USO Performer, Bob Hope USO Tours
Vietnam War (1968 & 1969)
Not all people can claim to have been a part of history. Growing up in Southern California as the daughter of a store owning father and a stay-at-home mom, Deborah McFarland could not have known that she would one day be able to make that claim.
Deborah was born in Los Angeles in 1946 and spent her childhood in Southern California. After graduating from high school she began performing in the summer series, Dean Martin Presents The Golddiggers. The Golddiggers, which featured fresh-faced singers and dancers and a 1930′s, depression-era motif, was invited to join Bob Hope in his Vietnam USO Christmas Tour in 1968.
Deborah remembers her family being extremely supportive and encouraging of her going to Vietnam. It was an extraordinary opportunity, in which she would be able to travel the world and meet famous celebrities such as Ann Margret and Rosey Grier, all while serving her country. This opportunity could not be passed up, even though it meant spending time apart from her husband and young son.
The Tour travelled first to Midway, then Japan, Korea, and finally, Vietnam. Deborah remembers the soldiers’ astonishment in seeing The Golddiggers as they arrived in Korea. They were treated like queens. In fact, much of the tour did seem like a fun adventure. Because they were travelling with Bob Hope, the performers were not in great danger, and they were even given the opportunity to sight see while in southeast Asia. Deborah visited the Bridge on the River Kwai and the demilitarized zone of Korea. In addition to this she was able to fly a C131 plane and steer an aircraft carrier.
There were, however, many times in which the performers were reminded that they were in the middle of warzone. During one performance Deborah was able to see mortar fire from the stage. She later learned that the mortar fire was coming from the ten thousand Viet Cong soldiers that were trying to get into the base. Another somber part of the tour, one that Deborah claims to have been the toughest part of her service, was visiting the Japanese hospitals. The Golddiggers were told not to ask the wounded soldiers if they were okay; they weren’t. Instead they were to ask about the soldiers’ lives back home. In this way the soldiers would be able to remember that there was a world beyond the military camps to which they had become accustomed. She recalls seeing the soldiers, who were strong, stoical men, weeping as they sang Silent Night on Christmas. Even the exciting USO show couldn’t make them forget that they were away from their families at Christmastime.
The following year the Golddiggers were asked once again to join Bob Hope in Vietnam. They first travelled to Washington DC, where they had dinner with the president and performed for the entire cabinet. Next they flew to Germany, then Rome. In Rome they were given a whirlwind, one day tour of the historic city before they were whisked off to Naples, and then Turkey. Finally, they returned to Vietnam.
Deborah remembers a great difference between the Vietnam of 1968 and the Vietnam of 1969. Hearing of the war protests and mistreatment of veterans, the soldiers were no longer proud to be serving their country. The upbeat attitude of the first tour was gone. In the first show of 1969 Bob Hope announced to the soldiers that their president was proud of them, an announcement that was met with boos. Hope then angrily demanded that that cue card be removed. He was not in Vietnam to upset the soldiers, but to entertain them.
Deborah left the Golddiggers after the 1969 tour in order to spend more time with her family, since her constant travels had become a strain on them. She performed with Gene Kelly and Dean Martin before moving to San Rafael with her family.
Although she is no longer a part of The Golddiggers, Deborah’s life remains very much affected by her time with the show. She has kept in touch with several fellow performers though reunions and has even met a few people in Marin who also served in Vietnam. Two of these people include a knitting student who turned out to be a fellow Golddigger and a karate teacher who met Deborah while he was a soldier in Vietnam.
According to Deborah, each person she has met through the war has been in some way affected by their experience. When asked how she herself was changed by the war Deborah said that it taught her how to interact with people who are injured or traumatized. Her time in Vietnam gave her a more tender heart.
When asked what she thinks people should remember from the Vietnam War, Deborah said that people should remember that many of the soldiers did not choose to be in the war, they were ordered to be there. She thinks that too often people try to lump together all soldiers as “bad guys” when in reality they were simply following orders.
Interview by Valerie Cherbero on June 22, 2011.