Gerald DeFrancisco (left) American Red Cross President of Humanitarian Services, accepts a proclamation declaring "American Red Cross Day" at Walter Reed Army Medical Center earlier this week. Making the presentation is Colonel Norvell Van Coots, Commander, Walter Reed Health Care System.
"Selfless acts" and "heroic deeds" were the words used to describe the work over the past 100 years of the American Red Cross volunteers, past and present, who serve the "Wounded Warriors" at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C.
The Red Cross and its volunteers were honored during a ceremony which opened a week of centennial events for the Medical Center.
"On behalf of the 80,000 men and women of the American Red Cross, I am thrilled to be here," said Gerald De Francisco, President of Humanitarian Services, who represented the Red Cross at the Walter Reed event. "Service to the Armed Forces is our first and most cherished service, and in the tradition of Clara Barton, we will be here as long as you need us."
"The doctors and nurses, soldiers, civilians, contractors and volunteers who work here today are only the latest generation of stewards of this amazing place," said Colonel Norvell Van Coots, Commander of the Walter Reed Health Care System, "We focus our appreciation and gratitude on the American Red Cross today. The American Red Cross has been with us throughout the history of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center."
General Peter Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, said the Red Cross offers assurance to soldiers that they will be notified of family emergencies back home.
"The American Red Cross is a significant influence on soldiers and their families," Gen. Chiarelli said. "For all you do, we are extremely grateful."
His wife, Beth, a volunteer at Walter Reed, said compassion, generosity and service are at the heart of the American Red Cross. "We witness the best of humanity here at Walter Reed," she said, "We are committed to helping the Wounded Warriors heal and return to their families. The American Red Cross touches countless lives with a shoulder to lean on, a hand to hold. The best days of the American Red Cross are still ahead."
Among those present as Walter Reed Army Medical Center honored American Red Cross volunteers were (from left) Deno Reed, volunteer; John Souza, a Walter Reed patient for the last ten months; volunteer Melanie Strudler, and Debra Souza.
Debra Souza's husband, John, came to Walter Reed on June 29 and has been there for the past ten months. She described how the Red Cross has helped them during his long hospitalization. "I'm here to thank the Red Cross staff and volunteers. They are amazing. They've given us a sense of family," she said, "It takes all of us – Red Cross volunteers, soldiers, and families to get us through this terrible situation."
The centennial event was held in the original Red Cross building on the Walter Reed grounds. Built in 1927, it was the headquarters of the "Gray Ladies," Red Cross volunteers who got their name from the gray aprons they wore over their dresses. Patients at Walter Reed began calling them "Gray Ladies," and the name stuck.
"Over the years the Gray Ladies hosted tea parties and picnics in the Rose Garden at Walter Reed and held holiday gatherings in the wards for those who could not leave their beds," Col. Coots said. "They survived into the 1960s, until the name was dropped in favor of the more general term Red Cross Volunteer. Today Red Cross volunteers bring donated iPods, DVD players and computer games to grateful patients, as well as the more traditional gifts and comforts like cookies, holiday cards, and clothing."
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.