Sister in Combat

Unlike Bush, starlet Mamie Van Doren went to Vietnam

Although residents of Baghdad and Fallouja aren't celebrating, this month marks the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. More than 2,200 dead American troops and tens of thousands of dead Iraqi citizens later, many Iraqis are bracing for a bloody civil war.

Even before the war began, Orange County was a home to regular peace vigils and demonstrations. But for major protests, most of us drove north, helping swell events in Los Angeles. On Saturday, with protests taking place all over the country, the Orange County Peace Coalition will host what they hope will be a massive noon gathering at Hart Park in Orange. Speakers include Aliso Viejo mayor Karl Warkomski, Democratic congressional candidate Steve Young, UC Irvine professor Mark LeVine, and the Weekly's own Jim Washburn and Rebecca Schoenkopf.

But the event's most noteworthy headliner may be Mamie Van Doren, the former Hollywood starlet and current Vanity Fair bombshell who writes her own anti-Bush blog, Inside/Out (mamievandoren.com/weblog). During the Vietnam war, Van Doren entertained American troops; decades later, we can only imagine how surreal that might have been—or maybe we're just thinking of Apocalypse Now Redux: Van Doren shuttling her cabaret act from fire base to fire base.

The carnage she witnessed in Vietnam fuels her fight against the war in Iraq. Van Doren says this weekend's demonstration will mark the first time she's ever been to a protest.

OC Weekly: What was it like being in Vietnam?

Mamie Van Doren: The first time I went to Vietnam was in April 1968, right after the Tet Offensive when nobody would go, and again in 1971, when we were starting to pull out. I did both tours with my own Filipino band and toured fire stations from the [Mekong] Delta to the DMZ. It was during the monsoon season, and I must have lost a pound just standing there in my scanty costume waiting to go onstage. I sang onstage for 45 minutes, and then I'd take a helicopter somewhere else. Sometimes I did two shows a day. I was on edge all time. There were two helicopters. The band was in one, and I was in the other. We always took two helicopters in case one went down. Every time I flew, I wondered if we would be shot out the sky. One time, we did hit some enemy fire at night. I saw these big red flares coming up.

Did you support the war?

I was always for the troops, for the men and women that were giving their lives. Back then, they had the draft, and so many of the soldiers didn't want to be there. I was visiting a lot of hospitals, and the wounded were all over the place. When I went back in 1971, I was against the war. I was very happy President Nixon was pulling out. Today, I'm really rewarded with all the e-mails I still get from the vets who were in Nam, calling me a sister in combat.

When did you stop voting Republican?

I voted for the older Bush one time, and when Clinton came on board, I voted for him, and that's when I turned. The Republican Party started turning more to the right, and I was in the middle of the road. I thought, "This party is not me." I believe in women's rights and thought even when Reagan was in office he wasn't protecting abortion clinics and wouldn't even mention the word AIDS. And all these things started popping in my head. I was named for Mamie Eisenhower, and of course I voted for Eisenhower: he was a hero and a great general. But the Republican Party has just completely disintegrated.

Did you support the first Persian Gulf war?

Yes, I was glad at the time they invaded Kuwait, but I'm glad General Schwarzkopf did not go all the way into Iraq. I guess those were the orders from Bush the elder; it was very wise. But I knew this invasion was the wrong thing to do. Anybody who likes war is a fool. There is no glory in war. It's cruel. It's beyond belief how people can think it has helped anybody. It just created a state of terrorism, and I hope to God that Bush doesn't go into Iran. I'm not a politician, but I have seen war up close. None of our leaders have seen men die and lose limbs. They see it afterward.

You write an anti-Bush blog, and now you're speaking out against the war. How's this going to play with your conservative neighbors in Newport Beach?

I'm not invited to any of their parties anymore, that's for sure. It's hard when you're living in an area and everyone loves you in Hollywood and then you have to come home and be around people who don't like you. I respect the way they think because I used to think the same way. Back then, people in Hollywood thought I was crazy because I was conservative. I couldn't even get a movie back then and wasn't invited to any of their parties either.

The March 18 protest is calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Do you agree with that?

We've done enough already. Every day we're over there, we're losing more men and women, and even reporters, so many people—besides the Iraqis! Everybody over there is suffering, and now it's just a matter of time: there will be a civil war. I'm not the president, so I have no idea how you make a determination like that, but I don't think democracy will ever come to that country. My feeling is it will never happen. They have their own way of living, and it seems like we have no business going over there. Everybody knows this is about oil. We have to support our SUVs.

Why did you agree to join the Orange County Peace Coalition's protest?

I just felt it was my duty to go out and say something. I want to talk about what war is like. If you're of a certain age, you remember all that bullshit everyone talked about: the domino theory that Southeast Asia is going to fall apart. Well, now they're doing fine over there, and back here we're all messed-up. All that is history, and history is something you're supposed to learn from or you relive it. It makes me cringe every time I see another shooting or another bomb going off. It's sickening. I don't know how our president can sleep at night. And the vice president has nothing else better to do than shoot baby quail? He must just get off on that. It's despicable. Can you imagine going off and shooting little birds? There's no glory in that. Are you typing all this up? I thought the interview was over. I better shut up now.

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