In 1967, members of a girl’s group answered that nation’s call to entertain the troops in Vietnam.
But first they had to get permission from their parents.
“We were surprised to get their approval right away,” said Dianne Reardon Cameron, founder and frontman of the Pretty Kittens.
She started her four member rock ‘n’ roll group in California in 1965. They have toured across the United States. And they heard that the US government wanted artists to go to Vietnam.
“You know Bob Hope was going over there,” Cameron said. “We were only four American girls and we were young and we decided it was the right thing to do. And back home, we were working along the California coast and in Hollywood.
“And we knew a lot of different (local) groups that were working at the time. And we said we were going to entertain the troops in Vietnam. And they said you’d be crazy to go there.
They did 150 shows in the war zone, starting with two weeks in Thailand in April 1967. They performed throughout Vietnam in May, June, July and for a week in August. The group was based in Saigon and traveled by helicopter and C-130. Their two managers took them there and they worked for private American entertainment agents in Saigon.
Their stopovers included three Air Force bases in Thailand: Udorn, Sattahip and Nakhon Phanom, known as NKP. In Vietnam, they have performed in Long Binh, Bien Hoa, Cu Chi, Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vung Tau, Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, Hon Tre Island and Cam Ranh Bay. They visited the wounded at the 36th Evac Hospital near Vung Tau.
“We played all of the Motown hits,” Cameron said of their hour-long shows. “The current rock ‘n’ roll that has been played in the United States. And a few songs from the Supremes. We just played what was popular. We danced while we played and got the guys in the rock vibe.
There were outdoor shows and indoor shows during the day and at night. They played in enlisted men’s clubs, non-commissioned officers ‘clubs, and officers’ clubs. The enlisted men’s club was “fun because they were our age,” Cameron said.
The four members, aged 20 to 22, sang. Cameron played the drums; Bobbi Petit played the guitar; Terri O’Brien played bass guitar; and Suzy Carlin played saxophone and flute. Petit and Carlin are now deceased.
“It was a lot of work because it was hot and rainy,” Cameron said. “And there was no air conditioning, especially in the enlisted men’s club. But like I said, they were the funniest.
Members enjoyed it when service members told them they liked the show. “It meant so much that they enjoyed what we did and recognized all the songs we played,” Cameron said.
Cameron, who was born in New Jersey, spent many years in Gardena, Calif. Before moving to Rochester Hills, Michigan, where she resides. She started playing the drums around the age of 11. The Pretty Kittens disbanded in 1968 when she moved to Michigan.
She was interviewed in a 2009 documentary, “Our Vietnam Generation,” by Visionalist Entertainment Productions LLC, which focused on Michigan veterans. Keith Famie was the producer / director.
“We enjoyed being in Vietnam,” Cameron said. “We went all over Vietnam. Our greatest pleasure was the helicopters.
For several years she worked on a memoir called “The Pretty Kittens Band Vietnam Tour 1967” which she hopes to complete in about a month. “I joined a group of writers at the library and they were very encouraging about my story,” she said.
Cameron, 78, works part-time in the American House Senior Living office in Rochester Hills. She and her 35-year-old husband Thomas together have four children and nine grandchildren. His son, Anthony Paolucci-Cameron, a former sergeant, served four years in the military and was deployed to Iraq. He resides in Macomb, Michigan.
She belongs to several veterans groups on Facebook. Every time she posts something about what she did in Vietnam, she gets hundreds of hits. “The veterans thank me for my service,” she said. “And the first time I saw that I was in tears.”
The band members didn’t know how long they were going to shoot in Vietnam. But they had to sign an extension with the Vietnamese government during their stay. After 150 shows, “we were ready to go home. We had had enough, ”Cameron said.
She shared her thoughts on commemorating this nation 50 years since the Vietnam War.
“I think the nation should recognize the Vietnam War every year,” she said. “It would be nice to honor those who served.
Editor’s Note: This is the 349th in a series of articles on Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.