A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

February 1999/March 1999

Tough Love: Doris "Lucki'' Allen in Vietnam

By Jim Belshaw

Lucki Allen anticipates the question, goes right to the heart of it. Doesn't dilly-dally along the way, doesn't beat around the bush. Just gets right to it before the question is asked, suggesting either prescience or the residue of many years of military intelligence work--or maybe a little of both.

"It's those three tours in Vietnam, isn't it?'' she says. "You want to know why I did three, don't you?''

The years catch the eye and the curiosity: U.S. Army Intelligence Operations, Long Binh-- October 1967-March 1970; Saigon--March 1970-September 1970.

Her answer is just as straightforward as the prescience.

"I was absolutely doing something that I thought was valuable,'' she said. "The work! The work! I was saving lives. But it wasn't so much a question of it being a war. It was more that I had a sense of purpose.''

Doris "Lucki'' Allen is 71 now, retired and living in Oakland, Calif. A VVA life member and thirty-year Army veteran, she served three Vietnam tours working in military intelligence. She came home to the U.S. as an instructor of Prisoner of War Interrogation at the Army Intelligence Center and School, Fort  Holabird, Md. She worked as a special agent with both Military Intelligence and the Defense Investigative Service until her retirement in 1980.

A month before she retired, a civilian friend called to ask if she wanted to join him as private investigator. She went to work as soon as she was discharged.

In her spare time, she earned a Ph.D. in psychology from the Wright Institute in Berkeley; and in 1997, at the dedication of the Women in Military Service for America (WIMSA) Memorial in Washington, the vice president of the United States made a point of saluting her.

She played a fair trumpet, too--which was how she learned her first lesson about being an African-American in the U.S. Army in 1950.

"I wanted to join the band, but they wouldn't allow blacks in the band then,'' she said. "They let us audition because they expected us to fail.''

Three black women auditioned that day, she said. At a pre-arranged signal from the conductor, the rest of the band stopped playing. The three black women, still following the conductor, continued to play by themselves.

"After it was all over, some of the band members came up to us and said she (the conductor) shouldn't have done that,'' Lucki said. "The first thing I thought was,'Aha, so this is it.' Well, I graduated from Tuskegee, and we were almost programmed that if something like that happened to you, you move right along. You let it register in your head, but if you get all mad about it, get all tied up inside about it, that's when you lose out. When you get angry inside, when you get all mean and bitter, you can't move forward anymore.''

She would be a corporal the next time she ran into a bias, but she doesn't think that one had anything to do with race. That one had to do with the other "problem'' she'd run into periodically throughout her Army career--she was a woman.

She'd just come back from Japan and was in California. In Japan, she'd been a lowly PFC, but she also was the only person in sight with a college degree, so the commander appointed her editor of the camp newspaper.

When she got to California, she assumed she'd edit the paper there, too. Her commander had something else in mind.

"The captain told me to empty the inkwells,'' she said. "I think it was more because I was a woman. He didn't want women there, and he didn't want me to be the editor of the newspaper. It was almost a mentality of women are not supposed to be in the military, especially in his office. I got upset, but I didn't ask questions until later. I didn't fold up my tent and go home. I'd been working too long. I knew my job. He could not just sit there and not let me do my job.''

Eventually, she would move her tent, though, and pitch it in other places. She went first to language school, then moved into intelligence work. In 1967, she volunteered for Vietnam.

She was confident she could do the work, but instilling that confidence in others came with built- in hurdles.

In A Piece of My Heart, a collection of stories recounting women's experiences in Vietnam, she said, "I guess the things that really stick about Vietnam is knowing you give them something and what you give is reliable and valid, but biases can creep through. There are a lot of things that they might have been biased about me with. I was a specialist as opposed to being a sergeant. I was black instead of being something else. I was enlisted instead of being an officer--especially in the milieu where there were only two enlisted people, and I was one of them. Being a WAC, whew! You know,'Women have no business over here, WACs especially. 'But sometimes you have to say,'I'm going to either keep doing it, or I'm going to get bitter, and I'm not going to even bother with this anymore.''

She kept doing it in Vietnam for three years. Presumably, someone was paying attention because her name showed up on captured enemy documents. It seemed she had become a known quantity, enough so to have a price put on her head.

Three times she either saw the documents herself or was told of their existence. The memory of the first brings a conspiratorial chuckle.

"The first time? The truth?'' she asks. "Here's what I thought: Hey! Hey! I'm important! Thank you, thank you! You know you have to kind of hold it in yourself. But my first thought? That was it. All right! I'm important.''

By the time the third occurrence rolled around, the merit-badge attraction had worn thin.

"The third time I saw it, I knew it was time to come home,'' she said.

Her memories of three years in Vietnam begin with one not quite as compelling as a hit list but in its own right, requiring some courage. Early on in her tour, a general walked into the office. His fly was open. None of the men wanted to tell him, so it fell to Lucki. The general, she said, thanked her. The other men simply glared.

Other memories are not so mundane.

When she pored over intelligence resource material in early 1968, just before Tet, she concluded that "we better get our stuff together,'' because something was going to happen. She wrote a report and walked it through the chain of command. She can only speculate on why it was dismissed, but Tet came and with it her suspicions were confirmed.

There would be other similar incidents, times when she saw something bad on the horizon and sounded the warning.

When intelligence suggested a high risk of ambush for an ammunition convoy scheduled to leave for Song Be, she dispatched a warning, identifying enemy locations and the possible site of the ambush. The convoy left in spite of the warning. When the ambush came, three men were killed, 19 wounded, and five trucks destroyed.

Two days later, when another convoy was scheduled, a colonel called her. He wanted to know if she thought it was all right to send out the convoy.

She can only speculate on why her reports might have lacked credibility in certain quarters. She wonders about a laundry list of potential biases--she was enlisted, black, and a woman. But in the end, none of it really mattered. She had only two choices, the same two she faced on so many other occasions--do the job or sink into bitterness and not do the job.

In 1969, around the time of her second Tet, she concluded that the intelligence coming in clearly indicated that the enemy was bringing in 122-millimeter rockets around Long Binh and camouflaging them near the installation.

Again, she started walking the information up the chain of command, and again, it was met with a lack of enthusiasm. She said it was the first time in Vietnam she cried. She was angry, frustrated, and no one would listen.

Then, for reasons she still doesn't know, a few rounds of "duster'' fire were sent out days later. The fire brought two secondary explosions. The next night more fire went into the area, resulting in four secondaries. The third night "they put out whatever they put out, and they got 117 secondary explosions up to a hundred feet high in the area that I was talking about.''

In spite of the frustrations and anger, when she looked back on the three years in Vietnam for the collective memoirs in A Piece of My Heart, she found something that she thinks could be produced only in the unique danger of a war.

"A lot of my time was spent really enjoying the camaraderie,'' she said. "There was a togetherness in Vietnam you wouldn't believe; most of the prejudices, for a while, went away. Even though blacks were into their black power salute and a few whites had their confederate flags and stuff, there was a togetherness that I think you can only get in times of peril, if I can use that term.''

She's taking life easy now, but still dabbles a bit in private investigative work. When she went to the dedication of the WIMSA Memorial in 1997, she ran into friends she hadn't seen since the war. They're planning a reunion soon.

"A bunch of us got together at the dedication,'' she said. "It was about thirteen of us, and it was a whooping great time. You don't get to see these people a lot, you know. I hadn't seen many of them since Vietnam. I don't miss a thing about Vietnam, but I miss them. That's the missing, that good feeling of friendship, the wonderment of it. You can't lose that. That doesn't go away. That's in your heart.''

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