The American Red Cross served so many needs during World War II. On the home front volunteers performed many of the tasks. Paid staff organized and supervised the activities but volunteers were the mainstay of the organization. At its peak in 1945 the Red Cross had over 36 million members and over 7.5 million volunteers, while paid staff peaked at just over 36,000. There were over 3,700 Red Cross Chapters spread across the country.
The Red Cross Canteen Corps set up on docks, in railroad stations, in airports, and on military posts to provide meals and snacks to military personnel while traveling or upon arrival at military bases. They also provided food to civilians at blood donor centers, child care centers and schools.
Home Care services assisted families of service members in many ways. One was assisting family members trying to communicate with their military loved one stationed overseas or at a distant base or helping service men and women communicate with family back home. This might be happy news, such as the birth of a baby. Or it might be notification of a death or serious illness in the family. In these cases, if necessary, the Red Cross would help the serviceman arrange leave and transportation to go home. Other services included financial assistance and counseling for military families.
The Red Cross in coastal cities assisted seamen who had been rescued at sea. These merchant marines were not in the military yet they were responsible for shipping millions of tons of supplies to the combat zones. Thousands of ships were sunk by our enemies leaving the rescued seamen far from their home ports. Also the Red Cross assisted evacuees from the war zones. Some, like the seamen, had been rescued at sea. Others arrived in this country with little more than the clothes on their backs. Red Cross volunteers provided food, temporary shelter and clothing while they got settled in the states. This service was similar to the Civilian War Relief provided by the Red Cross in war-torn countries around the world.
Prisoner of War relief included assembling, packing and shipping more than 27 million packages containing food and personal items to the International Red Cross who distributed them to 1.4 million American and Allied prisoners of war. Facilities set up in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis, were manned by 13,500 Red Cross volunteers. These Red Cross parcels contributed to the survival of many prisoners of war in Germany where the Germans cooperated in distributing the packages. In my novel Kitty’s War, the prisoners received Red Cross parcels. Unfortunately, Japan did not work with the International Red Cross to provide packages to their prisoners.
Another interesting Red Cross service was helping the thousands of “War Brides.” During the war many American service men married women in the various countries where they were stationed. The Red Cross kept track of these “Brides” and when transportation became available gathered them at ports and accompanied them on the journey to America. Along the way the Red Cross arranged for food and housing, held classes to teach the foreign “Brides” about their new home and even escorted many of the young women and their children to their final destination.
In addition to all these things the Red Cross set up shelters for civilians in case our country had been attacked. As they do now, the Red Cross responded to a myriad of disasters, from fires and explosions to hurricanes and tornados. Finally, one of the most important achievements of the Red Cross during World War II was their fund raising. After an immensely successful fund raising drive in 1941-42, when they raised $66 million, President Roosevelt declared March 1943 as “Red Cross Month” with a goal of raising $125 million dollars. By June of 1943 $146 million had been raised. Roosevelt called it the “greatest single crusade of mercy in all of history.”