Mary Lou Chapman landed in England in September 1943 and was quickly put to work serving the pilots and other servicemen in the U.S. Air Force. After D-Day, her unit of "Red Cross girls" was assigned to the continent. There were eight clubmobiles in a unit and three women assigned to each clubmobile, making 24 women plus one leader.
When Allied troops broke out of Normandy in August 1944, the XXth Corps (part of the U.S. 3rd Army) went barreling across France. Mary Lou's unit, one of the last to arrive in Normandy, was given its orders: Catch up with the XXth Corps. They did, on a hillside just west of Verdun.
"We had been sleeping in pup tents along the way and eating different kinds of rations," Mary Lou recalls. "We tried to cook on our own, but nobody was really good at it. Finally, we got to Epernay and there was lots of champagne because it's in champagne country. The first night, all these fellas who had been shot down—pilots who'd been hiding in caves—came out, and with the champagne and all that we had quite a time.
"After that day, we decided to take all the gas we had and put it in four clubmobiles and leave the other four behind for making doughnuts. The gals made them all night long, and the next day the four of us went on up and caught the rear of the XXth Corps on a hillside outside of Verdun. We were there for about two weeks on the side of that hill before we moved on.
As our tour group explored the WW I and WW II museums in Verdun and the surrounding countryside, Mary Lou traveled with our French host back to that hillside just west of Verdun and that very same concrete bunker. To compare the lush landscape of today—with trees in bloom and green grass flourishing—with the stark and somber museum images of mud-filled trenches and foxholes covered with dead and dying soldiers is to realize the incessant struggle to be humane.
Mary Lou retired in 1984 after working for the American Red Cross for more than 41 years. Last year, she received her 60-year pin—evidence of a true "Red Cross lifer." To this day, however, her two years "clubbing" through Europe are still fresh in her mind.
"My best memory was serving American troops with coffee and doughnuts in a big bunker quarters, serving 25-50 servicemen one evening," she says. "My second-best memory was toward the end of that time, when Dinah Shore came to visit the troops. She sang Chattanooga Choo-Choo for the clubmobile named Chattanooga."
The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.