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Not All Red Cross Staff Are Home for the Holidays

Dozens of American Red Cross staff are working overseas this holiday season. Relief workers are in Haiti helping people recover from last year’s earthquake and educating Haitians on disease prevention and disaster preparedness.

American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces staff members are at work on military installations such as Lundstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, Japan’s Yokota Air Base and alongside our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For Red Cross staff who have served overseas, the holidays bring memories of work that made a difference.

Debbie McSwain served in Viet Nam during 1969. She remembers decorating military station offices for the holidays at one location. When Red Cross workers went back a week later all the people stood and clapped. “It made us feel really good,” McSwain says, “because usually we were doing that for them.”

Margaret Gulley served in the Germany and France during World War II and in Busan, South Korea, during the Korean Conflict. She talks about directing Red Cross club service programs at the Grand Hotel when the Nuremburg Trials were taking place, daily meeting witnesses, reporters and photographers from around the world. She talks about her work with American troops who were patients at the Swedish Red Cross hospital in Busan.

But most of all, Gulley talks about the Red Cross friends she made. She tells the story of a chance meeting of a former roommate on a train from Lahore, France, to Rome, Italy. The friend had arranged an audience with the Pope, and took Gulley along.

One of Gulley’s friends is Virginia Hammond, a woman Gulley describes as “one of the most unusually kind persons I’ve ever known.” The two have shared life’s experiences for 65 years.

As a young Red Cross worker, Hammond traveled to England in August 1943 with a convoy of 19 merchant ships, two destroyers and a battleship. On the way the convoy was attacked by a German submarine but Hammond arrived safely for her assignment with the Third Air Division, famous for its B-17 Flying Fortress bomb groups

Hammond missed many holidays at home; she served in England, France and Germany, and returned to the United States in 1947. She went overseas again when the Korean Conflict erupted.

Each year, Hammond, Gulley, McSwain and dozens more Red Crossers gather at American Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, D.C., for a meeting of members of the American Red Cross Overseas Association.

The meeting pays tribute to the thousands of Red Cross volunteers and employees who have served throughout the world, beginning with the first field worker sent in 1892 to supervise the relief operation for the Russian famine. The American Red Cross Overseas Association also honors Red Cross staff who lost their lives in that service—more than 500 since World War I.