On Wednesday, March 18, the American Red Cross presented a 95-year-old Colorado woman with special recognition from the national headquarters of the American Red Cross for her service overseas during WWII.
Red Cross representatives presented Irene Oja with a special pin and letter of commendation as part of the Service to the Armed Forces: Our Legacy Continues project. She is one of only about 500 Americans to have received the honor nationwide.
Irene was part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps but wanted to more directly help the war effort, so she joined the Red Cross in order to serve overseas. She served in Germany from at least 1946 through 1949 as part of the Red Cross Club/Clubmobile program, which provided social service and recreational programs for patients in military hospitals. During WWII, Red Cross staff served in more than 50 countries, operated nearly 2,000 recreational facilities abroad, and handled 42 million messages on behalf of servicemen and their families.
During WWII, 86 Red Cross workers lost their lives performing this service. Fortunately, Irene found her life, in a way: Irene met her husband while fulfilling her Red Cross duties in Ludwigsburg, Germany. While on an errand to request bicycle tires for G.I.s from the Military Governor’s office, she crossed paths with a soldier who showed her his pilot’s license. In addition to being a stunning 27-year-old Red Cross worker, Irene had earned her pilot’s license during the war, and she surprised and intrigued the soldier when she revealed that she, too, was a pilot. Three weeks later, she sent a telegram home with this message: “NOT coming home. Have fallen in love!” The pair married six months later and had two daughters and a son.
The Service to Armed Forces: Our Legacy Continues project aims to document, honor and recognize the tremendous legacy of SAF staff that have supported members of the U.S. military serving on any of the 27 military combat, peacekeeping, peace-making and humanitarian missions covered by the project.
Through the efforts of volunteers and paid staff, more than 500 people throughout the United States and overseas have been located who are eligible for the national recognition. A number of staff who served in World War I, World War II, Vietnam and other campaigns have been honored and their recognitions accepted by family members.
The Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces legacy began with Clara Barton providing care and comfort on the battlefields of the Civil War. She brought in essential supplies, bandaged wounds, cradled the dying, wrote letters to families and even located graves. She helped soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Red Cross staff have served side-by-side with members of the U.S. military in all major wars and conflicts since this time. They have continued to provide the same kind of care and comfort to members of our military begun by Clara Barton. (Read more here: http://www.redcross.org/about-us/history/red-cross-american-history/military-partnership)
The Red Cross continues to look for individuals who are eligible for this prestigious recognition. Anyone who feels they may be eligible or a family member of someone who is now deceased that might be eligible may e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.