Red Cross in War


By JAMES L. FIESER, Vice Chairman-at-Large, American Red Cross

Delivered in Erie, Pennsylvania, February 28, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 322-324.

EARLY last year John Meyers, football and track coach at Ambler, Pennsylvania, volunteered to go overseas for the American, Red Cross. He became a field director and was assigned to the South Pacific. Two or three weeks ago he was sent back to rid himself of an infection. Meyers has seen this war first-hand. He has crouched with soldiers in a fox hole and has had dirt rolled in upon him by a bomb. He has had a piece of shrapnel through his helmet, and has made an amphibious landing with the first wave of assault troops. One might ask why he, a non-combatant, was risking his life. The answer is that some boy—perhaps some Erie boy—might have needed help, and Meyers was there to give what help he could.

He was able to give help in many ways no one could have anticipated. On one island there was need for fresh meat and vegetables. Meyers organized a fishing services which brought in two or three hundred pounds of fish a day, and he developed a garden which was soon yielding 4,000 pounds of vegetables a month. When insecticides were needed for the garden he boiled tobacco and made his own insecticide.

John Meyers, like other field directors, does what he can for the comfort and welfare of his men. A soldier loses his razor, the Red Cross gives him another without a question, If he is in trouble with some of his buddies, the Red Cross field director may be able to help solve the difficulty. Field directors sometimes carry chewing gum or chocolate bars to the front lines, where they are told to toss their chocolate bars to the men from a distance, lest they draw enemy fire. This might seem to be an unnecessary risk, but with those chocolate bars goes something more important than food—an indefinable something every football player understands. When Meyers, the football coach at Ambler, sent a boy into the game to carry the ball, he undoubtedly gave him a pat on the back that rang in every fiber of the boy's being. You may also be sure that down in the South Pacific John Meyers, without even being aware of it, gave with every chocolate bar a flash of the human spirit far more important than the food value of the chocolate bar.

Like all field directors, Meyers handled emergency communications between soldiers and their families. Soldiers worry almost as much about their families as their families worry about them—especially if there's illness or trouble at home. It's quite common for an army officer to drop a hint to a Red Cross field director asking him to find out what's troubling a certain soldier. Perhaps it's a mortgage coming due or a child that needs an operation. The Red Cross is prepared through its Home Service to meet the situation.

Here in Erie, for example, as in other large Red Cross chapters, you employ professional welfare workers and you have some 23 volunteer helpers. Your Home Service is prepared to see that the child gets the operation, and it will safeguard the serviceman's interest in the mortgage. Then, using the facilities of the Army radio, they can report to the soldier anywhere in the world in only a few hours. Some 10,000 of these messages have been sent through Red Cross field directors in Great Britain alone—every message contributing to the satisfaction of some deep-felt human need.

Behind the combat areas the Red Cross operates clubs, which provide wholesome entertainment for the men of the armed forces when on leave. Many of the club workers are Red Cross girls. The other day I read a report of Louisa Farrand, one of the girls back from England. Her club was near an airdrome, and she described a party at her club, with dancing partners brought from English homes. She said you might have observed five or six fellows slip out about eleven o'clock. Their job was to load the bomb racks. A few hours later, just before dawn, she prepared the coffee and a snack for the bombing crews. She put the lunch in her clubmobile and drove through the quiet night out to where the big bombers lay silent under the glistening stars.

The crews gathered around the clubmobile, joking with Louisa, telling her how much they liked the party the night before, thanking her for the coffee and sandwiches. Then they climbed into their ships—so big, so heavy, so laden with bombs you'd think they couldn't possibly get into the air. And occasionally one of them didn't. She watched anxiously as each of the big ships roared down the airstrip. And as it gathered speed toward the end of the strip she felt an involuntary pulling—a lifting of her shoulders as though she wanted to help it off the ground. All twenty-four got safely into the air. With a sigh of relief and with a little pride to know the boys had such a good time at the party, she started the engine of her clubmobile and drove back to the club.

An hour later her heart sank to learn that four miles from the airdrome one of the bombers had gotten in the wake of another plane, lost altitude and crashed. Four of the crew were badly injured; six were killed.

That afternoon Louisa was again at the airstrip with coffee and doughnuts to meet the returning bombers. The ground crews stood with their eyes on the horizon, counting every ship that came in sight. Twenty-two appeared in the sky. They still hoped for another. As the crews tumbled out of the planes, haggard, and seeming years older than the night before, they crowded to the clubmobile for coffee or milk, doughnuts and sandwiches. Gradually the strain began to fall away and not long after, the last plane appeared on the horizon, dropping red flares to signal the ambulance to stand by. The minute the plane stopped the ambulance was at the side of the ship with a doctor and a nurse. Two wounded men were given blood plasma, then transferred to the ambulance and whisked away to the hospital and to complete recovery.

While John Meyers has been with the boys on the fighting front, and while Louisa Farrand has provided wholesome entertainment at the airdrome and for the boys on leave, an immense organization, made up chiefly of volunteers, has been serving the soldier's family while he is away. If a home should burn, or any one of a thousand things happen to endanger the welfare of a serviceman's family, the Red Cross Home Service is committed not to abandon the family till the problem is solved. Last year Red Cross Chapters, such as you have in Erie, assisted 2,500,000 families and servicemen. Camp and hospital workers gave help to 3,800,000 more—a total of over 6,000,000 problems met, and most of them solved successfully because this chapter and thirty-six-hundred other chapters covering every county in the United States, have developed efficient machinery to meet such problems. Have you ever stood by the assembly line of an automobile factory and marvelled at the efficiency with which each wheel and bolt is fitted to its place ? This could never be done unless each man were specially trained to do his own particular job.

The Red Cross works with the efficiency which can be gained only in large operations and with the experience of many years. Your own chapter has its specialists. If, for example, a family comes to your Red Cross Home Service with allotment forms to be filled out, there is some one who knows exactly how to do it. If a family is in need of money, the Red Cross Home Service knows whether to go to city, county, state or federal government and how to approach the proper agency. At the same time, the Red Cross deals with these intimate human problems delicately—with the genuine concern which volunteer workers inevitably have.

The Red Cross has been called the greatest mother in the world. Like all mothers she works quietly and without thrusting every good service into public view. Few people realize how extensively the Red Cross Home Service has been functioning. The Erie Home Service, for instance, is handling hundreds of calls a month, and yet many people who give to Red Cross every year might not know of a single one. If they did happen to hear of some situation they might not know the Red Cross had anything to do with it. Ask a nine-year-old boy what his mother has done for him and he might reply, "Well, I don't know—I can't think of anything in particular." The average citizen is scarcely any more aware than this of the good the greatest mother in the world is accomplishing.

As a matter of fact, even though the War Fund goal this year is $200,000,000, that amount of money represents only a small part of the work of the Red Cross. The larger part consists of the millions of volunteer workers. That is Red Cross. The money raised is only incidental—only a means whereby the organization can be bound together and can have a centralized national leadership. Most of the work is done by volunteers. Mothers and sisters have made 925,000,000 surgical dressings in the past year. They have packed 5,300,000 prisoner of war packages. They have worked in canteens and as nurse's aides, and in dozens of other ways. They have done what mothers and sisters and fathers would want to do for their boys if they could only be with their boys.

Ten years ago mother packed a lunch for her son to carry on a Boy Scout hike. Today she stands in an assembly line and puts together a food package to be sent overseas. And what is the two hundred million dollars used for? It rents the building where the food is packaged. It buys a ship to take the food across the ocean. It employs a nutrition specialist to find out what ought to go into that package and specialist in transportation to see that the package gets to its destination whether by train, ship, truck or camelback. The two hundred million dollars provides for the field director, John Meyers, and the club worker, Louisa Farrand.

And I don't mind saying that these Red Cross workers are underpaid. I doubt if there's one in the service who couldn't make more money at home. The great bulk of them go only because they want to help. Most of the men have tried to get into the Army, but were refused because of age or minor physical disability. You'd be surprised at the number of Red Cross girls from homes of wealth and social position. Girls, who never before even held a broom, now have their hands hardened by menial work. Girls who a few years ago had elaborate coming out parties are wading knee deep through New Guinea mud in the malaria belt and taking their chances along with the soldiers. They're working 12 to 16 hours a day and you couldn't tear them away from it—not till the bombs stop falling, not till the starved and tortured people of China and Europe are once more free to grow and eat their food, to build homes that won't be commandeered by the military or blown apart by artillery fire.

Such Red Cross workers will make good use of the $200,000.000 which the American people are now giving. This $200,000,000, needed to do the job as you'd want it done, is the greatest amount ever asked in one sum for a humanitarian purpose. In 1918 the goal was $100,000,000. But in 1944 there are twice as many men to serve and the Red Cross has been given many more responsibilities than in the first World War.

In 1918, the goal of $100,000,000, was oversubscribed by $82,000,000. Every goal established by the American Red Cross throughout its entire history has been generously oversubscribed. The 1944 goal will surely be no exception, for the American people know that the Red Cross spends its money carefully. It's like the church. The comparatively small amount given for foreign missions does a tremendousamount of good. The money the church puts into education accomplishes amazing results. The Red Cross works with this same quiet and persistent efficiency.

While the Red Cross is doing its wartime job, its peacetime work continues. Last year there were 178 disasters in which Red Cross chapters, with help from National Headquarters, gave aid to 119,295 people at a cost of nearly two million dollars. One of these disasters was in Erie. At 12:53 and at 1:00 in the morning of December 11, fires broke out in two stores. Two men were killed and a million dollars of property destroyed. Though people had to be roused from their beds, the Red Cross was on the job in thirty minutes. In thirty minutes not merely one Red Cross worker was there, but the emergency first aid squad was there, the motor corps was on hand, and the canteen corps was at work. The demolition squad was called out at 2:30 and responded in fifty minutes, with a boomcrane and two bull-dozers. The families housed in the buildings were offered assistance, and one was given aid. Erie can be proud of what its Red Cross chapter did in that emergency.

Behind the efficiency which is revealed when disaster Strikes must always lie a record of doing the job from day to day and month to month. Your 450 volunteers have worked 57,000 hours. Your canteen has served 35,000 meals —28,000 for servicemen. I understand that your monthly quota for surgical dressings has been a little over 30,000, but you have been making more than 45,000. You have an equally good record in giving blood—7,327 pints in 1943.

Blood plasma is saving lives by the thousands. Less than one per cent of the naval personnel wounded in the South Pacific died—a record made possible by the use of plasma. Plasma is often given where the wounded lie—in a fox hole or behind a broken wall while bullets are beating against the other side. Every hospital plane carries a supply of plasma which may be given while the plane is in flight. As you lie on the clean-sheets of a blood donor center you little know where or how your blood will find its way into the veins of another American to sustain life until his wounds are closed and his body can once more rebuild itself.

The Blood Donor Service illustrates how the entire Red Cross works. This service employs 1,500 trained technicians and nurses, but it has 23,000 volunteer workers—fifteen volunteer workers for every paid worker. And the most important thing is given free—the blood. We could scarcely pay for the blood at commercial rates. The cost would be enormous—almost as much as the budget of the entire American Red Cross and all its chapters. Americans want to give their blood. That makes the Blood Donor Service a great cooperative enterprise.

In exactly the same way the whole American Red Cross from chapter to National Headquarters is a cooperative enterprise. In the Blood Donor Service they literally give their blood. In other services they can figuratively be said to give their very souls. What else sends a mother to make surgical dressings day after day? What else built up in Erie a fine humanitarian organization that was able within one half hour in the dead of night to swing into effective action? John Meyers in the South Pacific, Louisa Farrand in England are merely the extension of your work in Erie, put by your money in the South Pacific and England to relieve human suffering and to plant hope in human breasts where disappointment had taken root, to bring some small measure of happiness to the boys we all love and to signify our appreciation of what they are doing for us.