Death of a Donut Dollie – The Ginny Kirsch Murder
Tropic Lightning Academy - August 14, 1970
"A Bad Place To Be"


by: George F. Slook
Army, 4th Infantry Division, Pleiku & An Khe
© 2008

 

This is where it all began. The Tropic Lightning Academy was the entry point for all replacements to the 25th Infantry Division and its base camp at Cu Chi, Republic of Vietnam. New arrivals sat in bleacher seats and heard the somber words of seasoned veterans lecture on about what to expect. The Academy was situated within the confines of camp headquarters and had a view of the Donut Dollies billet. On this day, a sign was hung at the billet doorway that read “Welcome Virginia”, giving all assembled the name of someone they would like to meet. The orientation droned on! Everyone was anxious to meet Virginia. Finally, after hours of drilling details of division legend and lore, a petite young girl in a powder blue dress stepped to the front of the bleachers and was introduced by the Donut Dollie in-charge. “I would like you to meet our newest arrival – Miss Virginia Kirsch”. The new girl looked up at the assembled troops and simply said – “You can call me Ginny”.

Donut Dollie, Ginny Kirsch, 1970.

Ginny

Virginia (Ginny) Kirsch was born on December 2, 1948 in Erie, PA. She had four sisters and two brothers in her family. Her father was a co-owner of a men’s clothing store. Her mother was a high school English teacher. Ginny graduated from Brookfield High School in 1966 and from Miami University of Ohio in 1970. For a brief period, she taught English and Religion at Badin Senior High School in Hamilton, Ohio. In July of 1970, Ginny attended Red Cross training classes in Washington D.C. and arrived in Vietnam about two weeks later. After a brief period of orientation in Saigon, Ginny was ordered to report to the American Red Cross at Cu Chi.



The Donut Dollies
Red Cross Donut Dollie, Susan Mc Lean

Donut Dollies were American Red Cross volunteers who had heard the nation’s call to serve their country at a time of war. They were young women with college degrees from all across America. At the request of the military, the Red Cross sent teams of young women to Vietnam to operate Red Cross Recreation Centers and to conduct audience-participation programs for men stationed in isolated sections of the country. Approximately 280 thousand servicemen took part in these recreation programs. The women traveled 27,000 miles by jeep, truck, airplane and helicopter each month. Red Cross officials estimate that, during the seven years the program was in operation, the women logged over two million miles.

A Bad Place To Be

The experience of Vietnam always began with the plane ride. Upon sight of the South China Sea and the coastline of Vietnam, all aboard became noticeably quiet. The wisecracks and bravado of the American GIs quickly subsided. In its place, soldiers came face-to-face with the stark reality that destiny now controlled their lives. The stewardesses, so playful and carefree early on, sat sullen in their landing seats and contemplated the soldiers’ fate. They had given their all to help these young men endure the ever-so-long flight. “They are in God’s hands now. Please protect them and bring them home safe and sound.”

There are two things that one remembers when the plane door opens. The first is the sledge hammer impact of stale, hot air on your face and skin. The open door instantly sucks all the cool air out of the cabin. The second sensation arrives the moment you step down the metal stairs to the runway. “What is that awful smell?” You are escorted with haste through a billowing black cloud to the awaiting transport. The sight you see is equal to the smell. A Vietnamese worker (or a disciplined GI) is hauling a burning oil drum across the tarmac. A nearby latrine has recently been relived of its human waste, doused with JP4 jet fuel, and set ablaze. The pungent odor that permeates the nostrils and lungs is unforgettable to this day. Even without the war, Vietnam would be a dangerous place. The country is rife with snakes, spiders, mosquitoes, rats, and leeches. Its weather is either monsoon rain or dust bowl dry. The American GI quickly realizes that he doesn’t belong there. Even a Donut Dollie, emboldened with patriotism, has to question what the future holds.

Field Operations - August 15, 1970

Back in Cu Chi on the following day, Ginny and another girl headed out by helicopter to a Special Forces camp at a fire base near Katum. It was located within a few miles of the Cambodian border. It was Ginny’s first opportunity to do what she was there to do. She clowned around with the troops, posed for photographs and movie pictures, and generally made everyone just love her. She was in her element. It was an exhausting visit, but certainly a memorable one.

On the return flight to camp, the helicopter pilot received orders to visit an infantry platoon of the 25th Infantry on Nui Ba Den, (i.e. Black Virgin Mountain). At first, the troopers wanted no part of the fun and games that the girls had come to deliver. When the platoon leader in charge told Ginny that his men were not interested, Ginny asked the lieutenant to “just let her try”. After a quick hello and glow from her, the men were hooked. They welcomed her warmly and played her silly little games.

On the flight back to camp, the helicopter pilot asked her out for a date. She was caught off-guard with the unexpected attention. She was there for duty and country, not dates. But she did not want to rock the boat in her first week, so she nodded okay. They agreed to meet at the officers’ club that night. Ginny wondered what this unanticipated attention would do to her mission there.

Back In the World

In 1970, the United States military in Vietnam reflected an ever-changing mixture of soldiers rotating in and out of country. With designated tours of 12 or 13 months, there were thousands of GIs on the move every day. You would see green troops arriving and brown troops departing each day of the year. For an American soldier, there was never a good day to arrive or a bad day to leave.

With the composition of the military in a continual state of flux, the problems of America at home were quickly reflected as problems for the military in Vietnam. Civilians with problems at home now became soldiers with problems at war. It should be no surprise that everything bad about America could be found in Vietnam.

Although the Vietnam War was in its late stages by 1970, the war machine continued to require fresh recruits to meet its operational requirements. The first troop withdrawals began in July of 1969, with an announced withdrawal of 40,000 expected by Christmas 1970. There were a number of factors that affected the quality of the new recruits. First and foremost would be the seismic shift in sentiment about the righteousness of the war. In the latter half of 1969, hundreds of thousands participated in antiwar demonstrations across the United States. The fateful culmination of national protest was the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970. Ohio National Guardsmen fired on student protestors, killing four students and wounding nine others.

By the summer of 1970, there was little inclination for eligible military candidates to risk life and limb for what was, at best, a questionable cause. Inequities in the Selective Service System drove many of the best candidates to National Guard and Army Reserve enlistment. Many others fled to Canada. Some were coerced into enlistment by offers of favorable occupational specialties or training. All thoughts were to take whatever actions were necessary to avoid service in Vietnam. There were numerous reports of unethical recruiters offering enlistment deals that could not possibly be honored. Some recruits signed up for three-year Army enlistments in order to avoid jail time for petty crimes and misdemeanors. Others were promised occupational specialties for which they could not possibly qualify.

The US military in Vietnam was afflicted with all of the societal problems of America back home. Drug use in America had quickly evolved from recreational use to mainline addiction. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were premier performers at the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York in August of 1969. Marijuana and LSD were the refreshments of choice during those days. No one in attendance could have imagined that both Jimi and Janis would be dead of drug overdose by the end of the following year. Drug use, more than any other problem, had become a major destabilizing force to troop discipline and operational effectiveness in Vietnam.

Donut Dollies were not typical of the times. They were emboldened by Kennedy-era ideals about service to their country. They wanted to do something important. The Vietnam War was a noble cause fought by America’s noblest. What better place to make a difference in the world.

The Murder - August 16, 1970

The major was awakened with a shout. The enlisted man standing over him was frantic. “A Donut Dollie has been killed. An MP with a jeep will take you down to the morgue”.

The base camp was utter pandemonium. People were running. Lights were flashing. Sirens were blaring. Everything was moving much too fast. The girl’s name was Ginny. She had been in base camp only a day or two. How could this happen?

Official investigative reports of the homicide state that at approximately 3:50 AM, August 16 1970, an occupant of the American Red Cross billet observed a man run from the back door of Kirsch’s room. She entered Kirsch’s room and observed Kirsch on the floor with stab wounds to the throat, left side, left arm, and left finger. Kirsch was transported to the 25th Medical Battalion Dispensary and was pronounced dead from the stab wounds. She was not sexually molested. Kirsch’s remains were released to the 25th Infantry Division Graves Registration for medical examination.

There were two military policemen on duty at the time of the incident. One was on duty at a static post at the front gate to the billeting area. The other was on duty in the area and talking to the front gate guard when they observed a man force the rear gate of the billeting area open and escape. A US Army survival knife was found at the scene.

The witness at the scene described the fleeing subject as a male Caucasian, dark hair, 5’10”, 160 lbs., age approximately 23, wearing white t-shirt, white trousers, and a dark jacket.

The Suspects

Roger A. Christian

On November 4, 1970, Christian was administered a polygraph examination. He showed deception. He then verbally admitted to crime investigators that, on the morning of August 16, 1970, he was high on heroin and looking for a place to sleep. He walked into some billets, a dark room, and was surprised by the occupant. Christian said that he remembered stabbing a girl with a knife and left the room.

On November 9, 1970, Christian was charged with unpremeditated murder.

On January 17, 1971, the eye witness at the crime scene failed to identify Christian in a physical line-up at Ft. McPherson, Georgia.

On February 24, 1971, all charges were dismissed against Christian because of insufficient evidence and he was discharged from Army service.

Gregory W. Kozlowski

On the morning of August16, 1970, Kozlowski was found in possession of a tape recorder and camera which was stolen from the Red Cross billets between 1:00 – 3:50 AM that day. These items were the property of the witness at the crime scene who lived three doors from Ginny’s room. A few days later, Kozlowski became a murder suspect as well. On August 21, and again on August 25, Kozlowski was included in two line-ups. The eye witness failed to identify him in each of those lineups.

Shortly thereafter, Kozlowski was medically evacuated to Japan with a diagnosis of mental illness. While the Army's investigation was in progress, Kozlowski was placed on convalescent leave in the United States. He was granted immunity by the Commanding General, 25th Infantry Division, with respect to the larceny offense in order to provide possible information regarding the homicide.

On October 21, 1970, Kozlowski shot himself. After initial medical treatment, he was transferred to Letterman Army General Hospital, at the Presidio, San Francisco. Because there was evidence of mental illness, his case was referred to a medical board for psychiatric evaluation.

On January 9, 1971, this board determined that Kozlowski was unable to adhere to right and wrong at the time of the murder and, further, that he was unable to cooperate intelligently in his own defense. Because the latter finding precluded trial until he was able to cooperate in his defense and because the former effectively precluded conviction, the charges were dismissed by the convening authority. Meanwhile, further Army investigation had implicated Gregory Kozlowski in the Kirsch murder. On January17, 1971, the eye witness identified Kozlowski in a pictorial line-up as the person she saw leaving Kirsch’s room the morning of the murder.

A different medical board was convened to determine whether Kozlowski was fit to remain on active duty. It determined that he was not, and he was therefore placed on the Temporary Disabled Retired List and his medical records were transferred to the Veterans hospital at Wood, Wisconsin, where Kozlowski was sent for further inpatient care. The charges against Kozlowski were not dismissed because of any lack of evidence but rather because of his mental incompetence, both at the time of the incident and at the time charges were preferred. In view of the findings of the medical evaluation board, it was concluded that there was little else the Army could do with respect to Gregory Kozlowski.

The Dodge County Sheriff

Edwin E. Nehls

On June 8, 1972, Gregory Kozlowski was arrested for the murder of Kenneth A. Glasse, 21 years old, of Milwaukee. On June 19, he was charged with first degree murder and detained in Dodge County Jail under the jurisdiction of Sheriff Nehls. Later that evening, Kozlowski asked to speak with the sheriff on a matter of utmost urgency. Kozlowski admitted to the sheriff that he was guilty of another crime of homicide, the slaying of a Red Cross girl in Cu Chi, South Vietnam, on August 16, 1970.

Immediately after Kozlowski made the admission on June 19, the sheriff contacted military sources in Washington, who confirmed that on August 16, 1970, a Red Cross girl by the name of Virginia Kirsch had been stabbed to death in her bedroom at Cu Chi. Military sources revealed to the sheriff that no one had been convicted of the murder. However, they said they had suspects and that Kozlowski was a suspect in the Virginia Kirsch case. The sheriff informed the authorities that he had documented information in the Kirsch case, made by Kozlowski.

On September 6, military officials advised Sheriff Nehls that were closing the case, as they were convinced that Kozlowski was responsible for the death.

On September 19, Sheriff Nehls called Max Kirsch, father of Virginia Kirsch, in Brookfield, Ohio, and relayed the information to him. According to Mr. Kirsch, he had not been contacted by any other authority about the latest developments. The sheriff told Mr. Kirsch that he had held this vital information for the past three months and felt he had an obligation to advise Virginia Kirsch’s parents.

As regards the first degree murder charge in the Glasse case, Kozlowski entered a plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. He subsequently underwent several rounds of mental examination, the results of which indicated to the Court that Kozlowski was capable of standing trial on the murder charge. Kozlowski was ultimately found to be mentally ill. He has spent his entire adult life in mental health institutions within the State of Wisconsin.

After years of treatment and therapy, the psychiatric doctors deemed Kozlowski to no longer be a threat to either himself or others. On January 22, 2008, the Circuit Court granted Kozlowski a conditional release to a group home in Milwaukee. There has been no further information regarding his whereabouts since that date.

Tragedy or Travesty

Virginia (Ginny) Kirsch loved her country. Ginny was quoted by the American Red Cross in Saigon as having said “I felt that I could do something for the men over here and for my country.”

The wanton loss of human life is an unwelcome product of war. There are always unintended consequences of military conflict. For the most part, the military goes to extraordinary lengths to account for all such events. We are well aware of detailed investigations of alleged atrocities or friendly fire. So why is it that a 21-year old civilian woman can be brutally murdered at Division Headquarters, in a billet protected by armed guards, and no one is held accountable? It took two and a half months to identify one suspect while another suspect was permitted to leave the country shortly after the murder. Was the US Army in Vietnam in such disarray at that time that it just dropped the ball? Or was there more to it than that?

There is no indication that the American Red Cross pressed the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) to apprehend and prosecute Ginny’s killer. On the contrary, by all outward appearances, condolences were expressed, memorial services abroad and at home were held, and it was back to business as usual. If Ginny’s death had been an unfortunate accident, one could understand this response. But Ginny’s death was not an accident. It was murder! What was the organization’s responsibility to seek a full accounting of Ginny’s murder? How could this organization, in good conscience, continue to recruit, train, and send young women to Vietnam, knowing these women could not be adequately protected? What was their responsibility to the women who were already serving there?

George F. Slook, E-5
4th Infantry Division
Pleiku and An Khe
1969-1970

 

 

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