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Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces: Then and Now

Veteran's Day
A side-by-side comparison of how the Red Cross partners with the military

This Veterans Day, the American Red Cross recognizes the great sacrifices made by our troops and their families. Since 1898, the United States military and the Red Cross have worked together; a partnership that began when Clara Barton led a group of nurses to care for American soldiers on the battlefields of the Spanish-American War. With the 1864 Geneva Convention as the basis for the Red Cross involvement in the Spanish American War, the Red Cross secured charters from the United States government in both 1900 and 1905, stipulating a responsibility to support the military.

Check out the many ways the Red Cross has partnered with the military from the beginning and still today:


  • The Spanish-American War: When the United States declared war on Spain, Red Cross President Clara Barton – who was 76 years old at the time – traveled to hospitals recruiting nurses to work for the Army at medical camps in Florida and Cuba. This which was the first and only time the Red Cross supported the military, in a conflict, under Clara Barton.
  • World War I: The Red Cross staffed hospitals and ambulance companies and recruited 20,000 registered nurses to serve the military. The Red Cross also pioneered the development of psychiatric nursing programs at veterans hospitals, made artificial limbs and helped rehabilitate amputees and blinded veterans.
  • World War II: Overseas, Red Cross workers were attached to military hospitals, hospital ships and hospital trains. At home, millions of Red Cross volunteers provided comfort and aid to members of the armed forces and their families, served in hospitals suffering from severe shortages of medical staff and produced emergency supplies for war victims.

  • World War II: The Red Cross shipped over 300,000 tons of supplies overseas.
  • Vietnam: At the height of its involvement, 480 Red Cross field directors, hospital personnel and recreation workers (“Donut Dollies”) served throughout Southeast Asia. Red Cross workers brought recreation to an average of 280,500 service members each month.
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom: The Red Cross distributed more than 200,000 comfort kits, 72,000 calling cards, 100,000 blank greeting cards, 56,000 boxes of personal care items (such as toothpaste, soap, etc.), and provided canteen services in their offices in Kuwait and Iraq.

  • The Spanish-American War: The Red Cross provided a non-medical service for the armed forces by handling inquiries from families.
  • Operation Desert Shield/Storm: Red Cross staff carried 215,000 emergency messages to and from the troops and provided support and comfort.
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom: Red Cross staff arrived in Kuwait and Iraq in early 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They handled more than 295,000 emergency messages during their time.
  • Operation Enduring Freedom: The first Red Cross staff members arrived in Uzbekistan on Christmas Day 2001 to serve all U.S. troops. The staff handled almost 59,000 emergency messages from December 2002 through July 2011.

  • World War II: The Red Cross prepared 27 million packages for American and Allied prisoners of war.
  • Korean Conflict: When the 1953 armistice was signed, the American and Korean Red Cross societies ensured the transfer of nearly 90,000 prisoners of war.

  • World War II: Many veterans tell of the Red Cross serving donuts or coffee for a price, but there is an often unknown part of the story. The refreshments were originally totally free, as are all of Red Cross services. It turns out the British troops were being charged for their snacks already, so the U.S. Secretary of War asked the Red Cross to start charging only at stationary Red Cross clubs to help even the tables. Even though the mobile units, called clubmobiles, were supposed to deliver free refreshments to troops in the fields and close to the front lines, the story has now taken on a life of its own.
  • World War II: At the military’s request, the Red Cross initiated a national blood program that collected 13.3 million pints of blood for use by the armed forces.
  • Vietnam: Red Cross workers logged more than 2 million miles in jeeps, trucks and helicopters during the seven years in Vietnam.
  • Operation Desert Shield/Storm: In fulfilling their duties in the Persian Gulf area, seven Red Cross workers received the Bronze Star for meritorious service.
  • Operation Enduring Freedom: The office at Bagram ran a canteen with video and book libraries.
  • Today, the American Red Cross remains a key partner with the members of United States armed forces, its veterans and their families. From deploying staff to serve alongside military personnel in the Middle East to supporting veterans and families back home, the support of America’s military from the Red Cross is as strong as ever.

    For history buffs, we have an in-depth look outlining the role of the Red Cross in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and a whole overview with many more conflicts.

    About the American Red Cross:
    The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.