In 1944, Marian Krinke gave up a budding career as a business home economist to serve her country during the Second World War. Her choice took her far from her small-town roots in Lamberton, Minnesota.
“I was a bit of a patriot and wanted to serve the Red Cross because it was an honest and dependable organization where my skills would be used to help soldiers. My family was surprised at first, then concerned about the danger I might face. But I was raised to be independent.”
In September that year, Krinke, four other Red Cross workers, and hundreds of military staff of the 162nd General Hospital Unit sailed to England aboard a refitted luxury liner that was anything but luxurious with two meals a day and rationed water.
The unit set up a hospital at Nocton Hall in Lincolnshire, England where Krinke served as an American Red Cross Staff Aide between 1944 and 1946. Her job was to provide social work services and to organize recreational activities that would help rehabilitate soldiers who were patients at the hospital.
“They were all so young, so very young, just in their early twenties. My Red Cross teammates and I would work to connect with the soldiers who were recovering by learning things about their lives, later asking about it. The soldiers enjoyed playing Chinese checkers and other games. They sang, chatted, and made handicrafts such as leather billfolds and hooked rugs. It was hard work with few materials, but rewarding.”
Krinke shared one room with the four other Red Cross aides at Nocton Hall. She traveled a bit in her free time and was even invited to tea by Queen Elizabeth. She laughs as she remembers learning to properly curtsy and shake hands. That invitation is still framed at her home along with her Red Cross dog tags and certificates. But her eyes well up with tears as she remembers one particular soldier.
“There was a young man in the psychiatric ward who had seen such terrible, terrible things that he couldn’t speak, and he just sat comatose for hours in a corner, staring into space. One night one of my team mates and I were walking through the darkening wards when we saw him just sitting quietly as usual. Eleanor suggested we try one more time to reach him. We walked up to him and I put my hand on his shoulder. Soldier, is there anything I can get for you? I asked. He slowly looked up at me and said distinctly, I would like a fresh egg.”
“We were shocked. We told him to just wait. We pedaled our bicycles like mad into the village and found eggs. We made scrambled eggs and toast for him. With that simple request the door reopened and he began to speak once more.”
Krinke returned to the United States in February 1946 and tried to take up life where it left off. Just as for the soldiers she served, it wasn’t easy. “I enjoyed having bananas, fresh milk, and eggs, things which were almost unavailable where I had served. People didn’t often ask questions about what I’d done. I had to get on with life quickly.”
Today at 98, Krinke is an active volunteer in her retirement community. As she shares her life story, Krinke strokes the bright red liner of her Red Cross coat, a cherished memento covered with patches given to her by the patients for whom she cared, patches representing the many military units they served.
“During my time with the Red Cross, I learned lessons that have been very important to me. It was there I learned care and compassion, to be a better listener and to work as a team player. I learned to enjoy people of many cultures people, and the value of give and take.”
Krinke will share her stories on Tuesday, November 12, 2013, at 1:30 PM, at the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region headquarters in Minneapolis. Her talk is open to the public. Her coat and other historic mementos will be on view.
Marian Krinke has joined the American Red Cross Legacy Society after naming the humanitarian organization as a beneficiary of her estate. Story and photos by Judy Hanne-Gonzalez/American Red Cross. Click here to learn more about American Red Cross history.