From ministering to soldiers on the battlefields of the Spanish-American War to serving today alongside military personnel in the Middle East, the American Red Cross has been supporting the United States armed forces for more than 100 years.
In observance of Memorial Day, the Red Cross takes this opportunity to detail the history of the Service to Armed Forces program, which supports the men and women who serve our country, and their families.
Red Cross began providing services for America’s military during the Spanish-American War when Red Cross founder Clara Barton recruited nurses across the country to help the Army at medical camps in Florida and Cuba.
During World War I, Red Cross employees and volunteers provided medical and recreational services for the military at home and abroad and established a Home Service Program to help military families. Eighteen thousand Red Cross nurses provided much of the medical care for the American military during World War I, and 4,800 Red Cross ambulance drivers provided first aid on the front lines. During World War I, 296 American Red Cross nurses and 127 American Red Cross ambulance drivers died in service to humanity.
In World War II, more than 104,000 nurses recruited by the American Red Cross served in military hospitals at home and overseas. Red Cross employees and volunteers provided emergency message services. Twenty-seven million Red Cross packages were distributed to American and Allied prisoners of war, and staff and volunteers helped out in rest and recreation areas in the field and at military hospitals, hospital ships and trains. The Red Cross blood donor project added a new dimension to Red Cross services and collected 13.3 million units of blood for American servicemen. 78 Red Cross workers died while serving overseas during World War II.
During the Korean Conflict, Red Cross services grew. The blood program for the military was expanded. The emergency mobile recreation service served not only American troops, but all United Nations forces. Red Cross provided emergency communications from family members, a “first call home” program for the wounded and stationery so wounded service members could write home. When the 1953 armistice was signed, the American and Korean Red Cross ensured the transfer of nearly 90,000 prisoners of war. Two Red Cross workers gave their lives in service during the Korean Conflict. Red Cross staff have been assigned in South Korea continuously since 1953 providing emergency communications to members of the military and their families. They are there today. If hostilities were to break out on the Korean peninsula, these staff members would remain to support the wartime emergency communications needs of the service members and their families.
In 1962, the Red Cross sent its first field staff to Vietnam to assist the growing number of service members at various bases and hospitals. At the height of its involvement, 480 American Red Cross field directors, hospital personnel and recreation workers served throughout Southeast Asia. Red Cross workers brought recreation to an average of 280,500 service members each month. They logged more than 2 million miles in jeeps, trucks and helicopters during the program's seven-year history. Five Red Cross staff members gave their lives and many others were injured as they helped service members in Vietnam.
During Operation Desert Shield, Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services (AFES) staff carried 215,000 emergency messages to and from the troops. Back home, American Red Cross employees and volunteers aided more than 4,700 service members and their families with $1.72 million in emergency financial assistance and other services. In fulfilling their duties in the Persian Gulf area, seven American Red Cross workers received the Bronze Star for meritorious service.
Red Cross staff were also on the ground in Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Hungary, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo when they were needed to support American troops in those areas.
Red Crossers arrived in Uzbekistan on Christmas Day 2002 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, serving all U.S. troops in that country, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kyrgyzstan. After moving to Afghanistan and Kandahar, staff were consolidated into an office on Bagram AB in August of 2003 where the Red Cross still serves today. Red Cross staff arrived in Kuwait in 2004 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and are still on the ground in Kuwait and Iraq supporting the military during the ongoing conflicts there. They have handled thousands of emergency messages, distributed comfort kits, calling cards, greeting cards, quality of life items, and provided canteen services.
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.