A Hundred-Year History of the

American Red Cross of Hawaiʻi

1917 – 2017

By Charles Memminger


“There was no time for anyone to think about anything but work.

We worked together beautifully.”

At 6:30 on the Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941, a 17-year-old Japanese-American boy was in the bedroom of his Mōʻiliʻili home preparing to go to church, as his family always did. He had the radio playing loudly on the shelf above his bed. Suddenly, a hysterical radio announcer came on saying that Pearl Harbor was being bombed and frantically adding, “This is not a test! This is not a test!”

The boy went out onto the front lawn with his father and watched Japanese planes flying in formation overhead, toward Pearl Harbor and other military installations on Oʻahu. He also saw puffs of black smoke in the sky from American anti-aircraft guns attempting to shoot the planes down. Unfortunately, a lot of those anti-aircraft rounds fell around Honolulu, causing many civilian casualties.

As a Hawaiʻi Civil Defense Red Cross volunteer trained in first aid, the boy was not surprised when the Red Cross called saying they needed him to immediately come to the aid station and help with the injured Honolulu residents.

He grabbed two pieces of bread from the kitchen table and set out on his bike to Lunalilo School, a mile away. There, Red Cross nurses were already attending to the injured. The boy grabbed a litter and, with two other boys (also Red Cross volunteers), rushed to a house that had been hit with an anti-aircraft shell to help the injured. He did not return home for 5 days.

That 17-year-old boy was a future hero of World War ll who would lose an arm fighting in Europe with the Asian-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team and later become a United States senator.

But on that Sunday morning in 1941, Daniel K. Inouye was a young Red Cross volunteer doing what would become the hallmark of the Red Cross in Hawaiʻi and around the world: Always Here, Always Ready” to help those in need. 

Many years after the attack on Hawaiʻi, Senator Inouye told a UPI reporter that he and his fellow Red Cross volunteers that morning had no choice but to go into the danger zone to help the injured and, sadly, to see the first civilian killed in the War in the Pacific.

“There was no time for anyone to think about anything but work,” Sen. Inouye recalled. “A job had to be done and we did it with no fuss. We worked together beautifully.”

For one hundred years, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross has continued to always be where it is needed and always ready, whether it be hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, house fires, floods, forest fires, bubonic plague, cholera, typhoid or many other man-made or natural disasters, not only in the Islands, but on the U.S. mainland and around the world.

While the American Red Cross of Hawaiʻi officially is recognized as having been founded in 1917, its roots go back much further, to the American Civil War.

Born in 1821, Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross after following a counter-intuitive career path in which she became an educator at a time when most teachers were men, and then going to work in the U.S. Patent Office as one of the first women to work for the U.S. federal government.

But she became a household name – known as the “angel of the battlefield” – during the Civil War. At first, she was only allowed to collect and distribute supplies far from the battlefronts. Eventually, she convinced the Army to let her go to the front lines to nurse wounded soldiers. In 1862, she found herself at Fredericksburg, Virginia at the Battle of Antietam where casualties and deaths were high.

After the war, Barton visited Europe where she learned of the humanitarian work of a Swiss man named Henry Dunant.

In 1895, Dunant was an eyewitness to the carnage that occurred during the bloody Battle of Solferino in Italy. He saw Austrian, Italian and French soldiers maiming and killing each other.

He wrote a book about the horrors of war and how there should be a humanitarian, neutral organization to help the sick and wounded during wartime, no matter what side they were on. Medical personnel would be protected by banners, signs and flags consisting of a red cross in a white field. The book led to the formation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863 and the formation of the Geneva Convention the next year.

Barton got to see firsthand how important the International Red Cross was when she worked as a Red Cross volunteer during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. That, combined with what she had experienced on the front lines of the American Civil War, convinced her that such a humanitarian organization was needed in America.

When she returned home, she established the American Association of the Red Cross in 1881. Unlike the European models, the American Red Cross not only focused on those injured in war, but also would take on disaster relief.

After the founding of the national Red Cross organization, various American Red Cross societies sprang up around the country, including Hawaiʻi in 1898.

Among the organizers of the “Red Cross Society of Hawaiʻi” were Mrs. Harold M. Sewell, president; Mrs. Sanford Dole, first vice president, and Second Vice President Princess Kaʻiulani, the would-be heir to the Hawaiian throne after Queen Lilʻiuokalani. (Eventually, the Red Cross in the Islands would officially become the “American Red Cross of Hawaiʻi,” but the Hawaiʻi Red Cross took various shapes and names during the early years.)

During the period leading up to World War l, and despite the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and eventual annexation by the United States in 1893, both Queen Liliʻuokalani and Princess Kaʻiulani showed amazing grace in personally supporting the burgeoning growth of the Red Cross in Hawaiʻi.

In 1898, the “Red Cross Society of Hawaiʻi” and Princess Kaʻiulani were focused on caring for the sick and injured soldiers arriving in Hawaiʻi from the Philippines where the Spanish American War was raging in the Pacific theater. The princess was one of about 300 women mobilized to feed and care for the shiploads of injured solders arriving in the Islands.

The “Red Cross Society of Hawaiʻi” was dissolved at the end of the Spanish American War but by 1907, when bubonic plague, cholera and typhoid struck Hawaiʻi, a new group named the “Hawaiʻi Red Cross Society” was formed. This group was headed by Sanford B. Dole, a lawyer, judge and cousin of James Dole, who created the Hawaiian Pineapple Company on Oʻahu.

By 1911, that iteration of the Red Cross in Hawaiʻi also was dissolved due to inactivity.

In 1914, during World War l, the Red Cross in Hawaiʻi took the form of the “War Relief Committee” and the “Allied War Relief Committee.” The primary goal of the Allied War Relief Committee was to accept and forward funds for orphans and widows during what became known as the “Great War.” The Allied War Relief Committee was composed of women from church guilds that had been sending relief money and hospital garments to Europe since mid-1914.

On August 23, 1917, the “War Relief Committee” was officially chartered by the American National Red Cross as the “American Red Cross – Honolulu Chapter.”

On March 16, 1918, Red Cross activities combined to form the “Hawaiian Chapter” with branches on the islands of Oahu, Hawai’i, Kaua’i and Maui. On April 8, 1937, the chapter name changed to "Hawai’i Chapter” and on March 27, 1963, the name changed to “Hawai’i State Chapter”.

Despite the various iterations of the name of the Red Cross in Hawaiʻi, the goal of all those different organizations had been simply to care for sick and injured; to be available and ready to assist those in need.

As a Red Cross Hawaiʻi flier of that time – decorated with a drawing of an outrigger canoe and a hibiscus lei surrounding the Islands – pointed out:

“The true story of the Red Cross is told not in words but in the lives of those who have known its help. The theme is neither records nor reports, although these have a tale to tell. The theme is service and it is written in the hearts of all those who faithfully work for the Red Cross and support it in order to help others … The (Red Cross) story is like a ship’s journey across a long sea. The ship sails into many ports but is forever outward bound and another journey waits upon the last. The story has no ending.”

Hawaiʻi Red Cross Finds a Home

The American Red Cross of Hawaiʻi headquarters is nestled near the flank of the east side of Diamond Head crater. It is there that staff and volunteers discuss plans for whatever emergency develops, be it an approaching hurricane homing in on Oʻahu, a volcano erupting on the Big Island, a fatal dam break on Kauaʻi or even a mass shooting at a business office in Honolulu. With emergencies needing aid from the Hawaiʻi Red Cross on an average of every four days, volunteers and staff are always ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.

In addition to disaster response operations, it is also where other Red Cross programs and services are executed whether it is helping military service members and their families to get in touch in times of an emergency, teaching classes in first aid and CPR, or training new volunteers to serve their communities.

The Hawaiʻi Red Cross didn’t always have a modern base of operations to work out of. It operated something like a MASH unit, occupying various available offices, buildings, schools and even the Royal Palace in World War I and World War ll. The Hawaiʻi Red Cross moved into office spaces (sometimes donated by Island businesses) as needed in order to plan, prepare and mobilize any efforts required to fulfill the organization’s mission of preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies.

When U.S. President William McKinley sent the battleship Maine into Havana Harbor in Cuba – a Spanish territory – in 1898, Hawaiʻi residents likely did not know that would lead to the founding of the state’s first Red Cross organization.

But after the Maine was blown up in February 1898, the U.S. declared war on Spain, which included all of its far-flung land holdings, including in the Philippines.

In Hawaiʻi, in June 1898, 300 women, including Hawaiian Princess Kaʻiulani, met in the YMCA hall in Honolulu to organize the “Red Cross Society of Hawaiʻi” to help provide aid and comfort to the sick and wounded who were being transported by ship to Hawaiʻi from the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. 

Headquarters for the newly formed “Red Cross Society of Hawaiʻi” was at the corner of Fort and Merchant streets in the Castle & Cooke building, where soldiers en route to or returning from the Philippines were served cold lunches and coffee by the Society’s volunteers. Because the rapidly created, makeshift headquarters was not large enough to aid all of the sick and injured soldiers, the Red Cross society arranged for private homes also to be used.

Throughout the next hundred years, the precursor Hawaiʻi Red Cross organizations, as well as the American Red Cross of Hawaiʻi formed in 1917, oftentimes scrambled to find a place for the organization’s headquarters.

During World War l, Iolani Palace served as a temporary location for Hawaiʻi Red Cross activities. The Throne Room was used for the preparation of hospital and first aid supplies. The University Club Building and Kilohana Art League Building served as the headquarters for sewing, knitting and supply packing.

In 1940, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross occupied the Castle Kindergarten Building on South King Street. From 1942 to 1945, the Red Cross utilized part of the Academy of Arts building at 900 South Beretania Street. Then later in 1943, the Hawaiʻi chapter moved to 453 South Beretania, where the state Capitol now stands. Housed there were administrative offices, the Safety and Nursing Department and a warehouse. The Junior Red Cross was at Crane Park in Kaimukī.

By 1964, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross moved into the building at 1270 Ala Moana Boulevard, leased from the Ward Estate. With the assistance of the U.S. Engineers, the building was portioned into departments. The Chapter would remain there until 1972.

The Hawaiʻi Red Cross would finally find a home at its current location at 4155 Diamond Head Road on June 26, 1974 when a groundbreaking ceremony was held. The organization signed a 65-year lease for the property with the state, which received the land from the U.S. Department of Defense. The entire lease cost only $1.

Construction of the two-story, modern block and glass building, designed by architect Peter Hsi and built by Oceanic Construction, was completed in May 1975. The building and furnishings cost $896,217. Hawaii Red Cross board members John Henry Felix and Warren K.K. Luke were credited for being instrumental in bringing the project to completion.

The new headquarters was christened the Alfred L. Castle Memorial Building after one of the original founders of the American Red Cross in Hawaiʻi. An art show sale was held yearly until 1985 to raise funds for the headquarters.

In 1976, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross leased from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources an empty lot on the corner of Diamond Head Road and 18th Avenue. Volunteers and staff, with the assistance of Hawaiʻi National Guardsmen, cleared the lot and turned it into “Volunteer Park” which opened to the public in 1976. The land was later returned to the state in 1997 and became a community dog park where pet owners could bring their dogs for play and exercise.

On October 1, 1987, the Hawaiʻi Chapter headquarters courtyard was dedicated as a living memorial to the late Martha D. Kennedy, in recognition of her more than 50 years of volunteer service. It also was rededicated to the legacy of all the men and women who have supported the Hawaiʻi Red Cross with their time and donations.

Hawaiian Royalty and the Hawaiʻi Red Cross

In 1917, with World War l, the Great War, raging around the world, even Hawaiʻi, a little splash of Islands in the middle of the Pacific, found itself fully engaged.

The center of many of the Red Cross of Hawaiʻi’s activities was the grand ʻIolani Palace, where the Throne Room was used to prepare thousands of surgical dressings, units of gauze, muslin bandages and other supplies. At first, they were sent off to the war in France. When the Hawaiʻi Red Cross contingent set off for Siberia, the supplies were sent there, where they were very much needed to aid thousands of fleeing refugees in Russia.

ʻIolani Palace was built by King Kalākaua in 1882 after he became the first Hawaiʻi monarch to sail around the world. Money was no object. He wanted to build a palace that would challenge the grace and eloquence of the world’s great palaces and castles. From around the world, he ordered the finest materials and fixtures. ʻIolani Palace eventually would have telephones, electricity and plumbing before even the White House.

King Kalākaua, his wife Queen Kapiʻolani and his sister, the future Queen Liliʻuokalani, lived in the newly built palace.

After the overthrow and annexation by the United States, Queen Liliʻuokalani moved into nearby Washington Place, itself a grand building, with expansive lawns, white pillars and large, open lanais. She would live there until her death on November 11, 1917 at age 79.

But just two months before her death, the deposed Queen Lilʻiuokalani was fully committed to helping out the Red Cross World War l efforts and bringing comfort to those suffering in the war. She and her loyal volunteers had been sewing a large Red Cross flag at Washington Place.

On Sept. 14, 1917, just a few weeks after the American Red Cross Honolulu Chapter was officially chartered, Hawaii Territorial Governor Lucius Pinkham and Queen Liliuokalani’s

Secretary, Colonel Curtis Iaukea, presented the Red Cross flag to members of the Honolulu Chapter on the steps of Iolani Palace. At the Queen’s suggestion, the flag flew over the Palace and later hung in the Throne Room during World War I, a key site of where Hawaii Red Cross war support activities took place, including the making of surgical dressings and bandages by Red Cross volunteers for wounded soldiers across the seas.

The flag, on permanent loan from the Hawaii State Archives, now hangs on the wall of a large conference room at the Hawaii Red Cross headquarters on Diamond Head Road. Beside it is a brass plaque with a personal note written by the Queen:

“The flag is an expression of my warm and hearty sympathy with the cause of humanity and an abiding faith in the work of the patriotic women in Hawaii. In presenting this emblem of the Red Cross, may I suggest that it first be displayed over the executive building so that those who see it may be reminded of their patriotic duty and know that beneath its folds, in the Thrown Room of Iolani Palace, sit a group of silent workers giving of their time and untiring efforts in the work of alleviation and mercy.”

It was during this period that the Hawaiʻi Red Cross held its first membership and war fund drive, leading 16,332 people (one sixth of the total population of Oahu) to join the organization and raising $38,500. The new volunteers reflected the great cultural poi bowl that is Hawaiʻi: Hawaiians, Caucasians, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and all mixtures in between.

In typical Hawaiʻi fashion, the membership and fund drives became island-style celebrations. During the inaugural drive, crowds lined the streets to see the Royal Hawaiian Band – carried through Honolulu in a special streetcar – playing favorite tunes and keeping the energy level high. Ambulances and other public vehicles joined in the parades. The Hawaiian Electric Company would blow its big whistles every time 500 new members were added to the Red Cross. When the volunteer count reached the 8,000 mark and the HECO whistles rang out, Queen Liliʻuokalani was presented with a special Red Cross pin by fund drive organizers.

Descriptions of those events were recorded in the “Hawaiian Almanac and Annual,” which billed itself as “The Reference Book for Information and Statistics Relating to the Territory of Hawaiʻi, of Hawaiʻi, of Value to Merchants, Tourists and Others.” It stated, “A handsome Red Cross flag was presented to this organization by the late Queen Liliʻuokalani, whose interest in Red Cross work in her last days was most touching. One of her last acts was to be wheeled on to her veranda on the day of the Red Cross drive and to take out a Patron membership.”

In May 1918, the second war fund drive was even more celebratory and brought in nearly $700,000, an enormous sum for those times. Honolulu’s daily newspaper, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, described the atmosphere – somewhat breathlessly – this way:

“Honolulu saw a spectacle which for combined pictorial beauty and for inspiration has never been excelled in the great number of parades this city has witnessed. Hundreds upon hundreds of women and girls, clad in immaculate white, with the tiny cross of red at the forehead and breast, marched in time to the music of bands. Unit after unit of workers – the feminine hands that toil long and faithfully upon knitting and surgical bandages – massed on the Capitol grounds. Against the vivid green of lawns and under the verdant foliage of the venerable tropic trees, these robes of spotless purity gleamed cool and freshly sweet, remindful of the grateful service given to men in pain across the sea just back from the blazing line of guns and infantry.”

To supplement money raised by the fund and membership drives, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross opened a small market at the corner of Nuʻuanu and Beretania streets, selling homegrown fruits and vegetables, as well as used clothing. When the market was opened, a Honolulu policeman was called to control the enthusiastic crowds of shoppers.

By 1918, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross was spread across the state with volunteers – young, old, men, women, children – on every island giving countless hours to the tasks of sewing, knitting and making bandages as part of the war relief efforts.

The work was divided into four departments: Surgical Dressings; Hospital Supplies and Garments; Knitting; and Refugees. (The firemen of the Makiki Station were particularly well known for their knitting prowess, creating sweaters, scarves, gloves and socks for American soldiers in World War l.)

It was on November 15, 1918 – four days after World War l ended – that Alfred Castle, second generation of the kamaʻaina Castle family and one of the founders of the Red Cross in Hawai’i, led more than a dozen Hawaiʻi Red Cross volunteers to Siberia to help war refugees.

Castle and other community leaders, including future Amfac/JMB Hawaii Inc. founder Henry A. Walker, Jr. and Dr. William Baldwin, whose father founded Alexander & Baldwin, were part of a large contingent of Hawaiʻi doctors, nurses, refugee workers, and nurse aides recruited by the Red Cross to travel to Siberia to aid thousands of war refugees. They set up the first Red Cross hospital in Vladivostok, a Pacific port city in Russia. Baldwin became director of the Vladivostok hospital and Walker ran a relief train into the Russian interior picking up refugees and bringing them to Vladivostok.

Castle and Red Cross volunteer Honolulu Star-Bulletin Editor Riley Allen were instrumental in rescuing 800 Ural refugee children from Siberia and transporting them by land and sea to reunite them with their families in Petrograd. When Petrograd was threatened, the children were taken to Vladivostok. Red Cross volunteers from Hawaiʻi eventually chartered a Japanese freighter and took the children to San Francisco, New York and Finland. The children were finally taken across the Russian border to their homes. It took three years for the entire relief effort.

The rescue of the children and the rescues of another 2,000 refugees were stunning in their scope and stand as one of the American Red Cross’ great humanitarian efforts, all launched by an unlikely Island state better known to the world for its surf, sun and coconut trees.

In 2005, former Hawaiʻi Attorney General Michael Lilly, penned a touching homage to his grandfather, Henry A. Walker, Sr., who was among those volunteers who boarded the Japanese ship Shinyo Maru bound for Vladivostok, Russia and “headed for the Siberian wastes into which hundreds of thousands of destitute refugees were pouring in from the Russian Revolution.”

Walker was nicknamed “Sandy” or “Kid” but to Lilly, he was “Gramps,” a Harvard graduate who wanted to join the Army and the Great War but was unable to do so because he once had tuberculosis. Eager to serve, Gramps turned to his good friend, Alfred Castle, who had been appointed the Red Cross General Field Director for the Territory of Hawaiʻi. With Castle’s help, he joined the Hawaiʻi Red Cross, was able to don “an army-like uniform,” and join Castle’s Hawaiʻi band of Red Cross pioneers headed for Siberia.

After a record-breaking 12-day ship transit across the Pacific and the Sea of Japan, the Hawaiʻi group arrived in Vladivostok on Thanksgiving Day. Gramps and his cohorts were taken right away to the Red Cross headquarters, a renovated Russian military barracks, where they were “outfitted for the bitter Siberian weather with heavy, fur-lined coats, arctic overshoes, mittens and fur caps.”

At that time, hundreds of thousands of destitute refugees poured into Siberian cities from all over Russia. Gramps and the Hawaiʻi delegation immediately began to do what they could to feed, clothe, shelter and provide medical care for the refugees in weather that would reach 20 to 60 degrees below zero. Gramps oversaw the refurbishment of a closed Vladivostok jail hospital to aid a growing list of typhus patients. Near the end of 1918, a large shipment of Red Cross supplies arrived from Hawaiʻi. Some of these supplies, wrote Lilly, “eventually wound up on the Trans-Siberian Railroad which was a bustling operation during Gramps’ service.”

Part of the Hawaiʻi Red Cross volunteers’ duties was “to operate more than fifteen trains laden with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of medical, clothing, food and supplies for distribution to the civilian population.” Gramps found himself making trips 4,000 miles each way from Vladivostok to Omsk on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

Lilly writes that Gramps sometimes had to bribe locomotive engineers and firemen with packets of raw sugar “to pull his refugee train across Eastern Russia.”

On June 24, 1919, Gramps and other Red Cross volunteers boarded the ship “Archer” with 2,000 Czech refugees. Their mission was to deliver the refugees around the world to Prague, Czechoslovakia and see to the refugees’ health and comfort along the way. The trip was long and dangerous, going from the Sea of Japan to San Diego, California; through the Panama Canal to Norfolk, Virginia; and 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to France. From there, they took trains to Prague.

Finally back in Hawaiʻi, Gramps became a successful businessman and president of the Hawaiʻi Sugar Planters Association.

Lilly recalls, “He was a gracious, generous and humble man ... In his 80s, I’d sit on the lanai of Gramps’ Nuʻuanu home for hours as he regaled me with his exploits … I am honored to have put Gramp’s Siberian experiences into perspective. And so I dedicate this article to Gramps who gave us so much and to whom we owe much more.”

One of the Hawaiʻi Red Cross’ shining lights, Henry “Gramps” Walker, died in 1969 at the age of 86.

(Source: “A Hawaiian Red Cross Volunteer in Siberia, 1918 – 1919. Henry A. Walker, Sr.” By Michael A. Lilly, 2005.)

What to Do When a War Drops Right Out of the Sky

When 17-year-old future Hawaiʻi U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye sped on his bicycle from his house to a Red Cross aid station a mile away on the morning Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan, the young Red Cross Civil Defense volunteer was a great example of how much the Hawaiʻi Red Cross had learned from World War l.

Although few people thought the Japanese would actually attack Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross and its volunteers were ready when World War ll dropped out of the sky right on Hawaiʻi’s doorstep. At that moment, when the bombs began to fall on Pearl Harbor and Hickam, Wheeler and Dillingham fields, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross became the only American Red Cross chapter operating in an active combat zone.

In World War l, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross was sending supplies to France to aid the fighting in Europe. It later shifted those supplies to Russia and Siberia where Hawaiʻi Red Cross volunteers joined other international Red Cross workers providing relief to thousands of refugees fleeing from the fighting across the continent.

But in 1940, with what would become World War ll underway in Europe, the U.S. government, under President Franklin Roosevelt, chose not to join the shooting war. Nevertheless, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross made preparations for war, forming internal units that could be mobilized in Hawaiʻi if needed. These units, under Volunteer Special Services, included the Production Corps, Motor Service Corps, Canteen Corps, Home and Service Corps and Nurse Aid Corps.

A special unit was formed of Red Cross volunteer caregivers in the Hospital and Recreation Corps known as the “Gray Ladies.” The Gray Ladies were hostesses who mainly provided non-medical services in hospitals (including Tripler Hospital and civilian hospitals during World War ll in Hawaiʻi.). They would provide recreational services, run errands for injured soldiers, talk and read to patients, help write letters to relatives, host parties and holiday celebrations, and lead arts and crafts workshops. In other words, their job was to keep the spirits up of those in military and civilian hospitals, which was fulfilling, yet sometimes heartbreaking.

The Gray Ladies got their name from the color of the uniform they wore. During World War I, the national Red Cross used different-colored uniforms to delineate the various lines of service. The Gray Ladies were part of the Hostess and Hospital Service Corps begun in 1918 at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

Although their gray uniforms might not have been as eye-catching as the colors in the other services, the Gray Ladies brought joy to the servicemen they aided. During World War ll, the Gray Ladies corps reached its peak nationally with almost 50,000 women volunteers. After the Second World War, the corps’ name was changed to simply the Gray Lady service. In the 1960s, the color-coding system was ended and uniforms for volunteers in various corps became blue.

One of the original Gray Ladies in Hawaii in World War II was LeBurta Atherton, who will turn 100 years old in 2017, the Hawaii Red Cross’ centennial year.

During the December 7, 1941 attack on Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross Motor Corps, who were trained in first aid, immediately began evacuating people from Pearl Harbor, transporting medical supplies and carrying the wounded to hospitals. The Motor Corps learned how to drive heavy army trucks, fix engines, change tires, practice military drills and took part in chemical warfare demonstrations. They also transported donors to blood banks, took library books to service hospitals and traced individuals whose families contacted Red Cross for help in finding loved ones.

Without any thought of possible injury to themselves, they did what they had to do. So did volunteer Hawaii Red Cross nurses who cared for the wounded after the raid, including 11 who made the harrowing journey by ship to San Francisco trying keep critically injured survivors alive for medical treatment at a hospital.

One of the original Motor Corps volunteers in Hawaii during World War II was Ginger Lilly, who is the mother of Former State Attorney General Mike Lilly. (See more in “Profiles In Caring”)

The Canteen Corps opened a feeding station at ʻIolani Palace and served evacuees, truck drivers and other emergency workers. The Corps also served food at two air bases on Oʻahu and prepared thousands of picnic lunches. The main canteen was located at Kaikoʻo, in a private Diamond Head home. The homeowners provided their home to the Red Cross for the entire war period.

Volunteers in the Surgical Dressing Corps made 2,558,458 dressings in 1942 and by May of 1945, 129,996 dressings were being produced in a single month.

The 2,300 women making up the Knitting and Sewing Corps produced handmade sweaters, socks, beanies, afghans, childrenʻs gas masks in the shape of bunny rabbits, operating gowns, ditty bags and operating tent nets.

The sweaters, socks, beanies and afghans were made for servicemen in hospitals, submarines and hospital ships. In 1944, the knitting corps made knitted Christmas presents for the crews of 70 U.S. Navy submarines.

A Junior Red Cross of over 100 local schools also established during this time. They collected supplies like blankets and towels for the first aid stations, and assisted in making pillows, surgical dressings, scrapbooks, stuffed toys, dolls, games, sweaters, and ashtrays.

Hawaiʻi Red Cross CEO Coralie Chun Matayoshi described in a 2008 PBS Hawaiʻi video some of the Red Cross’ activities during and after the Pearl Harbor attack.

“There were volunteer nurse aides and nurses who cared for the wounded,” she said. “And there were the Gray Ladies, these Red Cross volunteers who provided friendly, personal services to the sick, injured and disabled patients in the hospitals. It was the spirit of humanitarianism and volunteerism and compassion that was the essence of the Red Cross. And I think that what the war did was to unite that spirit in everyone. It was the young and old, the rich and the poor, and that’s what the Red Cross is all about.”

“In World War l, they (the volunteers) were rolling bandages in the Throne Room,” she said. “So that tradition kept on going in World War ll where they did the same thing … rolling bandages and preparing things.”

In a PBS Hawaiʻi special, Al Castle, executive director of the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation and grandson of Alfred Lowrey Castle, one of the founders of the Red Cross in Hawaiʻi in 1917, praised the Red Cross workers in the Islands for their work after the Japanese attack.

“They built up the medical supplies, the bandages, the medicine and all of the tools needed to save lives,” he said. “They also worked in concert with the Hawaiʻi Blood Bank, which was created just before World War ll and still exists to this day as a very important lifeline for Hawaiʻi’s community. Some of the Red Cross volunteers were also volunteers to the Blood Bank.”

Castle credited his grandfather and the founders of the Red Cross in Hawaiʻi for forming an inclusive organization that involved the entire Island community. “My grandfather saw the Red Cross as a safe place where volunteers from all social classes could come together while serving a public good,” he said.

He believes that in World War ll, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross lived up to its mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of war, disasters and emergencies.

“What you had in 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, is a threat that everyone feels equally,” he said. “And with that you begin to see cross-racial, cross-ethnic volunteering … it became the Red Cross for all people. When I look at it that way, it always brings a tear to the eye because it’s Hawaiʻi at its best.”

After the Japanese attack on Hawaiʻi, President Roosevelt had a change of heart about America joining the war. Calling the Pearl Harbor attack “a day that will live in infamy,” Roosevelt convinced the U.S. Congress to declare war on Japan. The United States had entered World War ll.

Although the Hawaiʻi Red Cross welcomed volunteers and staff from all races and ethnicities in the Islands, the American military was leery of allowing Asian-Americans to join the fight. Under military law in Hawaiʻi, thousands of Asian-Americans were sent to internment camps on the mainland.

The military finally allowed Asian-Americas to fight for their country when it formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 1943. The team was made up almost entirely of Japanese Americans, most of them from Hawaiʻi. They included the young Daniel Inouye, who watched the Japanese attack from his front yard and later rushed to the Red Cross station to do his duty as a Red Cross volunteer. The 442nd became one of the highly decorated units in the war.

At the peak of Red Cross wartime activity in 1945, 7.5 million volunteers along with 39,000 paid staff provided service to the military. During the war, the Red Cross served 16 million military personnel, including one million combat casualties. By the time World War II ended in September 1945, the American public had contributed over $784 million in support of the American Red Cross. Nearly every family in America included a member who had either served as a Red Cross volunteer, made contributions of money or blood, or was a recipient of Red Cross services. 

Hawaiʻi Red Cross Faces Unique Challenges in the Middle of the Pacific

Hawaiʻi is the most isolated landmass in the world. It’s 2,390 miles from the U.S. mainland; 3,850 miles from Japan; 4,900 miles from China; and 5,280 miles from the Philippines, 3,071 from Alaska, 5,542 from Colombia, and 5,673 from Australia. That poses particular challenges to the Island state and to the American Red Cross of Hawaiʻi.

While mainland states have to deal with tornadoes, flooding and forest fires, Hawaiʻi’s unique place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean offers up disasters and emergencies most other states don’t have to deal with.

Lava flows on the Big Island, tsunamis and hurricanes all pose unique problems when it comes to preparing residents and visitors for such events or helping them afterward.

Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanic eruptions are fairly common in Hawaiʻi, a chain of islands that began to emerge from the sea more than 70 million of years ago and are still physically growing.

All of the islands were formed from volcanoes, but only three are considered still active: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island and Loihi, the youngest volcano, which is 1,000 feet below sea level about 22 miles southeast of the Big Island.

Unlike Red Cross chapters on the the U.S. mainland, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross has become adept over the years at dealing with erupting volcanoes and lava flows that sometime cause great damage to towns, villages and housing areas.

U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory monitors Hawaiʻi’s volcanoes and alerts government agencies and the general public of the likelihood of an eruption starting. Mini-earthquakes, sometimes hundreds a day, are signs of a pending eruption. The Observatory also monitors and plots the path of lava flows so that people can be evacuated, if needed.

At the first hint of a probable eruption, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross reaches out to communities that may be in the path of a lava flow. It helps individuals who need to be evacuated, making sure there are shelters they can go to and that they will have food and water, as needed. Because of the state of scientific monitoring by the Observatory, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross usually has a greater amount of time to prepare for an eruption than most other disasters (with the exception of Mauna Loa that could erupt suddenly). In the past, however, it was not always that way.

For instance, in April 1926, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross was faced with the challenge of coming to the aid of villagers threatened with approaching lava in an area on the Big Island far from any road or conventional transportation.

It began when Mauna Loa volcano, the largest active volcano on earth, erupted and lava began flowing down its flanks toward the small fishing village of Hoʻōpūloa on the South Kona Coast. With no roads to the village, Red Cross volunteers had to use canoes to help evacuate residents from the Hawaiian fishing village.

The Red Cross workers paddled frantic residents and their possessions to the nearby village of Miloliʻi with the lava steadily flowing toward their home village. The lava eventually reached its target and Hoʻōpūloa was destroyed. The Red Cross helped villagers with food and water and aided them as they found temporary shelter with family or friends.

Twenty-four years later, on June 1, 1950, Mauna Loa erupted again, one of the most spectacular Hawaiian eruptions in recorded history. The event began on May 29, after an island-shaking magnitude 6.4 earthquake occurred beneath Mauna Loa’s west flank. Sixty-four hours later the eruption began, with fissures opening at the summit resulting in several large-volume lava flows. These flows reached the south Kona Coast in about three hours, endangering lives, destroying property and severing the main highway and telephone lines along the way.

The Red Cross of Hawaiʻi quickly set up shelters in the Kaʻū district and in Kona. Volunteers brought food and clothing to the lava flow evacuees.

On February. 28, 1955, there was another Big Island volcanic eruption, this time from Kīlauea volcano, which had been inactive since 1924. According to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, this was the first eruption of Kīlauea in an inhabited area (lower Puna) since 1840. The 1955 eruption again would affect the Puna District.

The event actually began in January of that year with up to 200 small earthquakes a day, a not-so-subtle hint that Kīlauea was about to blow. On the first day of the eruption, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross helped 350 residents from 75 families in Kapoho evacuate to safety and shelter as the eruption began.

The Hawaiʻi Red Cross had opened shelters at Pāhoa and ʻOlaʻa near Puna. The shelters would operate for 69 days with the Red Cross serving 33,000 meals to 225 disaster victims, volunteers and emergency workers.


Tsunamis, seismic sea waves that can get over 60 feet high, can be and have been real threats to Hawaiʻi residents, mainly because the waves can come from anywhere in the Pacific Ocean.

The most famous tsunami event was the one that struck Hilo on the Big Island in 1946. It was generated by an underwater earthquake and landslide off the coast of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, 3,000 miles away. But Hawaiʻi also has been struck by tsunami waves generated on the Pacific coast of South America and even Japan, more than 4,000 miles away.

In the Hilo disaster, a series of waves, some as large as 55-feet-tall, struck on April 1, 1946, leaving a toll of death and destruction in the early morning hours. More than 155 people were killed, 163 hospitalized and thousands more injured. Sadly, some of those killed were curious about the tsunami and wandered into Hilo Bay where the water had receded in advance of the approaching waves.

As soon as the last wave subsided, the Hawaiʻi Chapter of the American Red Cross was on the job. In cooperation with military units on the Island, emergency shelters were set up and medical personnel treated the injured. The next day, 260 tons of food and supplies arrived from the Red Cross in Honolulu, transported by ships. Altogether, 446 buildings were destroyed, 549 buildings damaged. The Red Cross provided emergency aid to 6,350 people at a cost of more than $370,000.

On May 23, 1960, a major tsunami caused by an earthquake off Chile struck Hilo. Sixty-three people were killed and it caused $30 million in damages. At a cost of $390,000, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross provided shelters for 508 people, served 12,754 meals, passed out 25 tons of clothing, and provided emergency relief.

After the disaster, Hawaiʻi residents contributed nearly $40,000 to the Hawaiʻi Red Cross.

Due to the Pacific Tsunami Warning System, established in 1948 in response to the 1946 deadly Hilo tsunami, warnings were issued to Big Islanders in 1960 six hours before the waves were expected. They were told to avoid beaches and the seashore and move to high ground. Nevertheless, some of those who died ignored the warnings and actually headed to the coast in order to view the approaching waves. Arriving only a minute after the Pacific Tsunami Warning System had predicted, the tsunami destroyed Hilo. Thirty-five-foot waves bent parking meters to the ground and wiped away most buildings. A 10-ton tractor was swept out to sea.

That tsunami continued westward and eventually hit Japan, killing 180 people.

Deborah Hopkinson, in a research paper on the Hawaiʻi Red Cross, described how some people taking part in the 1960 tsunami disaster relief effort were seasoned Red Cross of Hawaiʻi volunteers going back to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Many Red Cross volunteers who had been active in the Canteen Corps, Motor Corps and nurse aides during the war, were available and some even reported to the (Red Cross) Chapter headquarters before they were called. Eight Red Cross veteran disaster workers (also) were flown over from the mainland to assist with the emergency mass care and clean-up work,” Hopkinson wrote.


Hurricanes are a fact of life in Hawaiʻi. Luckily, with advanced storm tracking, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross usually has adequate time to set up shelters for residents and visitors and adequately prepare for the storms.

Two of Hawaiʻi’s most damaging hurricanes were Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

On November 19, 1982, Hurricane Iwa hit three Hawaiian Islands: Oʻahu, Kauaʻi and Niʻihau, but Kauaʻi bore the brunt of the storm. It was the first major hurricane to hit Hawaiʻi since it became a state in 1959. The storm struck at night, brushing Oʻahu and ripping through Kauaʻi with waves battering the shoreline and winds that tore away roofs, trees and power lines and blew out windows. Electricity and telephone service, including communications with the United States mainland, were knocked out for hours. (Niʻihau is privately owned with only a small population of native Hawaiians living there. They chose to ride out the storm on their own.)

The hurricane made international news with The New York Times reporting: “The Army sent 10,000 C-rations to Kauaʻi today. The Red Cross and The Salvation Army were also distributing food.”

Ten years later, on September 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki hit Kauaʻi, leaving six dead, and causing $1.8 billion in damages – the most powerful hurricane to strike Hawaiʻi in recorded history. This hurricane also garnered international news with The Los Angeles Times reporting: “Civil defense sirens wailed in Honolulu, home of Waikīkī Beach. Residents and tourists awakened to radio announcers cautioning everyone to stay home and prepare. As people lined up at stores and gasoline stations, the Red Cross opened scores of shelters on both Oʻahu and Kauaʻi, and volunteers began arriving from California.”

Long-time Kauai volunteer Steve Soltysik was in the unique position of being a Red Cross disaster relief volunteer and also a victim of Hurricane Iniki’s destruction. At midnight, after assuring that his family was safe and assessing damage to his home in Puhi (Lihue), Soltysik walked over to Kauai Community College (KCC) to start organizing relief efforts for 1,000-2,000 people. During the weeks following Hurricane Iniki, Soltysik continued his volunteer efforts, securing and hauling tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of relief food and water to Red Cross shelters all over the island of Kauai.

Hawaii Business magazine also provided a glimpse at what it was like for Red Cross volunteers on Kauaʻi when Iniki was raging. Susan McIntyre-King, then American Red Cross Kauaʻi Service Center manager in Līhuʻe, found herself cut off from her fellow Red Cross volunteers.

“When the winds picked up and communications failed, the resources of the American Red Cross were reduced, temporarily, to Susan McIntyre-King and several dozen volunteers cut off from each other and the outside world,” the magazine reported. “Sixteen evacuation shelters had sprung up on the Island, some spontaneously in churches, most staffed by 35 Red Cross volunteers from Kauaʻi and one from Honolulu. In the aftermath of the storm, as the Red Cross set up longer-term service centers, McIntyre-King – who didn't see her own home for six days – helped the influx of more than 300 volunteers and officials from Red Cross chapters in Honolulu and the mainland.”

In August 2014, Hurricane Iselle struck the Big Island, most specifically the Puna/Pahoa area, the strongest hurricane to hit the Big Island in recorded history. Winds of nearly 70 miles per hour brought heavy surf to the east side of the Big Island. The winds unroofed homes, downed trees and knocked out electrical power to 23,000 customers.

The Hawaii Red Cross responded by opening 32 shelters and evacuation centers across the state, housing 2,041 people in one night. A total of 2,508 overnight stays took place from August 7 to August 18. Thousands of residents were without water and power following the storm; some for over 2 weeks.

The Hawaii Red Cross provided 4,900 meals and snacks and 952 mental health and health services contacts were made. Some 19,500 relief items – such as comfort kits, cleaning kits, coolers, flashlights, tarps, batteries, water, ice, gloves and trash bags – were distributed.

Nearly 300 Red Cross workers assisted in the relief efforts, 272 were volunteers.

While responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Iselle, the Red Cross also had to respond to 11 statewide fires within a span of 3 weeks.

It’s not easy for the Hawaiʻi Red Cross to plan for such super storms. But over the years, the organization has strived to keep loss of life and injuries to a minimum through its proven preparedness efforts before hurricanes hit and relief efforts after the storms.

Advance Preparation Is Key

Coralie Chun Matayoshi, CEO of the American Red Cross of Hawaiʻi, explained how the Red Cross prepares for hurricanes in the Islands.

“In the weeks leading up to a potentially impacting storm, the Red Cross coordinates with local and state officials on response efforts and works to call down hundreds of volunteers in preparation for such response efforts,” she said. “Everyone from shelter, mental health, and health workers to damage assessment, case workers, and logistics volunteers are on standby in the days leading up to a storm. Red Cross logistics teams work to pre-position supplies, including shipping additional materials to other Islands ahead of the storm. In addition, Hawaiʻi Red Cross spends time urging residents to take steps to stay safe when severe weather threatens.”

Sometimes it happens that the Hawaiʻi Red Cross needs help from outside Hawaiʻi, as was the case in August 2016 when two back-to-back hurricanes, Hurricane Madeline and Hurricane Lester, approached Hawaiʻi from the eastern Pacific.

“For seriously threatening situations like that, expert Disaster Response Operation teams from the mainland are deployed prior to the storm to support the Hawaiʻi Red Cross’ response efforts,” Matayoshi said.

Red Cross Volunteers Respond to Heartbreaking Events and Devastating Accidents

On January 10, 2001, a 191-foot-long, government-owned Japanese fishing trawler named the Ehime Maru departed from Japan on a 74-day training voyage for high school students interested in pursuing careers in fishing. The ship, carrying 20 crewmembers, 13 students and two teachers, docked in Honolulu on February 8.

The next day, February 9, the Ehime Maru was several miles off Oʻahu’s south shore with the students engaged in their training curriculum that included maritime navigation, marine engineering and oceanography.

That same morning, the USS Greenville, a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered attack submarine, departed Pearl Harbor to conduct a public relations mission with VIP civilian invitees, including members of Congress and journalists. The purpose of the trip was to demonstrate the submarine’s capabilities.

About nine miles off shore, the captain of the Greenville decided to demonstrate an “emergency ballast blow surfacing maneuver.” The submarine shot to the surface and slammed directly into the Ehime Maru, sinking it and killing nine crewmembers and four high school students. No one on the submarine was injured.

The Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard immediately contacted the Hawaiʻi Red Cross for its assistance in dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy. The Red Cross coordinated Japanese language translators from the Japanese Consulate and Red Cross mental health workers to support the survivors of the incident and grieving family members. More than 20 Hawaiʻi Red Cross volunteers worked for weeks in response to the worst maritime accident in the state’s history.

The incident is an example of the scope of accidents and disasters the Hawaiʻi Red Cross deals with constantly that have nothing to do with wars, hurricanes or tsunamis. Few people realize the variety of emergencies the Hawaiʻi Red Cross has to deal with.

Here are some more examples:

Second Chinatown Fire

Many people remember the devastating fire that swept through and destroyed Chinatown in 1900, because too many people were crammed together in wooden buildings and Hawaiʻi did not have the firefighting capabilities of handling such an enormous blaze.

In 1958, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross had been worried that such a fire could happen again in downtown Honolulu. Although not nearly as damaging as the great Chinatown fire, on November 18, 1958 at 12:30 in the morning, six, old wooden ʻAʻala tenements in downtown Honolulu caught fire and burned down, displacing 1,528 people.

The Hawaiʻi Red Cross immediately went to work caring for the victims. The chapter arranged for breakfast to be donated by a nearby restaurant. Some of the fire victims were taken to the Hawai’i Red Cross headquarters, while others were housed in temporary shelters. About 50 people were evacuated to the Manoa War Homes Committee Building. The Red Cross worked with the Hawai'i Housing Authority and the state Department of Public Welfare to help get the victims relocated and their lives as back to normal as possible.

Sacred Falls Landslide Kills Seven People

The year 1999 proved to be a particularly deadly and dangerous time in Hawaiʻi. That year, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross was called to three separate heartbreaking incidents involving 25 deaths.

The first incident occurred on May 9, 1999, with the Hawaiʻi Red Cross responding in force to one of the worst land natural disasters in the state’s history.

It was a typically beautiful day near Hauʻula on the northeast shore of Oʻahu. Visitors and tourists had made the hike to one of the most beautiful natural features in the Islands, a 60-foot waterfall bordered by lush, green 1,600-foot-high cliffs forming a narrow valley. Sacred Falls was one of the favorite natural wonders of Hawaiʻi. Hikers would climb their way through the valley to gaze at the dramatic waterfall, swim in the pool below the falls and picnic.

But Sacred Falls became a death trap on this Mother’s Day when a large landslide occurred on the north side of the valley, raining boulders as big as cars onto the people below. Eight people were killed by the rockslide and at least 50 others injured. Just getting the injured survivors out of the valley was daunting and dangerous.

Immediately upon hearing of the disaster, a team of Red Cross volunteers and staff raced to the staging area outside the valley where the injured and traumatized family members and friends waited.

Honolulu Fire Chief Kenneth G. Silva was on the scene of the landslide where firefighters were helping evacuate the wounded, some of whom had to be taken out of the valley by helicopter. In a Honolulu Advertiser column, Silva wrote about how important it was for the Hawaiʻi Red Cross to have responded to the tragic incident and how Red Cross volunteers are always working with the fire department in emergency situations.

“During large disasters such as the Sacred Falls landslide that occurred on Mother's Day, May 9, 1999, the Red Cross sent a crew to Sacred Falls to provide basic first aid, blankets and refreshments for the injured and set up a phone bank to field calls from the public and help with family reunifications,” Silva wrote. “They also sent crisis counselors to hospitals to work with hospital social workers and the families and friends of the injured and assisted tourists who were injured with their journey home.

“As emergency responders, we appreciate not only the humanitarian work of the Red Cross in sheltering, feeding and counseling disaster victims, but providing lifesaving training to our community through professional rescue, water safety, CPR, AED, first-aid classes and more. You don't have to go to a disaster or look very far to see how the Red Cross touches our lives.”

Sightseeing Plane Crash on Big Island

On September 25, 1999 the Hawaiʻi Red Cross responded to the crash of Big Island Air Flight 58 on the northeast slope of Mauna Kea volcano that killed 10 people.

The Piper Chieftain plane went down within the boundaries of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park at the 9,800-foot elevation at about 5:30 p.m., slamming into the flank of the volcano, bursting into flames and leaving the pilot and nine sightseers dead.

More than 35 Hawaiʻi Red Cross volunteers set up a family assistance center at King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel in Kailua-Kona. The volunteers not only provided food and shelter as needed, but also counseling by trained grief counselors for family members and response workers as they coped with the trauma that occurs after an aviation disaster.

Xerox Office Mass Shooting

What should have been a normal Tuesday morning at work for employees of the Xerox Engineering Systems office at 1200 N. Nimitz Highway on November 2, 1999 turned into the worst mass murder in the state’s history.

A heavily armed 40-year-old Xerox employee named Bryan K. Uyesugi arrived at the office shortly after 8 a.m., went up to the second floor and began firing at his fellow employees, killing seven of them.

Uyesugi then fled in a van, but was apprehended by Honolulu police by mid-morning at Hawaiʻi Nature Center in Makiki.

More than 40 Hawaiʻi Red Cross volunteers were quickly on the scene of the shooting to provide aid and support to survivors, family members and office employees. Some of those responding were mental health workers trained to help alleviate suffering and comfort those affected by the shooting.

Massive Mercury Exposure Discovered in Halawa

One of the most unusual response situations for the Hawaiʻi Red Cross occurred on March 12, 2001 involving a potentially deadly environmental disaster that reverberated all the way to Washington D.C.

It began when an alert Halawa elementary school teacher discovered a child playing with what turned out to be mercury. (Toxic effects of mercury include damage to the brain, kidneys and lungs. Mercury poisoning can cause several serious diseases including some that can result in death.) The teacher quickly reported the child’s exposure to school officials who notified authorities.

It was discovered that mercury from an abandoned U.S. Navy pump house had contaminated an entire state housing complex, schools, playgrounds, parks and other properties near Pearl Harbor. It was estimated that the school children had discovered one-and-a-half gallons – more than 30 pounds – of mercury in the dilapidated Navy building. Fifty people, most of them children, were sent to area hospitals.

Thirty Hawaiʻi Red Cross volunteers and eight staff members set up an emergency shelter at Halawa District Park for residents who were not able to return to their contaminated housing complex. The shelter remained open for five nights, housing 70 residents. The Red Cross also provided more than 3,500 meals to shelter residents and cleanup operators and had crisis counselors and health nurses on hand to provide services, as needed.

Breach of Kauaʻi Earthen Dam and Reservoir Kills Seven People

On March 4, 2006, an earthen dam holding back 400 million gallons of water in a private reservoir in northeast Kauaʻi suffered a 200-foot-wide breach after 42 days of rain, causing a wall of water to race down a ravine toward Kīlauea town, destroying several homes and killing seven people, including a toddler and a pregnant woman.

The 7:30 a.m. breaching of the Kaloko Dam, built in 1890, was the worst natural disaster on Kauaʻi since Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

The Hawaiʻi Red Cross opened evacuation shelters in two neighborhood centers and Kula School for residents affected by the disaster. It assisted 129 families at a cost of $75,000.

Red Cross of Hawaiʻi Reaches Out Globally to Help

While the great Siberian expedition of 1918 was an extreme example of how far Hawaiʻi Red Cross volunteers will go to help their fellow Red Cross workers in other countries, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross has a legacy of its volunteers and staff leaving the Islands to support relief efforts across the mainland and around the world.

When disasters strike in other countries, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross also steps up with financial support, heading up fundraising in the Islands with Red Cross partners from businesses, schools and many community groups.

A good example of that was on March 11, 2011, when an 8.9-magnitude earthquake off Japan’s coast caused a devastating tsunami there that killed hundreds of people and caused massive destruction. It was Japan’s strongest earthquake on record.

Because of Hawaiʻi’s unique social, cultural and economic ties to Japan, Hawai’i residents were particularly sensitive to the devastating Japan tsunami.

“This one really hit home,” said Hawaiʻi Red Cross CEO Coralie Chun Matayoshi. “For Hawaiʻi, this was practically a local disaster.”

The Japan disaster prompted an unparalleled fundraising response in Hawaiʻi.

“We’re related to a lot of the people (in Japan), a lot of our ancestors are over there and a lot of friends and a lot of the businesses even have connections here,” Matayoshi told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We’re both islands, and we were threatened by the same tsunami that hit them, so it’s even closer because it could happen to us.”

After striking Japan, the tsunami raced across the Pacific. Seven hours after it left Japan, a series of tsunami about seven feet high hit Hawaiʻi. The tsunami caused $30 million in property damage, mostly flooding damage along the Kona Coast coast that forced the closure of two hotels. There was no loss of life or injuries.

The Hawaiʻi Red Cross raised more than $4.6 million from Hawaii donors for Japan relief efforts during the year following the tsunami, Money came in from many sources, including students at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary who collected pennies for the fund drive. In just the first two weeks, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross raised $640,000 in contributions from local residents and companies. That compares to $618,000 raised in the first two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 1, 2005 and $190,000 raised in two weeks following the 2010 Haitian earthquake. In six months, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross raised $2 million in donations after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Aside from raising disaster relief funds for emergencies outside Hawaiʻi, the local chapter puts “boots on the ground,” when needed.

Some Hawaiʻi Red Cross volunteers have specific professional backgrounds that allow them to provide specialized services during disasters inside and outside of Hawaiʻi. A good example is Masaru Oshiro, a mental health professional who became a Hawaiʻi Red Cross volunteer after retiring from the Hawaʻii Department of Health in 1995. He was sent to Guam in 1997 to provide mental health support services to the survivors and families involved in the crash of Korean Airlines Flight 801, which killed 228 people. He also went to New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center to provide mental health services to families and survivors. (See more in “Profiles In Caring”)

Some of the disaster areas outside of the state that the Hawaiʻi Red Cross has responded to include:

June 1976 – After the fall of Saigon, John Henry Felix, currently a Chairman Emeritus of the American Red Cross of Hawaiʻi, who joined the Junior Red Cross in the third grade while attending Lincoln Elementary School in Honolulu, received and interviewed some 147,000 Vietnam refugees that were brought to Guam. He then was appointed by the Red Cross to work with the United States State Department as an interviewer and observer in the repatriation of some 3,000 refugees back to Vietnam.

June 1998 – Hawaiʻi Red Cross Board Members, John Henry Felix and Jean Rolles travelled to Cambodia, on behalf of the Hawai’i Chapter to observe the American Red Cross Delegation in Cambodia, which started in 1991 and aimed to assist and rehabilitate amputees, who were injured by landmines, with prosthetic devices.

September 11, 2001 – Hawaiʻi Red Cross volunteers were on the front lines of the largest disaster response in the history of the American Red Cross: the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Esther Lau, a registered nurse and Hawaii Red Cross volunteer was one of the Hawaii contingent sent to New York to help care for the injured and family members of those who died in the attacks. Although she had less than 24 hours to prepare for what would be a two-week deployment, Lau took the challenge with what her friends and Red Cross associates said was her usual positive attitude and great desire to help those in need. Upon returning home, she used the experience to help mentor new Red Cross volunteers in Hawaii.

Survivors and first responders to the attacks not only needed physical and mental health counseling in the aftermath, they also needed spiritual support, which was supplied by two Hawaii volunteers, Masaru Oshiro, a mental health field supervisor and Ken Lee, coordinator of Hawaii Red Cross Disaster Mental Health. In New York after 9/11, it reinforced the idea that clergy needed special training to help victims of mass tragedies.

Lee told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that 42,000 people in New York, including firemen and police, sought help in one week after the 9/11 attacks; 5,000 of them asked for spiritual help, he said.

"People draw from their faith when they're overwhelmed and can't cope. They look for a source greater than they are," Lee told Honolulu Magazine after returning home. “I have been left with a much stronger and enduring sense of the spirit and strength of human beings and their ability to adapt, cope and be resilient.”

December 2002 – Super Typhoon Pongsana hits Guam. Hawaiʻi Red Cross sends 10 volunteers to Guam to assist with response and recovery.

August 2004 – Hurricane Charley hits Florida, followed by Hurricane Francis three weeks later. Hawaiʻi Red Cross sends nine volunteers to assist in support of those affected by the storms. Hurricanes Charley and Frances resulted in two of the largest evacuation and response operations in Florida’s history.

August 2005 – Hurricane Katrina, one of the costliest hurricanes in the country’s history, comes out of the Gulf of Mexico and hits Louisiana and other southern states, causing $100 billion in damage. Hawaiʻi Red Cross raises $5 million to provide assistance to families fleeing the Gulf area. Hawaiʻi Red Cross CEO Coralie Matayoshi personally flies to Louisiana to be part of the disaster relief operation.

Nearly 40 Hawaiʻi volunteers deploy to assist with relief efforts including providing crisis counseling, serving meals to the rescue and recovery workers and assisting victims who lost loved ones.

September 2008 – Hawai’i Red Cross deploys 23 Red Cross volunteers to Galveston, Texas in response to Hurricane Ike. Millions of people lost electricity, and thousands were evacuated. The Red Cross opened shelters for evacuees and met with affected individuals to provide immediate assistance and referrals for long-term recovery plans. More than 20 families who moved from New Orleans to Hawaii were assisted locally with recovery assistance.

September 2009 – A tsunami hits American Samoa leaving them without power or water amid widespread damage. At least 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by the tsunami. There were 80 American Red Cross volunteers from U.S. deployed, including 15 from Hawaii.

October 2012 – Hawaiʻi Red Cross volunteers are deployed to the U.S. east coast to assist in relief efforts after Superstorm Sandy hits New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Thirty-one Hawaii Red Cross volunteers were deployed.

July 2013 – Hawaiʻi Red Cross deploys 12 volunteers to assist Arizona communities affected by devastating wildfires that kill 19 firefighters. The fire was started by lightning on June 28. Hawaiʻi volunteers help with sheltering displaced families and providing health services and crisis counseling.

October 2016 – Hurricane Mathew slams into the southeast mainland coast leaving entire communities underwater and uprooting thousands of lives. U.S. officials reported damage of at least $10 billion, making Matthew the costliest hurricane since Sandy in 2012.

Fifteen Hawai’i Red Cross workers from the Big Island, Oahu, Maui, and Molokai, deployed to South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, to join 4,400 Red Cross disaster workers from across the country.

“Every disaster is an opportunity for our volunteers to deploy – not only to help those poor victims, but to gain valuable experience that will be needed one day in Hawa‘i” Hawaii Red Cross CEO, Coralie Chun Matayoshi said in a “talk story” video session with Leslie Wilcox, president and CEO of PBS Hawaiʻi. “You can train all you want but until you’re actually in it, you really can’t understand the magnitude of a big disaster.”

Hawaiʻi’s Super Red Cross Volunteer: Duke Kahanamoku

For 50 years, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross offered free summer swimming classes at Ala Moana Beach Park as part of its focus on saving lives by reducing drowning incidents on the Island.

In 2015, the Summer Swim Program transitioned into the Red Cross Aquatics Centennial Campaign, in partnership with the City & County of Honolulu Parks & Recreation Department to decrease drowning rates by teaching even more people how to swim.

As Coralie Matayoshi, CEO, Hawaiʻi Red Cross, often explains, “Part of our mission is to save lives. Hawaiʻi has the second-highest drowning rate in the nation so it’s really important for everyone to learn how to swim. We are surrounded by water, and anything can happen.”

By the time the American Red Cross of Hawaiʻi was founded in 1917, the American Red Cross already had water safety on its radar because of the alarming number of drownings across the country.

Leading the Red Cross effort was a charismatic and charming gentleman, Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow, a Rhode Island newspaperman who was inspired to reverse the nation’s alarming drowning rate which he thought was becoming a national tragedy. (He was given the honorific title “Commodore” in 1905 by the U.S. Volunteer Life-Saving Corps in recognition of his work.)

The heavy-set Longfellow, known fondly as the “Amiable Whale,” founded the Red Cross Water Safety and Lifeguarding program, the Learn-To-Swim Program and the National Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps. After he launched his lifesaving and swimming programs for the American Red Cross, the rates of drowning deaths dropped significantly.

For the times, Longfellow had a not-so-counter-intuitive idea on how to teach water safety. Instead of teaching it on land, which was being done at that time, he preferred water safety be taught in actual water. He traveled all over the country teaching his swimming classes and lifesaving techniques. His motto was “Every American a swimmer and every swimmer a lifesaver!”

One of those trips, in 1928, brought him to Hawaiʻi where he taught his Red Cross lifesaving techniques to many Island residents, including Hawaiʻi beach boys such as legendary swimmer and surfer Duke Kahanamoku.

The Duke Meets the Amiable Whale

There’s an iconic black and white photo taken in 1928 of Longfellow, Kahanamoku and two other beach boys standing in front of four large wooden surfboards that had been stood upright in the sand at Waikīkī Beach.

Beach boys were the forerunners of government-paid professional lifeguards on Hawaiʻi beaches. In the early 1920s, beach boys earned a living primarily by lifeguarding and giving surf lessons and canoe rides to tourists. They spent their free time surfing, swimming, fishing and playing music. They were barefoot ambassadors to visitors from around the world and did more than their share of rescuing people who got into trouble in the waves of Waikīkī. Duke Kahanamoku was one of the original and most well-known Hawaiian beach boys.

The caption under the Longfellow and Kahanamoku photo is a caption that states: “Hawaiʻi’s premier waterman and Olympic gold medalist Duke Kahanamoku received lifesaving training from Commodore Wilbert Longfellow.”

It’s clear from the famous Waikīkī Beach photo that Duke Kahanamoku and Commodore Longfellow were quite a team when it came to spreading the word about water safety, lifesaving and the American Red Cross.

By 1928, Kahanamoku not only was an Olympic swimming champion, he had already received national attention for some of his amazing personal lifesaving adventures, including a situation in Newport Beach, California in 1925 where the Duke was spending some time surfing with friends in the then-empty waves of Southern California.

Media accounts reported that Kahanamoku had “motored down (to Newport Beach) from Los Angeles to catch some waves.” Kahanamoku, one media outlet reported, was in California to give swimming exhibitions at the Los Angeles Athletic Club and was “living the good life as an Olympic hero in Hollywood.”

He and a few surf buddies had paddled in after surfing the huge waves coming in at Newport Beach on June 14, 1925.

Standing, looking out at the mouth of the harbor, they saw the Thelma, a 40-foot fishing boat with 29 fishermen, get turned over by giant waves at the mouth of the harbor. The boat reportedly rolled over three times tossing the fishermen into the water before they could grab life preservers.

Seeing no one coming to the aid of the fishermen, Kahanamoku and his two friends grabbed their surfboards and paddled out. The media reported that 17 men drowned but that 12 were saved, eight of those rescued by Kahanamoku, making several trips to and from the overturned boat while the massive waves continued to pound.

Captain James Porter, the Newport Beach chief of police, told the Los Angeles Times, “Kahanamoku’s performance was the most superhuman rescue act that has ever been seen in the world. Many more would have drowned but for the quick work of the Hawaiian swimmer.”

Kahanamoku later recounted, “I brought one victim on my board, then two on another trip, possibly three on another, then back for more. It was a delirious shuttle system. Without the boards, we would probably not have been able to rescue a single person.”

This was the first time anyone on the U.S. mainland had ever considered the surfboard to be a lifesaving device.

The media reported: “Befitting his humble personality, Kahanamoku didn’t stick around to try to grab headlines. He left the scene before reporters even arrived. The story made national news. The event is often referred to as “The Great Rescue of 1925.”

California writer David Davis, in his 2015 book “Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku” writes about a close connection between Commodore Longfellow and Kahanamoku. The connection goes back to when Kahanamoku wanted to join World War l as an aviator, but was not selected.

Davis writes:

“He (Kahanamoku) served the war effort in a more substantive way the following spring, not long after the Red Cross had established a chapter in Honolulu. Red Cross Commodore Wilbert Longfellow had initiated a drowning prevention campaign that featured the teaching of water safety and lifesaving skills.”

When the 1916 Olympics was cancelled due to the war, the American Red Cross approached Kahanamoku about the possibility of establishing a water show to entertain citizens and to raise money for the much-needed services of the Red Cross and its war effort. Kahanamoku agreed and assembled a team of swimmers and divers who would tour North America putting on swimming exhibitions and competitions.

Kahanamoku, Clarence Lang and Harold “Stubby” Kruger were signed to tour the mainland (and parts of Canada) and give swimming, diving and lifesaving exhibitions (Lang and Kruger were fellow Olympic swimmers).

Accompanied by Clair Tait, a “fancy diver” stationed with the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, the sixteen-city Red Cross tour started in San Francisco and ended on the East Coast.

Davis wrote that the Hawaiians sometimes performed lifesaving demonstrations for enlisted men at military bases and “they often closed the proceedings with song, taking out their ukuleles and delighting spectators with Hawaiian tunes.”

During the swimming and lifesaving exhibitions, Kahanamoku also apparently sharpened his swimming form on the tour. In an exhibition in New York, he was credited with breaking his own world Olympic record in the 100-meter freestyle.

In Kahanamoku’s spare time on the tour, he also knitted sweaters for the Red Cross war relief effort. Kahanamoku’s devotion to the Red Cross was likely inherited from his mother, who was a Red Cross volunteer. In April of 1941, Duke’s wife, Nadine, who was a Red Cross volunteer during World War II, also took Red Cross classes in First Aid as well as advanced classes for preparedness in case of an invasion.

Special Services and Resources Bolster Organization’s Mission

While the Hawaii Red Cross responses to various emergencies and disasters may get a lion’s share of media coverage and public attention – with good reason – there are many important, but lesser known, programs and services the organization provides that improve people’s lives on many levels.

These include Services to the Armed Forces to keep military families in touch when one family member is deployed; teaching disaster preparedness, especially to children in ways they can understand; putting on lifesaving classes that teach valuable skills in CPR and First Aid; engaging youth through Red Cross clubs; and providing joy and comfort to hospitalized military service members and veterans through the Human Animal Bond Program.

These unique programs and services have grown over the first 100 years of the American Red Cross of Hawaii and have become important to the overall mission of the organization to “prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.” (For more information on Red Cross Programs and Services, go to http://www.redcross.org/hawaii)

Services to the Armed Forces

The American Red Cross provides a vital communication lifeline between military service members and their families by relaying urgent information in times of emergencies, including during deployments.

Members of the armed forces, retirees or military family members who want the Red Cross to help them send a message to or get hold of a family member are assisted by Red Cross workers.

Hawai‘i Red Cross staff and volunteers follow-up with local families and service personnel regarding needed services and referrals.

The Hawaii Red Cross also provides services such as Reconnection Workshops, to military families and service members returning home from deployment, helping them transition back into island life.

Human Animal Bond Program at Tripler Army Medical Center

The Hawaii Red Cross runs a Human Animal Bond Program at Tripler Army Medical Center to assist patients who are recovering from physical, mental or social illness.

Red Cross volunteers regularly bring their trained dogs to wards, clinics and waiting areas for informal visits with patients. All dogs are screened by Army Veterinary Services and must pass strict behavioral and physical qualifications to be a part of this program. Handlers also receive special training.

Disaster Preparedness

In addition to responding to disasters large and small, the Red Cross also educates local communities on how to prepare before disasters strike. Disaster volunteers regularly attend community fairs to encourage residents to get a disaster kit, make an evacuation and communication plan, and stay informed.

Pillowcase Project

The Pillowcase Project, developed by the Red Cross Southeast Louisiana Chapter following Hurricane Katrina, is a unique and innovative way to teach children in grades three to five about personal and family emergency preparedness by helping them create their own personal emergency supplies kit kept in a pillowcase personally decorated by the child.

Red Cross volunteers teach the children about emergency preparedness ahead of any emergency or disaster and the children are taught what they should include in their personalized emergency supply pillow case.

Students learn about hazards, how to prepare for emergencies and how to cope. They practice what they have learned and share what they’ve learned with friends and family. The children receive a pillowcase and are encouraged to create their own emergency supply kits by packing essential items in a pillowcase that they can easily carry during an emergency.

Home Fire Campaign

The American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign helps families and individuals learn what to do to protect home, property and life from fires and how to plot a home escape plan on a graph so family members know exactly what to do and where to go if a fire starts. The training includes practicing escape plans and deciding where to meet outside.

The Hawaii Red Cross also works with volunteers and partners to install free smoke alarms for vulnerable populations like the elderly and disabled, including a limited number of specialized bedside alarms for individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Lifesaving Training

The Hawaii Red Cross offers a number of training courses in various fields to help individuals, schools or organizations learn first aid, CPR and basic life support. There also are courses for Wilderness Remote Training and training for future first aid and CPR instructors.

Red Cross Clubs

The Hawaii Red Cross encourages and supports school and students interested in setting up or joining a school Red Cross Club. Red Cross Clubs plan and participate in service projects to help local youth get involved in the Red Cross mission all while making a positive impact within the community.

Red Cross Mobile Apps

One of the most innovative and essential new digital tools in preparing for and handling emergencies are the official American Red Cross mobile apps, which can be downloaded by searching “Red Cross” in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

The apps put expert advice for everyday emergencies, major disasters, pet first aid, and more right in the palm of the user’s hand. Available for iPhone and Android devices, these Red Cross mobile apps give users instant access to information on how to handle and be prepared for everyday emergencies and major disasters.

The free Red Cross Mobile Apps include:

Emergency: An all-inclusive app lets users monitor more than 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts, to help keep users and their loved ones safe.

First Aid: Instant access to information on handling the most common first aid emergencies.

Hero Care: Whether the user is the parent of a child joining the military or a member of the military/veteran communities, Hero Care will provide app users connections to important resources that can help them through both emergency and non-emergency situations.

Pet First Aid: Be prepared to help your furry friends with veterinary advice for everyday emergencies.

Hurricane: Monitor hurricane conditions in Hawaii area, and track the storms. If the power goes out, the app lets users’ friends and families know they are safe.