WEST PALM BEACH, FL, U.S.A.
DISC JOCKEY, PERFORMER, VETERANS’ ADVOCATE
Chris Noel was born July 2, 1941 in West Palm Beach, FL. She was an American actress and Vietnam Veterans Activist. She is best known by veterans of the Vietnam war for her work on the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service as the “Voice of Vietnam”. Chris Noel made frequent visits to troops and was shot down twice in helicopters. Her radio program A Date With Chris was one of Armed Forces Radio’s most popular shows and is remembered by many Vietnam veterans.
In addition to her work on radio during the Vietnam War, she toured the country eight times, including twice with Bob Hope. Her interest in that war’s military personnel began with her visit to a San Francisco VA hospital in 1965. She said, “That was the moment. I prayed to God to help me help young men in war.”
Chris Noel’s 1987 autobiography, A MATTER OF SURVIVAL, recounted her work with veterans and her own recovery from PTSD.
In 1993, she opened a shelter in Boynton Beach, FL providing space for 10 – 12 veterans at a time.
Chris Noel went to war in Vietnam dressed in a miniskirt and emerged four years later physically intact, but scarred. She spent the war behind a microphone rather than a rifle as the Voice of Vietnam, hosting a U.S. Armed Forces Radio program called A Date With Chris.
The wounds she suffered were psychological and painful. Returning stateside these wounds of war festered, Chris Noel explained, like those of thousands of returning veterans, in a climate of misunderstanding and rejection.
Chris Noel witnessed the war firsthand. Seasickness, depression and loneliness plagued her, but Noel remained ever the morale-booster.
“I always said I was like a rock pillar. I had to be strong for these guys and never break down and show I was scared or tired.”
“Other people have been in war,” Chris Noel said. “And, yes, war causes a lot of trauma. But not everyone in Vietnam fought, and not everybody saw dead people, and not everybody killed. It was the attitudes of the people back here that caused me trouble.”
Like many veterans, she gave up a lot for Vietnam. And like others, leaving the experience behind has been almost as difficult as going through it. But with the help of the former soldiers she once helped through the war, Chris Noel, turned her life around.
She received the first Distinguished Vietnam Veterans Awards from the National Vietnam Veterans Network in Washington D.C.
“My dreams are finally coming true,” she said. “A lot of things are coming to fruition.”
Chris Noel became a self-styled Vietnam Veterans activist who works with juvenile law breakers in Palm Beach County, and with veterans organizations throughout South Florida and across the nation.
She was a comforting presence in Vietnam as host of the nightly A Date With Chris program. She provided GIs with a touch of home and reality.
“No matter what happened,” she said, “I stayed bubbly. Miss Sunshine. Miss Christmas.”
In 1966, Chris Noel and a group of celebrities toured several Veterans Administration hospitals in California.
“We were going through a ward where there were double and triple amputees,” Noel remembered. “All of them were so young and so brave. It blew me away. The other members of the group were crying by the time we left.”
And in 1965, Chris Noel was asked to host a radio program in Los Angeles that was broadcast via Armed Forces Radio in Vietnam. Next, she was asked to go to Southeast Asia to do A Date With Chris.
“I didn’t know what to do, what to wear. I was just like the boys they were sending over,” she said. “I wore a miniskirt. I went to Vietnam with the idea of being there for about five weeks and it turned out to be four years.”
It wasn’t four straight years there, but Noel frequently returned to the war to tour outposts and bases and broadcast her show, so familiar to the GIs.
“There would be this strange look on their faces,” Chris Noel remembered. “They would look at you and their eyes would be almost empty. When I look at pictures 15 years later I can still see that.”
Twice, she said, the pressures caught up with her, both times in the face of what on the surface appeared routine incidents of war. Once a starving child shattered Noel’s composure. Another time she lost it when she was denied access to a compound housing wounded soldiers.
“I held it together real well. I finally got in to see the wounded and then outside I broke down. But I waited until I was outside. I didn’t want them to see me crying.”
If there were signs that the war was too much, they didn’t show. Ask veterans of the period about Chris Noel and they remember.
“There were lots of guys like me who just didn’t come in from the field,” said Fort Lauderdale resident Tom Eggers, a former Green Beret who served two years in a two-man outpost on the Cambodian border.
“There was only one station on the radio. We’d turn on our transistor and there’s this soft, beautiful voice. She was our lady giving us support. She was our girlfriend, our mom, just someone from back home.”
“It was a very upbeat situation,” said Jack Handley, president of the Broward Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America. “She was always very cheerful. I never met her then, but I remember reading about her in Stars and Stripes.”
Now, Chris Noel is a member of Handley’s veterans group. “That’s her whole life right now,” he said. “She really got blackballed in the entertainment industry because of her support of veterans. That was back when Jane Fonda was leading the charge.”
Chris Noel was asked to attend the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington in 1982.
“I didn’t know how many people were going to remember me,” she said. “But everywhere I went veterans came up to me and thanked me. It felt like I was right back in Vietnam again.”
Perhaps the strain didn’t really catch up with Chris Noel until she left the radio program in 1970.
She has devoted much of her energy to veterans’ causes. In addition to appearing at national veterans gatherings such as the memorial dedication in Washington, she is involved locally in organizations such as the Vietnam Veterans’ Center in Oakland Park. With center Director Robert White, she produced a 13-part cable TV series for Vietnam Veterans and is looking for a sponsor to continue the work.
“She’s a great supporter,” said Pat Krupkin, head of a Broward-based group called Parents of Agent Orange Children. “She’s a wonderful lady. She could have closed the door on the whole thing, but she’s always there when you need her.”
Chris Noel was a remarkable, courageous lady .