The International Red Cross was founded in 1863 in Switzerland and in 1881 Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross. In 1892 the ARC carried out it’s first international relief effort when mid-Western farmers provided grain to over a million starving Russians. In 1905 Congress granted the ARC a charter to provide relief service to American servicemen and civilian disaster relief effort at home and abroad and it was none too soon. World War I would see six service people die of influenza for every one war casualty; most all of these occurred in the Spring of 1919 in Army cantonments overcrowded with young men been readied for the war effort. The ARC was the primary source of nurses. Since that time the American Red Cross responds to over 67,000 disasters annually. The organization will touch the lives of one in three Americans.
I became personally involved with the Red Cross as a young social work student in 1975. It was the end of the war in Vietnam and the fall of Saigon. I was part of a team of local volunteer professionals who flew rescue missions to retrieve orphans as part of Operation BabyLift. This was, for me, a life changing experience and although I was still a 24 year old student it was a defining moment in my life as a social worker.
We flew in C-123 transport planes, with sling seats, tail ramps and a cabin that was not pressurized. Each volunteer was responsible for one infant and one child or adolescent. Each child received life time doses of immunizations at a layover in Guam and well over 3/4s of them also developed measles and inner ear infections. None of the children understood English and they were so terrified that the one translator on the plane lied and told them they were being returned to home in Vietnam just to get them back on the planes in Guam for the remainder of the flight to Michigan. I will never forget the deafening roar of the plane engines combined with the piercing and relentless screaming of infants and children. In total we brought 114 children to be placed with waiting families. These adoptions were met with mixed success and for the next decade I would work with these children with attachment and post traumatic stress disorders.
In 1987 Flight 255 out of Detroit Metro Airport would crash on take-off, killing 154 people and leaving one lone 4 year old survivor. The Washtenaw Chapter of the ARC provided the emergency response team.
A year ago, the Washtenaw chapter was available to our family when we registered Bill’s name so they could contact him in Iraq as necessary when his father was dying. This is a primary function of the Red Cross- serving as liaison between military personnel and their families. And today our local chapter has sent a team of volunteers to New Orleans.
You can help by making monetary donations at 1-800-HELP NOW. This is the best way to help. Because the handling, sorting, transporting and distribution of clothing and furniture requires resources and volunteer time that is better spent in direct services to victims these donations are often discouraged, especially in the early days of emergency response. I encourage you to call or donate online at http://www.redcross.org. Be patient; lots of good people are in line ahead of you.