock: [00:15:45] Is his war in Vietnam done at this point?
Jean Donaldson: [00:15:50] Yes. Yeah, because he was pretty close to coming home. So he stayed in Okinawa for a few months and then he came home.
Jason Comstock: [00:16:00] So, what do you notice when he comes home?
Jean Donaldson: [00:16:04] Completely different. Completely different. He, he was all right. You know, he was much, and I'm not even sure how to put it into words, but he had a lot of anger issues. That, just from growing up, just from things that had happened to him that, that he didn't handle as well. But after going to Vietnam, he was actually much better.
When he came back, he had people that he talked to there. it was, it was not an experience that he, he loved the camaraderie. He loved, he, he felt a part of something, I guess. Edit, gave him a lot of confidence that he didn't have, I guess. I don't know. I don't know what the change, but he, he, he was different.
Jason Comstock: [00:16:53] Now I know with a lot of Vietnam veterans and unfortunately just because of the situation and the support that they got, they don't always go and seek help. Did he ever go and seek help that he need to seek help?
Jean Donaldson: [00:17:06] No, he never, he never, he never got help. He, He actually had a pretty good, Mmm. I mean he said to me at one time, there was a time in our life when, when towards, I think in the 70s he said, I don't even want to tell people that I'm, that I went to Vietnam, because every person that's crazy that goes in the tower and shoots people, they're a Vietnam vet and they're suffering and whatever, and so he said, I just don't even, you know, at this point, I only want to do. I don't mean want to tell people I was there. So
Jason Comstock: [00:17:41] did he struggle, I guess then as a result of, of some of the things that he witnessed and participated in?
Jean Donaldson: [00:17:49] No, he was actually, when he said to me, you know, if I thought about everything that happened or everything that went on over there that I experienced, he said, I, I wouldn't be able to function.
He said, you have to know that this is, you know, it's a war. You do things. He said, we didn't suffer anymore in Vietnam than they did in world war two or any of the wars. He said, war is war. And he said, I don't think he felt like a lot of times, the drugs they used over there maybe were maybe had some impact on some of the impact that they had, but he said, I feel like. we didn't have it any worse than they did in Korea or that they did in Vietnam as they did in world war II. He said it, and I know that everyone that I know that went to war, came back and didn't talk about it much like in my hometown. I had two people that I knew that were world war one actually, and they just didn't even talk about their experiences.
They, they didn't want to, my dad never said anything about it. The war. I mean, it was just something we didn't, they didn't talk about. It was an experience they had and they learn. And, but I think they were able to compartmentalize it differently. I don't know.
Jason Comstock: [00:19:15] So now, in your work, if you could tell us a little bit about what you do as far as, working with veterans at times.
Jean Donaldson: [00:19:22] I decided to go back to school when I was like 52. I went back, Because I wanted to finish my, to get a degree and I, I actually wanted to go into counseling. And so that's what I did. And, I had to, I had to do some internships and one of the internships I got was with the vets here on the Kenai peninsula. And, I worked with, a vet Jerry Books, and he said, well, I think it will work here. I think you can come here because. You bet your husband's a vet because a vet did not like to talk about anything, you know, if you didn't understand what they were going through. So, but, I was very well received. They said, you know, cause Jerry said, you know, her husband was in Vietnam and she, they were married when he was in Vietnam. So I kind of was led into the society, I guess.
Jason Comstock: [00:20:15] Did you, do you feel like that gave you kind of a, maybe a, I don't know, kind of an inside view of, of what some of these veterans might be struggling with.
Jean Donaldson: [00:20:26] Yeah. In many ways it did. Yeah. And, and looking at their histories, I know that a lot of, cause basically he had, over here, he had more Vietnam vets. He had one world war II that, ah, but they were mainly the vets from the Vietnam war. And. What was interesting to me was that a lot of these vets had a lot of, in their, in their history, they had a lot of violence in their families.
They had a lot of things that they carried with them when they went into the war. And that exacerbated what they had to, you know, either it kind of, they say, make or break you. And a lot of times it broke them to go into the war and they didn't, you know, they didn't, didn't want to be around people.
They did. And what was interesting to me was, Dan was a state trooper and, he had one vet that would cause havoc for everybody. Nobody wanted to go out. And when he'd go off, the only person that could really reach him was Dan. He would talk to him and, and you know, they just had that camaraderie or whatever it is that they were, they respected each other.
Post traumatic stress is a real thing. And it happened. We, I think we, we don't look at it the same as they used to look at it. everybody has, post traumatic stress. If you've been in a stressful situation, you're going to have some, you know, anxieties after that, you know, when my mother, my mother who could sing very well, she was a country Western singer, and she would go down to the Utah, The vet's hospital in Utah, and she would sing for them when they would have these things, and they called it shell shock back then because these guys couldn't, they wouldn't talk or, you know, she could get them to sing into music. Just brought that out in that she could, they would wait for her to come.
They would, you know, they loved having her come to entertain them and they would, some people hadn't talked, would talk to her. We don't have, we don't call it shell shock anymore. So it was interesting to see how they've changed the parameters of what is, post traumatic stress disorder.
And I think it's different. I think that it's different. Military post traumatic stress disorder is different than me not wanting to get on icy roads because I broke my neck in an accident. But you're still anxious. You still have those fears. But post traumatic stress as they've changed, even since I worked with the vets, they've changed the way they look at it now they don't necessarily talk about it as much as they do something about it. They move it. Movement helps.
Jason Comstock: [00:23:19] How do your, how do you think your children feel about Dan service?
Jean Donaldson: [00:23:24] I think they're very proud of him. I think that it has given them. they're very patriotic. I think all of them are very patriotic.
And, one of my daughters married a young man and, he too kind of grew up without a dad. She said, well, you know, if I'm going to marry, you have to go into the Marine Corps. Cause that's where my dad went. So he did, he joined the Marine Corps and basically it was good for him because I saw in him the same thing.
He had, it was like, you have now something that you belong to. You have a, a group. And, now when his son went into the military, he said, I want you to go, if you're going to go and go to the air force because the Marines fight,
Jason Comstock: [00:24:13] what advice would you give to a. Maybe a young spouse now, it could be, a husband or a wife whose, whose spouse had just joined the military and was getting ready to take off too. You know, who knows where, what, what advice would you give to them?
Jean Donaldson: [00:24:30] I, you know, I'm, I'm too old to give advice because I know that it's, everyone's, everyone is different. Every, every situation is different. But I think the one thing that, I think having a good, spiritual relationship with your heavenly father, I think having, being able to trust and believe it's going to be hard, but there are things that you will, that you will go through that you don't like going through at the time, but will be a great benefit to you as you raise your family.
As you grow. It's, it's very hard to be apart. I think, I think, I don't know if it's easier or harder where you get to talk to him every day, or you can talk to him all the time. Sometimes that is, everything is a, there's a negative and a positive to everything. So I, you know, I just think you just be kind, be loving, be hopeful, keep a sense of humor.