It’s often during times of excitement and disaster that we forget those who worked behind the scenes. Commemoration of the tragic attacks of 9/11 justly salutes the NYPD, NYFD, and the fallen civilians who bravely weathered the terrible storm. But today, on the 11 year anniversary of 9/11, I’d like to take a moment to remember the heroic efforts of 25,000 medical volunteers who aided the wounded as part of the American Red Cross.
In 1869, young Clara Barton, a teacher and advocate for soldiers, was taking a much-needed respite in Europe during the Franco-Prussian War. Her kind heart and helping hands were, of course, unable to ignore the casualties of the war and the great humanitarian relief efforts of the International Red Cross. So, with red crosses in her eyes, she swiftly sailed the sea and brought home the concept, officially launching the American Red Cross in 1881.
Although bureaucracies have plagued the American Red Cross, they have been instrumental in our recovery from many wars and disasters, the first of which was the Great Fire of 1881 in Michigan.
And then just 8 short years later, Clara led the effort during the Johnstown Flood in 1889 in Pennsylvania, which remains one of the most devastating disasters in the history of the United States.
WW1 saw American Red Cross nurses filling hospitals and dispensaries all over Europe as they tended to wounded soldiers and the morale of the men.
During WW2, many American Red Cross units were detached and sent overseas to aid sailors and soldiers. And of course, were there for those returning from battle to fertile United States soil.
As one of the five deadliest hurricanes in all of United States history, Katrina relied heavily upon the efforts of the American Red Cross, along with the Coast Guard (hooray!) and FEMA. They provided housing, food, hygiene, and the first ever online family member locator: Safe and Well.
I’ve left so many great efforts off of the list (the Spanish-American War, the Titanic, Dustbowl drought, Oklahoma City bombing…) and I wish I could fit them all in. Instead, I’ll end with a quote from Clara Barton, the woman who started it all.
“Although its growth may seem to have been slow, it is to be remembered that it is not a shrub, or plant, to shoot up in the summer and wither in the frosts. The Red Cross is a part of us–it has come to stay–and like the sturdy oak, its spreading branches shall yet encompass and shelter the relief of the nation.” -Clara Barton
For a slideshow of the American Red Cross of Greater New York’s response during 9/11, head over to their website here