Red Cross Women in France during World War I

Dee Smith, 36, served with the American Red Cross as secretary in Paris, during World War I. Photo from the Minnesota Historical Society collection.
Dee Smith, 36, served with the American Red Cross as secretary in Paris, during World War I. Photo from the Minnesota Historical Society collection.

During World War One, people in Minnesota made a major contribution to The Great War effort. Minnesota women were among them. At home, they did many things to help, such as darn socks, make bandages, pack comfort kits, and offer first aid classes. More than 120 of them chose to be close to the front lines in Europe. Their names included Ruby, Marion, Grace, Marguerite, Julia, Aileen, Verna, Leila, Mary, Alice, Helen, Dee, and Rose. Their jobs were many, such as canteener, secretary, nurse, supply-truck driver,  and social worker. They, like the men they helped, held steadfast.

As part of ongoing remembrances during the war’s centenary years through 2018, we share below an exceprt from “Awfully Busy These Days: Red Cross Women in France During World War I” by Nancy O’Brien Wagner and published in the Minnesota History Magazine, Spring 2012.

Late train arrivals were just one of many wartime annoyances. Flies, lice, fleas, hives, chilblains–nearly every woman complained of these. Food shortages, food and coal rationing, and high prices were popular topics, too. Marion Backus wrote: “Between cooties, fleas, and hives I am having an interesting time. The last two bother me most…the only things I miss are pie and cake. When I get home am going to eat a dozen pies right straight at one lick, and then a strawberry short cake.”

Alice O’Brien dismissed these discomforts with suspiciously adamant protests.

All your letters carry messages of Sympathy such as–I must be working so hard–not enough food–not enough sleep–feet must be sore, etc. etc. I am sorry if my letters have given you that impression because it is not a true one. Of course we do work hard but we love it and nothing is as healthy as hard work. We have fine beds, and I assure you we use them a lot. I have never been better in my life–never–and I have everything I need.

Everything but intact socks, it appears. In July Alice wrote, “Mugs [Marguerite Davis] came into the room last night and said that she realized, for the first time, how far we were from home. You bet we’re a long way off when I started darning.” She went on to request that socks be sent from St. Paul. They arrived four months later, in the hands of Grace Mary Bell, an acquaintance who had signed on as a canteener. She described the meeting for Alice’s parents: “I delivered safely into her hands sundry articles at which point she devoutly remarked ‘Thank the Lord, I can stop darning!'”

Cases of homesicknesses developed, too, though few would admit it. Dee Smith wrote from Paris with insightful candor:

The whole idea here is anything to keep the morale of the men as high as possible, & everyone is so proud of them that no one begrudges them a good time. It is fine for the girls, too, tho no one ever seems to think they may get lonely and discouraged. I have met an occasional one who was frankly homesick, & don’t doubt there are others who are, but keep it to themselves. I think I might be if I didn’t have lots of work, but I haven’t time to think of being homesick. I sometimes even forget there is a war.

Alone in a foreign land, fighting a war with an uncertain outcome, these women were determined not to let their comrades or their country down. Helen Scriver summed up these attitudes: “My conclusions are always the same, namely if others can speak this language, I can, if the rest can life in these houses, so can I and if the rest can hold their jobs, I must be able to hold mine. It is a good philosophy.”

World War I-era, 1914-1918, Red Cross poster in the Minnesota Historical Society collection.
World War I-era, 1914-1918, Red Cross poster in the Minnesota Historical Society collection.

Helen’s steadfast determination was common, and the volunteers’ unflinching efforts made the work of the American Red Cross possible. For example, nurse Marion Backus was transferred to Evacuation Hospital #110 in Villers-Daucourt in September 1918. After a long day of travel, she went on duty that night and stayed on for two weeks. “If anybody had told me that I could take care of more than two ether patients before I came over here I would have laughed and thought them joking. But now I can watch 45 in one ward, 36 in the next and never wink an eye.”

In the fall of 1918, Marguerite Davis and Alice O’Brien watched as train after train of men unloaded at their camp near Chantilly. “We are awfully busy these days,” Alice wrote home. On September 7, their friend Doris Kellogg reported that, with just three other women, they served 1,157 meals in their canteen in three-and-a-half hours; on September 18, they dished up 1,300 meals, and on October 20, more than 1,600.

Good humor, resourcefulness, and flexibility were invaluable traits for Red Cross volunteers. When asked, these women dropped their work and jumped to do whatever was needed. Margaret MacLaren enlisted as a hospital worker, then began running a canteen. Soon, she was driving a supply truck. Minneapolitan Winifred Swift volunteered as a physiological chemist at Red Cross Hospital #2 in Paris, helping to research the nature and treatment of gas gangrene. “During the heavy work following the offensive in spring 1918 and summer, research work was abandoned to give more hands for the task of caring for the wounded…all spare moments were given to relieve the nurses of such work as might be done by those less trained.”

To read the full article, click here.
To learn more about the American Red Cross during World War I, click here.

We’re ready to help military kids manage stress

reconnection-workshop-a-spot_cropThe American Red Cross has two new workshops that help children of military families to manage challenges that are specific to their lives. The workshops, Roger That! Communication Counts and 10-4: Confident Coping, teach essential life skills for military kids and teens to better manage stressful social situations.

“All kids face challenges,” says Diane Manwill, a behavioral health expert with the American Red Cross. “They are growing up and learning to navigate social situations. However, challenges faced by military kids may be compounded because military families move more frequently and family members may be more absent due to military deployments.”

Each of the workshops is composed of two modules with activities designed for children 8 to 12 and teens 12 to 18 years old. The Roger That! Communication Counts workshop focuses on the importance of developing quality interpersonal communication and listening skills. Operation 10-4: Confident Coping focuses on bolstering strengths present in older military children to help manage stressful situations. The new workshops are part of the Red Cross reconnection workshop series.

“My children have participated in these workshops and they make a difference,” says Kelsey Liverpool, co-founder and president of Kids Rank. “It helps because it gives children of military families a place where they can talk, where they feel safe, be with other people who understand what they are going through and learn how they might better adapt to their situation.”

Red Cross volunteers, who are licensed behavioral health professionals and trained to work with children, facilitate the workshops. All professionals have undergone extensive background checks as required by the Department of Defense for adults working with children. Additionally, a second adult is also available during these workshops for support and assistance to the groups.

“We were very proud to support the Red Cross in the development of this program over the past year along with many other subject matter experts in the field,” says Dr. Mary Keller with the Military Child Education Coalition. “We know that community-based initiatives, like this, make a positive difference for our military kids.”

For more information about this free and confidential program, go to

Wonderful is a life filled with volunteer service

Story by Ellie Decker, American Red Cross Volunteer Services

Red Cross volunteer Alice Tomaschko recently received her 60-year service pin in Austin, Minn. Photo credit: Carrie Carlson-Guest.

“I’m never speechless.” But after receiving her 60-years of service pin from the American Red Cross, followed by a Volunteer of the Year Award, Alice Tomaschko was without words. Her fellow volunteers, who attended the volunteer recognition event in Austin, Minnesota, were not. They had much to say about Alice. They described her as a mentor, friend and inspiration. Looking around the room it was clear that Alice had made an impact during her decades of Red Cross volunteer service.

A few days later, I talked more with Alice about her life and volunteer work with the Red Cross. Throughout our conversation Alice laughed. She told me about her children, and late husband, and how volunteering always had been a part of her life. Wonderful is the word Alice uses to describe her life, a life filled with service. Simply, she enjoys volunteering.

Alice started volunteering with the Red Cross in 1955 when she was pregnant with her first daughter. First, she volunteered at local blood drives. She used a typewriter to record donor information. Later, she trained to work with military families, which she describes as one of the greatest things she has done with the Red Cross. Through volunteering with Service to the Armed Forces, Alice witnessed the help Red Cross gave to families. Alice’s husband and his family experienced this assistance firsthand when the Red Cross helped her husband get home for his grandmother’s death. That help is why she chose to volunteer with the Red Cross.

Alice’s work has continued to help people in multiple ways. In addition to those who received Red Cross services, she has helped other volunteers. Being described as a mentor, she says, is the best compliment she could ever receive. Even though it’s impossible to measure the impact Alice has had on others, her impact is here to stay. (She even helped plan the volunteer appreciation event.) The reverse is true, too: the Red Cross has had an impact on Alice. “I’ve had absolutely one of the best lives with the Red Cross I could imagine.”

For more information about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, click here.

Celebrating Women’s History in the Red Cross: A Minnesota Girl Goes to Vietnam

Story and photos by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
Additional reporting by Lanet Hane/American Red Cross

Lois Hamilton served with the American Red Cross Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) program in Korea after the war in 1965 and during the Vietnam War in 1967 and 1968. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
Lois Hamilton served with the American Red Cross Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) program in Korea after the war in 1965 and during the Vietnam War in 1967 and 1968. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Lois Hamilton was a Red Cross caseworker at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital in 1967 when she decided to go to Vietnam at a hot time during the war. At the hospital, she saw “horrendous injuries,” but she also saw wounded warriors get well. “I loved my work,” she says over coffee and pastries at her home in Rochester, Minnesota. “It was my job to make the whole situation easier for them, to comfort them.”

By that time, and the time of her decision to go to Vietnam, she already had overseas experience. She’d left her hometown of Osseo, Minnesota, to serve with the Red Cross’s Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) program in Korea in 1965. She was 22 years old. She knew Vietnam would be different, tougher and more serious. Still, her Korea experience was key: “Had I not gone to Korea, I’d never have gone to Vietnam,” she says.

When she told some of the patients at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital about her plans “they thought it was the dumbest thing they’d ever heard.” Yet, they were supportive and gave her some advice: “keep your head down,” they said. And she did, for 12 months of service with the Red Cross SRAO program in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968.

During that time, Lois and the other SRAO women, all recent college graduates with adventurous spirits, carried program bags: duffels stuffed with quizzes, flashcards and other games for boosting morale and combatting boredom among American troops in South Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War, Lois Hamilton (center) was among hundreds of young women who carried Red Cross SRAO program bags stuffed with quizzes, flashcards and other games they used to boost morale and combat boredom among American troops.
During the Vietnam War, Lois Hamilton (center) was among hundreds of young women who carried Red Cross SRAO program bags stuffed with quizzes, flashcards and other games they used to boost morale and combat boredom among American troops. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

From their base in Saigon, the “Red Cross girls” (also nicknamed “Donut Dollies”) traveled to army units around the country. They went by bus or helicopter. A few made small talk with the helicopter pilots. But unlike some of the other girls, Lois did not make friends with the pilots because their risk of being killed was so high. “I think it was a protection sort of thing.”

Lois never doubted she would make it home. Not even in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, a series of communist military attacks on Saigon. Mostly, the time was “scary for my family because mail wasn’t going in or out.” Still, Lois heard gunfire on her street. Even closing shutters was a danger.

Later, Lois and the other SRAO workers were transferred to the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division headquarters at Camp Enari in Pleiku. There, they sought cover in a bunker that was just for the Red Cross girls. “I worried about some of them,” says Lois, who recalls crying only one time when a shower blew up and there was a fire, and then no hot water. It was a little thing, really, but the little things added up.

Sometimes during their service, Lois and the others wore flak jackets. “You girls should not be here,” a soldier said. “But if you are, then you should wear flak jackets.” They also had fatigues, combat boots and, for a short time, a revolver that a captain at Camp Enari gave them for times when they had to jump in the bunker.

A page from the Sayonara (farewell) book the other Red Cross girls made for Lois Hamilton before she left Vietnam in 1968. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
A page from the Sayonara (farewell) book the Red Cross girls made for Lois Hamilton before she left Vietnam in 1968. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

But they were non-combatants. Most often Lois wore a dress, not a flak jacket. Her job was to bring a smile to a weary soldier’s face. “They had fun and I had fun, too,” she says. “Smiling was good.” For the most part, she felt like one of the guys. “The difference was that I was a civilian.”

In July 1968, her service was up and Lois did not extend. “I’m going home,” she said at the time to the others. “I was just ready to go home,” she says today.

Lois stayed with the Red Cross in various positions and retired decades later. She also became active in the Vietnamese refugee community in Rochester. “I felt I had a kinship because of Vietnam.” She went so far as to welcome three refugee children, with their own stories of survival and escape, into her home and later adopt them.

Reflecting on her Vietnam experience, Lois remembers her decision to go surprising her friends. “Lois would never do that,” some said. But she felt good about going. She would go again. “I’m the one who’s lucky.”

At its peak in 1969, 110 young women with the American Red Cross Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) program reached an estimated 300,000 military members in Vietnam (source: Today, the Red Cross continues to provide emergency communications and other services to America’s armed forces. To learn more, click here.

Gray Ladies celebrate 60th anniversary

Story and photo by Amy Chaffins, a journalist with the Echo Press newspaper.

Gray Ladies members include (back row, left to right) Rhonda Steinberg, Sue Jelen, Marlene Strehlow, Marlien Lohrman, Luella Peterson, Judy Schjei, Judy Steidl, Janet McHugh and Pat Pederson; (front row) Candy Bohjanen-Hammitt, Sylvia Klimek, Irene Wheeler, Hazel Holt, Myrtle McKay and Irene Bundy. Not pictured are Pat Katzmsarek, Linda Kuhlman, Kathleen Linn, Julie Roering, Fran Schultz, Ruth Steidl and Renee Stomberg. (Amy Chaffins/Echo Press)

The American Red Cross Gray Ladies of Alexandria, Minn., celebrated its 60th anniversary on October 30, 2014. The group primarily helps out during Red Cross bloodmobile events.

A special meeting brought the women together at the Traveler’s Inn in Alexandria to celebrate and share stories. There are currently 22 active local members.

In 2013, the Alexandria Gray Ladies volunteered about 1,951 hours at more than 50 bloodmobile events in Douglas County, according to member Candy Bohjanen-Hammitt.

Since its start in 1954, 170 Gray Ladies have served as members.

About the Gray Ladies

The Gray Ladies, formerly known as Hostess and Hospital Service and Recreation Corps, was founded in 1918 at Walter Reed Army Hospital and became a unique and enduring symbol of the Red Cross service in military and later civilian hospitals.

Their gray uniforms worn by the female volunteers at the hospitals prompted wounded soldiers in their care to affectionately call them Gray Ladies.

In 1947, the name was officially changed to the Gray Lady service.

The Gray Ladies do not provide medical care, rather recreational services to patients and assistance where needed at military and civilian hospitals, blood centers and disaster response.

Early on in the Alexandria chapter, the Gray Ladies would visit nursing home patients, write letters and sometimes transport patients to appointments.

Nationwide, during World War II, the service reached its peak with almost 50,000 women serving as Gray Ladies in military and other hospitals across the U.S.

The Gray Ladies continued serving in hospitals until the mid-1960s when the Red Cross shifted to a unified concept of volunteers.

This story is published on our blog with permission. It was originally published in the Echo Press on November 5, 2014.

If you’re interested in volunteering for the American Red Cross, click here.

Six thousand holiday cards, and counting, for our military heroes

Photo credit: Dan Williams/American Red Cross
Photo credit: Dan Williams/American Red Cross

At the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota, the Holiday Mail for Heroes program will distribute more than 6,000 cards to service members and veterans. As of this writing, cards will be going to all of the following groups:

  • 148th Fighter Wing
  • 114th Transportation Company
  • Silver Bay Veterans Home
  • Duluth Coast Guard Station
  • 94th Cavalry
  • 950th Transportation Engineers
  • 1st Combined Arms Battalion – Brainerd
  • VFW of Cook
  • Superior VA Clinic
  • MAC-V Duluth

The cards are appreciated by the units and their military members.  The 950th Transportation Engineers, who are based in Superior, WI, deployed this fall to Afghanistan. We mailed then 100 bundles of cards in Texas where they will have an early Christmas before deploying overseas in late December. Upon hearing the cards had shipped, their family readiness leader sent us this message: “This is wonderful! The soldiers will love them! Thank you so much for your support!”

Photo credit: Dan Williams/American Red Cross
Photo credit: Dan Williams/American Red Cross

Making cards can be extremely special.  The United Way of Greater Duluth did a card signing event at their family day event the week before Thanksgiving and sent in some incredible cards, as well as this message: “Thanks for the opportunity to spread holiday cheer to our Armed Forces and Veterans! What a wonderful program!” Some businesses really came through as well, including awesome staff from DeCare Dental in Gilbert, who made over 1,000 cards for the program.  Another outstanding supporter was Bent Paddle Brewery in Duluth, which contributed financially by paying for cards to be made as well as hosting card signing events at the brewery.

None of this would be possible without the commitment of volunteers and the generous spirit of people of all ages, from every corner of Northern Minnesota and Northwest Wisconsin, who opened their hearts to send holiday greetings to our military heroes.

Story and photos by Dan Williams, Executive Director of the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota. To learn more getting involved with Red Cross, click here.

Holiday Mail For Heroes Undergoes Changes 

Story by Lanet Hane – American Red Cross Volunteer

Holiday Mail for Heroes cards from the 2013  writing campaign. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
Holiday Mail for Heroes cards from the 2013 signing campaign. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program is an annual program focused on bringing a little more holiday thanks and cheer to veterans, those currently serving in the armed forces, and their families. Individuals send cards, with handwritten notes of holiday tidings and thanks, to the Red Cross. The Red Cross distributes the cards to those who will most appreciate them during the holiday season. Veteran’s hospitals, Veteran’s homes, and families of currently deployed personnel are frequent recipients of Holiday Mail for Heroes holiday cards.

For the 2014 holiday season, the Red Cross is changing the format of the Holiday Mail for Heroes program to better serve military personnel as well as make effective use of donor resources. Rather than send all cards to a centralized national location, as has been done in the past, the Red Cross is empowering individual Red Cross chapters to collect cards from their own communities. Mike Booth, the Services to Armed Forces Director at the American Red Cross, says this new decentralized approach to the program will continue to be effective, but will reduce the number of financial and human resources.

Mike also emphasizes the fact that this program is designed not only for active military members. While Holiday Mail for Heroes does provide cards for those in active service, the program has a much wider scope. The cards contributed by community members may go to any number of people connected to the military.

Holiday Mail for Heroes card signing event at Neilson Place, Bemidji, MN, November 3, 2014.
Holiday Mail for Heroes card signing event at Neilson Place, Bemidji, MN, November 3, 2014. Photo credit: Linda Barkley/American Red Cross

Because the program is not limited to currently active military personnel, it also provides a unique opportunity for people to partner with the Red Cross in remembering veterans.  Many veterans receiving holiday cards are patients in VA hospitals or residents at State Veteran’s Homes, and have little contact with friends or family. Holiday Mail for Heroes connects these veterans with individuals who have taken the time and care to personalize a holiday card and send it to them in thanks for their sacrifice.

And, while a holiday card may seem a small triviality, they are anything but trivial to those who receive them. “This program continues to hold great value,” says Mike. “The veterans, wounded warriors, and military families who receive these tokens appreciate them in ways that might surprise many of us. For some of these people, one of these cards can really make their day.”

If you plan to participate in this program, please review program guidelines for creating and sending your cards. To ensure card delivery in time for the holidays, the local Red Cross office must receive cards no later than Friday, December 5.

Volunteers Help Soldiers During Yellow Ribbon Event

Chief Warrant Officer Michele Jammer and Red Cross volunteer Jim Kinzie at the Yellow Ribbon event in Minneapolis on February 8, 2014. Photo credit: Lara Leimbach/American Red Cross.
Chief Warrant Officer Michele Jammer and Red Cross volunteer Jim Kinzie at the Yellow Ribbon event in Minneapolis on February 8, 2014. Photo credit: Lara Leimbach/American Red Cross.

On Saturday, February 8, American Red Cross volunteers from our region participated in a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program conference in Minneapolis, which focused on promoting well-being by connecting service-members and families with resources throughout the deployment cycle.

The Red Cross volunteers worked with over 500 military service and family members from 30 states to discuss the manners by which the Red Cross can serve them. Some examples include linking military families during an emergency, connecting people with local community resources, providing resiliency training and supporting wounded warriors and military hospitals.

Chief Warrant Officer Michele Jammers shared how she benefited twice from the Red Cross service of linking family members during an emergency. During one deployment, it enabled her to receive news about her grandmother in a timely manner. During a later deployment, the service assisted her with receiving news about her father in the presence of a chaplain and returning from the (military) theater.

Sergeant Carol Crowe, the Community Partners Coordinator for the conference, expressed the importance of connecting military service members and families with pertinent community partners. She cited an example of when she referred a military parent with four kids to the Red Cross for assistance when that parent was down to his/her last $20.

Story by Red Cross volunteer Geno Sung and photo by Red Cross volunteer Lara Leimbach. Click here to learn more about the American Red Cross Service to the  Armed Forces Program. Click here to donate and support Red Cross SAF activities.

Students and seniors sign holiday mail for heroes

Erica Harmsen (l) and Priscilla Miller (r) sign holiday cards American military, Bemidji, Nov. 11, 2013.
Erica Harmsen (l) and Priscilla Miller (r) sign holiday cards for the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program, Bemidji, Nov. 11, 2013.

Several TrekNorth High School students joined forces with residents of the WindSong Senior Living Center in Bemidji this past Veterans Day to help write holiday card messages as part of the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program.

“I like to include that we’re writing from Bemidji,” Erica Harmsen, the accompanying TrekNorth teacher said to one of the residents. She explained that troops might like seeing where their correspondence is coming from – and that making it more personal is nice, especially with cards being sent overseas.

TrekNorth students and Windsong residents sign holiday cards, Bemidji, Nov. 11, 2013.
TrekNorth students and Windsong residents sign holiday cards, Bemidji, Nov. 11, 2013.

Students and residents had no trouble writing out several cards each. All participants were pleased they will bring a bit of holiday cheer to American veterans, military families and active-duty service members.

This is the second year that TrekNorth has partnered with WindSong to create holiday cards for Holiday Mail for Heroes. WindSong Volunteer Coordinator Alice Stark-Anderson and Senior Services Administrator Linda Barkley helped organize the event.

Lil Humenick (l) and Kassandra Zanter (r) work together on signing holiday cards, Bemidji, Nov. 11, 2013.
Lil Humenick (l) and Kassandra Zanter (r) write holiday cards, Bemidji, Nov. 11, 2013.

American Red Cross North Star Chapter volunteers will convene to write out more cards on November 21. Those interested in participating may contact North Star Chapter Community Coordinator Lynn Arlt at 218-444-9490.

Story and photos by Grace Littlefield, American Red Cross Volunteer 

Our Fabulous “SAF FIVE”

In celebration of Veterans Day on November 11, 2013, the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region would like to recognize its Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteers and thank them for their service, both for the Armed Forces and the Red Cross. SAF volunteers provide vital information about Red Cross services to military members and their families prior to basic training and deployment. These services include emergency communications and financial assistance during active-duty and deployment.

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, the “SAF Five” include Jim Kinzie, Brent Jordahl, Bill Johnson, Jim McKinney, and Bill Kelvie. Each came to the Red Cross with different military service stories, but they had one thing in common: the desire to give back.

Jim Kinzie - archiveJim Kinzie served in the Army for 29 years. “I enjoyed my service.” He joined the Army in 1966 on active duty, went through Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training (AIT), and Officer Candidate School (OCS). Kinzie was commissioned in 1967 and served in the Air Defense Artillery at the Chicago-Milwaukee Defense Area until 1969. He then served the remaining 26 years in the Army Reserves at Fort Snelling. When asked about what brought him to volunteer for the Red Cross, Kinzie simply said, “Payback time.” and further explained that “The Red Cross was helpful in many situations that I was involved in with the military, so this is my opportunity to give back.”

Johnson, William 1-24-12Bill Johnson served in the Army as a nurse for nearly 24 years – five and a half years on active duty and 18 years in the Army Reserves. Bill primarily worked at the Letterman Army Medical Center in San Francisco, CA, on the mental health unit. At this time, after the Vietnam War, there were a lot of service members admitted for “shell shock” or “battle fatigue,” and Bill spent a lot of his time exploring the diagnosis of PTSD. Bill reflected on this experience and said “it taught me to be patient.” After spending some time with the local Medical Reserve Corps, he was recommended to go to a Red Cross presentation where he saw the SAF team in action. Bill has now been an active member of SAF for two years and said, “My passion is now SAF, but I also work with Disaster Health Services and Disaster Mental Health.”

Brent - MEPSBrent Jordahl enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard Aviation during the Vietnam War era. He served for 6 years mostly as crew chief in helicopter maintenance, while stationed at Holman Field in St. Paul, MN. Thankfully the government did not activate the Guard during this time, so Brent was not deployed overseas to fight in the war. He started volunteering with the Red Cross in other areas long before his professional retirement, but afterwards he wanted to expand his volunteer service and was led to SAF.  Brent speaks highly of the Red Cross, saying that it’s “one of the most well respected and admirable organizations there are. There are so many different things the Red Cross does and I felt like I wanted to be a part of it.”

Kelvie, Bill Sept 2011Bill Kelvie served in the Army for almost 22 years. He went to Military Police School and was active for his first 3 years, and then served his remaining 18-19 years in the Army Reserves. During this time, Kelvie was stationed in Germany and worked at an airport in U.S. Customs. His volunteer service with the Red Cross began shortly after he heard of Holiday Mail for Heroes. Kelvie’s main goal in working with SAF is “to give back to those that are serving our country.” He said he “sympathizes with them” and wants to do as much as he can to help out.

Jim McKinney - archiveJim McKinney enlisted in his senior year of college and served in the Army from 1968-1970. He was stationed at the on duty meeting zone in the Korean Demilitarized Zone at Panmunjom for the United Nations joint security. McKinney originally came to volunteer for the Red Cross after the 35W Bridge collapse, and was later recruited into the SAF program. He recalled one of many standout moments during his time so far with SAF when three mothers thanked him for their sons’ safe return home. McKinney says, “The system really works. It felt very rewarding.”

Please celebrate the on-going achievements of all SAF volunteers, including those across our region in Duluth, Bemidji, Alexandria, and St. Cloud. Last year, the region’s SAF volunteers provided nearly 2,400 emergency communication services between military members and their families; and they gave more than 3,500 pre-basic training and pre-deployment briefings for military members across our Red Cross region.

Story by Kelly Lynch, Communications Intern for the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. For more information on Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces click here. For more information about how to become a Red Cross volunteer click here