Doughnut girl sugared troops 50 years ago

May 09, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

Katharine Heuisler was getting driving lessons at Windsor Castle exactly 50 years ago this month.

The Allied invasion of France was less than a month away and she was a Red Cross worker behind the wheel of a huge General Motors six-wheeler, a doughnut truck, one specially made to bring crullers and coffee to the troops fighting in World War II.

Today she recounts those days as she sits in her North Baltimore apartment. One large scrap book is filled with the letters signed "Kassy" that she wrote to her family. The other book is a photo album, the black-and-white record of her years as what was then called a doughnut girl.

Her memory of the events, the telephone calls, the people and the places is always precise and detailed.

"It was Pearl Harbor Sunday. I was at the bowling alley of the Baltimore Country Club. The pin setter had the radio on. He ran out to tell us of the bombing. The men in the National Guard tore off . . . I knew right there I had to do something," she said.

She joined the Red Cross and drove in its motor pool at night, often going from Baltimore to Perry Point in Cecil County. By day she worked on radio transmitters at the Bendix assembly line in Towson.

In peacetime, she had worked renting apartments for Piper & Hill, a Mount Vernon real estate firm. She lived with her widowed mother and brother at the northeast corner of St. Alban's Way and Charles Street.

"It was a couple days before Christmas in 1942. I got a call at the plant. I was sure my mother had died. Only emergency calls came through. It was the Red Cross. They wanted 10 volunteers. I didn't tell my family, but that Sunday, it was in the papers. My brother Stanley read the article and called out, 'What's this about you going overseas?' "

She sailed out of New York harbor May 7, 1943, on the Queen Elizabeth, which had been converted into a troop ship. She recalls it held 18,000 troops on the 4 1/2 -day crossing.

She sums up her assignment in a six-word sentence: "I was doughnut from day one."

The Queen Elizabeth landed at Scotland. At first the Red Cross got a local baker to make the doughnuts. The women went out and greeted the arriving troop ships and handed out the doughnuts and coffee as kilted pipers played.

L "It amazed me how many Baltimoreans I'd run into," she said.

She had a little time to play some golf at Greenock and St. Andrew's, but was soon in England on a clubmobile, the mobile doughnut-making and -dispensing wagon she drove for the next two years-plus. If necessary, her Red Cross clubmobile could have been converted into a large ambulance.

"We had driving lessons and lessons on how to change a tire. One day one of the girls leading our group went down Oxford Street in London the wrong way. Even the policemen were laughing at us," she said.

While on the road the Red Cross workers pitched pup tents, dug latrines and erected camouflage nets.

"The coffee came in 14-pound cans. So did the lard. I was surprised to see the doughnut machines and cookers were all from Ellicott City. So was the mix. The truck pulled a little generator on the back. It was always getting into trouble because the roads in France were so narrow," she said.

Miss Heuisler crossed the English Channel July 23, 1944, and landed at Ste. Mere-Eglise. By Sept. 29, the news broke in Baltimore papers that she was in the first team of any Red Cross workers to cross the Siegfried Line and step on German soil.

"I was driving that big truck down the autobahn one day and we got to a bridge that had been blown up. There was another way to cross the river but you had to go straight down a steep hill. I was terrified. The truck had six gears and it was top-heavy with all that doughnut equipment. I lined it up perfectly and drove on. You had to put your fears away," she said.

She did get into Paris after its liberation, but didn't make Berlin. After V-E Day, she came back to Baltimore and thought her life would return to normal.

"I was having lunch at Marconi's and they somehow got a telephone call through to me there. It was the Red Cross again. 'We need you in the Pacific.'

"I phoned Hutzler's for a new summer robe and lightweight undergarments, took a B&O train from Mount Royal Station and before long was on the steamer Orinoco heading toward Manila."

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