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Miss America’s Vietnam Tour

By Bryan Painter

On a museum wall in the far northwestern Oklahoma community of Laverne is a framed thank-you. It was sent to Jane Jayroe, in appreciation of a trip in 1967 to Vietnam that delivered smiles to U.S. troops but still draws tears to her green eyes.

As she turned and looked to the thank-you from the 87th Engineer Battalion, her voice weakened. “I can't talk about it without getting emotional,” said Jayroe, who was Miss Oklahoma and Miss America in 1967. “What affected me the most during that year was going to Vietnam. It was such a little thing that we did to spend two weeks there, but it meant so much to those who were serving there.”

She and others traveled all over South Vietnam. She knew what some Americans thought of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. She also knew the members of the military she had been sent to entertain “weren't politicians; they were just serving their country.” In fact, two of the men she took photos with were very familiar to her—Claude Roach, who had graduated the year after her at Laverne, and Mike Smith, her cousin from Turpin. The goal was to bring a sense of home to a place that was anything but home.

Never before had Miss America toured a combat zone.