Photo by Rick Watson.
0712 Jo and Bob Echols Vietnam Love Story
Homewood residents Jo and Bob Echols met in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Jo Echols wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life after she graduated from a college for women in South Carolina in 1969.
She’d heard about a Red Cross program where single women could join the Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO). She wanted to see Vietnam, so she joined the one-year program.
“We were affectionately known as the ‘Doughnut Dollies,’” she said. Their job was to lift the morale of the troops. The SRAO girls were stationed at An Khe and would take board games and other recreational items into the field to entertain the soldiers.
During one visit to a firebase, a friend introduced Jo to Bob Echols, a Pathfinder Commander in the Fourth Infantry Division of the Army.
“What attracted me to Bob was his sense of humor,” said Jo. “Anyone who can laugh under those circumstances is pretty special.”
The SRAO women were like rock stars to the troops out in the jungle, according to Bob. The Army scouted the flight paths each night before the women flew into the field to try and make it as safe as possible.
“These girls were great. They’d fly out to a firebase and entertain 100 troops with the war about 100 yards away,” said Bob.
They might have been the only American women the troops saw for months on end, so their visits were hugely important.
While Jo was in Vietnam, her older brother was wounded about 100 miles away, and she didn’t have a way to see him.
Bob quickly devised a plan for her to see him that involved a high-speed jeep ride through the country. Along the way, they came under fire. Bob remembered thinking, “I’m going to get court marshaled over this.” Jo smiled as she said, “I think he was more worried about getting in trouble than getting me killed.”
After the visit, the two returned at high speed to Bob’s firebase. Jo’s brother was not badly injured and recovered.
Jo’s tour in Vietnam was limited to one year, and she left before Bob, who served there for 18 months.
The two became good friends and wrote to each other after she left. She got a job in Atlanta, and when Bob left Vietnam, he was stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., for about a year. It was there that their relationship blossomed.
The Army transferred Bob to Bamburg, Germany. She went to Europe with the intention of working with the United Service Organization (USO), but that plan was derailed when they decided to elope.
It took several months to marry in Germany but only a matter of days in Switzerland, so that’s where they headed. They found a magistrate and tied the knot.
After Bob completed his West Point commitment with the Army, he decided to leave active duty. The couple wasn’t ready to come back to the States, so they traveled around Europe and North Africa for two years in a Volkswagen van.
When they did return to the U.S., Bob was accepted into the Cumberland School of Law, and they settled in Homewood, where they raised two children.
Bob practices law, and Jo worked for Xerox, the Homewood Park Board and with special education at Homewood High School, but now works at home.
Bob and Jo went to a Doughnut Dollies Reunion in Dallas a few years ago where they met two other couples who met in An Khe before marrying.
The Echols were lucky and made it through Vietnam just fine. “We’re not traumatized, we’re not insane and we don’t have post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Jo. Bob said his job in the Army was causing the other side to have PTSD.
It’s no mystery they ended up together. “I just love good-looking men in boots,” Jo said.