Ann Margaret and the Troops

Originally written by COL (R) Doug Moore about Anne Margaret “First printed in Army Aviation Magazine, February 29, 2024.”

Thousands of service personnel listen to Miss Ann-Margret sing one of her numbers during her show in Danang, Vietnam 1966.

By Colonel Doug Moore, U.S. Army Retired

            A recent Aviator article on Bob Hope brought back memories. I was assigned to the 57th Medical Detachment (DUSTOFF) at Tan Son Nhut airfield in December of 1964 when Bob and this troupe came. As they were driving into Saigon, two Viet Cong agents drove a truck into the Brinks Hotel parking lot. The explosion killed two Americans and wounded 60 others. At his show the next day, Bob quipped “While on our way downtown yesterday, a hotel passed us!”

I was duty pilot that day and about mid-afternoon, I picked up several wounded Vietnamese and took them to the Cong Hoa Military Hospital located just across the fence at the eastern end of Tan Son Nhut. Then I hopped over the fence as we usually did and began hovering down the taxiway towards our parking area at the far western end of the airfield. We were hovering lazily along about 20 feet off the ground when our medic shouted “Hey, look to our left!” The Bob Hope show was underway in front of one of the large hangars and as I looked that way, Janet Leigh walked out in a white body sock. I did a quick pedal turn and began hovering sideways until the tower told us to get the heck out of that area.

            After that tour in Vietnam, I was assigned to Camp Zama, Japan in a unit that flew patients arriving at Yokota and Tachikawa Air Force Bases out to six U.S. hospitals built in a wide arc around the greater Tokyo area. In December of 1967, the US Army, Japan (USARJ) Public Affairs Officer called to tell me Bob Hope would be stopping off and wanted to visit some of our hospitals. At the time, the USARJ Flight Detachment only had a couple of OH-23s, so our medevac unit with its five UH-1Ds was regularly tasked to fly congressmen, movie stars, and other dignitaries, like Billy Graham, when they visited.

            I vividly recall meeting Bob Hope, Ann-Margret, Nancy Sinatra (with her walking boots on), and NFL football player Rosie Grier (humongous fellow), when they arrived at Rankin Army Airfield.

            Several months later, I went back to Vietnam to command a DUSTOFF unit at Cu Chi and learned Bob Hope would be coming on Christmas Eve of 1968. I got my pilots together and told them I would pull first-up duty that night because I wanted everyone else to see the show. After getting a volunteer to pull duty with me, WO-1 Doug MacNeil spoke up and said in his slow drawl, “Sir, I dated Ann-Margret a few times while we were freshmen at Northwestern University. Do you think I could try to see her while they are here?” 

            The other pilots began accusing him of combat fatigue, but I could tell he was serious. Doug was an unusual fellow who had almost finished a master’s degree in philosophy at Northwestern before becoming fed up with the anti-war sentiment sweeping the Nation and joined the Army. Doug was 30 years old at the time and the oldest pilot in the unit except for me.

            I called the 25th Infantry Division Public Affairs Officer who arranged for Doug to fly the group from site to site while they were in the 25th Division’s area of operation. He also borrowed my jeep and brought Ann-Margret to our unit for a short visit.

            In the spring of 1969, newly promoted CW2 McNeil asked to extend in order to complete his military obligation early and get back to finish his master’s. I told him “no” because he had been shot up far too many times and had been wounded. After I left, he apparently talked my replacement into letting him extend and then accepted one of those “post card” appointments to first lieutenant.

            In April of 1970, Doug was called to a “Hot LZ” north of Cu Chi to pick-up a wounded American. The mechanized unit said they were still receiving sniper fire but thought they could suppress it long enough for him to evacuate the wounded man. While Doug was landing, a hidden .51 caliber hit him in the chest, killing him instantly.

            In the spring of 2004, my wife and I were planning a trip to Branson, Missouri to attend a high school reunion when a friend reminded me that Andy Williams owned a theater there and that Ann-Margret was a regular star. I found she would be there during our stay, so I sent pictures taken in Japan and told her we would be in the audience on a certain night. I also told her about Doug MacNeil, because she was married shortly after they were freshmen together and might not be aware that he had been killed. We had just settled into our seats when someone tapped me on the back. It was the theater manager who told me Ann-Margret wanted us to visit when the show ended and that he would send an escort as soon as she changed out of her show costume. After the performance, we were led to the “green room” along with several of Ann’s friends and other show people. When she came into the room, one of her handlers took her around to introduce her to the group and my wife and I were last in line.

            When introduced, Ann threw her arms around my neck and hugged me tightly. I thought she would never turn loose as she began telling me how much she had appreciated my letter and the pictures. She also told me she had not been aware that Doug had been killed and asked what happened. Tears welled up in her eyes when I described the circumstances. “That’s the Doug I remember,” she said, “He was such a kind and gentle person.”

            From that moment on, Ann hung onto my arm as she walked us around and introduced us to a much larger group that had assembled by that time. She kept telling everyone that visiting the troops in Vietnam was the highlight of her life and she kept introducing me as “one of my good men.” After about 15 minutes, Barbara and I felt we were intruding and ought to go, but Ann insisted we stay. Although she had another performance scheduled that evening, we spent 40 minutes or more with her before we could gracefully get away.

            As an aside, Ann was as beautiful as she was 35 years earlier and in tremendous physical shape. She was as solid as a rock and told me she exercised every day.

            There are a few special people in this world and I think all of us Vietnam Veterans would agree that Ann-Margret is particularly special.


COL (Ret.) Doug Moore is a VHPA life member living in Haymarket, VA. He is a member of the DUSTOFF Hall of Fame and the Army Aviation Hall of Fame

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