Donut Dollies

Women of the American Red Cross Clubmobile Service dodge bombs and bullets during World War II

Portrait of Luis with his book “When I first started writing Good Night, Irene, I hesitated,” says Pulitzer Prize finalist Luis Alberto Urrea. “I thought: World War II? Hasn’t it all been said? But it hadn’t been.” (Image courtesy of Luis Alberto Urrea)
Women of the American Red Cross Clubmobile Service dodge bombs and bullets during World War II

Luis Alberto Urrea’s harrowing and adventure-filled new novel, Good Night, Irene (Little, Brown, 2023), centers on the World War II experiences of women in the American Red Cross Clubmobile Service, which provided coffee and donuts to soldiers at the front. Its heroic main characters are based on the author’s mother, Phyllis McLaughlin Urrea, and her best friend in the service, Jill Pitts Knappenberger, ’50 ACES (1918–2020).

Why did you write this book?
I wanted to write about my mother. And the secret life of my mother was her war experience, which included the naked dead she saw at the Buchenwald concentration camp and the truck accident that almost killed her. This book helped me to understand her.

In what ways did Jill Knappenberger help you?
When I met Jill for the first time and asked her about the war, she said, “I drove the truck. But your mother brought the joy!” After that, when I looked at Mom’s photos, I finally noticed: She’s happy in almost every war picture. For her, the war was both a nightmare and a dream come true.

Understanding that was like putting a key in a lock, and all of a sudden the book opened.

What’s your favorite war story about Jill?
Oh, easy. She’s in Bastogne, in combat, and gets a bad tooth. Walks out to the highway and thumbs a ride to Paris. Goes and gets her tooth fixed, parties for three days, then hitchhikes back to the front. I mean, who does that?


Read about Jill Knappenberger’s life in “Behind Enemy Lines” where she talks about life as a Red Cross Clubmobile operator and how she and her unit provided B-17 bomber crews with doughnuts and coffee.