When asked what they know about the American Red Cross, people typically say it provides disaster relief services and conducts blood drives. But those who visit Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C., and gaze at the neoclassical marble buildings and bronze memorials will come away with a different impression—of an organization rooted in service to the military forces of the United States.
The Red Cross Spirit by Felix de Weldon, bronze and marble, 1959
(Photo: Brian MacDonald)
Red Cross support of the armed forces can be traced back to the Civil War, when the future founder of the organization, Clara Barton, took it upon herself to provide supplies and nursing services to soldiers on the battlefield. Meanwhile, European nations were drafting and signing the Treaty of Geneva, aimed at protecting wounded and sick soldiers and the relief workers who come to their aid under the emblem of the Red Cross.
The headquarters buildings on Red Cross Square reflect the battlefield heritage of the organization and commemorate the sacrifices made by military families. The 17th Street building, constructed just prior to the U.S. entry into World War I, is dedicated to “The heroic women of the Civil War, both North and South.” In 1928, on the 10th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I, President Calvin Coolidge laid the cornerstone of a second building, this one dedicated to the “Memory of the Heroic Women of the World War.”
Behind these two buildings lies a memorial garden featuring bronze and marble sculptures that underscore the dedication and heroism of Red Cross workers who provide services to the military. These sculptures include the following:
- The Jane Delano Memorial, named for the founder of the Red Cross Nursing Service, which honors the 296 nurses (including Delano) who lost their lives in World War I; and
- The Red Cross Memorial, cast by Felix de Weldon (the sculptor of the Iwo Jima Memorial), which is dedicated to all who have lost their lives while serving with the Red Cross; and
The memorial garden also contains a commemorative plaque honoring the five Red Cross workers who lost their lives while serving in Vietnam. Nearby is a memorial to five nurses lost at sea while traveling to Europe during World War II. The nurses were part of the Harvard Field Hospital Unit of the Red Cross, which treated outbreaks of communicable diseases during the early stages of the war.
For a look at the monuments on Red Cross Square, take the virtual tour.
The American Red Cross is not a government agency. We rely on the assistance of caring supporters like you to deliver our critical services. You can support U.S. military members and their families through the American Red Cross as we provide assistance and comfort. Your gift will support the nationally coordinated Red Cross services provided to military families across the country and to American service men and women located throughout the world. Please make a financial donation to Armed Forces Emergency Services by calling 1-800-RED CROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions may be sent to the American Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services, P.O. Box 91820, Washington, DC 20090. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.