Valentine’s Day can be a tough time to be separated from those you love. This year, students from the American Red Cross station in Yokosuka, Japan, provided the inspiration for a special program in Baghdad.
The students made valentines for deployed troops. One of the cards received in Baghdad held a simple message: "En medio de su angustia, quiero darle un mensaje de esperanza: Usted es amado!." The translation: “In the midst of your pain, I want to give you a message of hope: You are loved!”
Inspired by these words, the American Red Cross on Victory Base Complex Iraq started a new program called “Valentines from Victory.” This program gives service members the opportunity to create something special for a loved one and reconnect with the origins of Saint Valentine’s Day. Saint Valentine’s Day traces its roots back to the Roman battlefields. Believing single men made better, more focused soldiers than those with families, Emperor Claudius II banned the institution of marriage for all young men of fighting age. Saint Valentine disagreed with this ban and began performing secret marriages for young soldiers, earning himself the title of “friend of lovers.”
When his disloyalty to the emperor was discovered, Saint Valentine was imprisoned and later put to death. His last act of love was to pen a letter to his own beloved and sign it “From Your Valentine,” sealing his fate and starting a tradition of sending love letters on Feb. 14, his believed execution date. This legacy has grown into a worldwide celebration of those we love.
The American Red Cross in Baghdad tapped into this legacy and combined it with their own history of helping service members communicate with family members back home. The office set up photo booths, craft tables and mail boxes at seven different locations on Victory Base Complex and Sather Air Force Base. Hundreds of cards were made by service members for their families back home.
Clara Barton began her work by helping soldiers on the battlefield send letters home. Now, “Valentines From Victory” continues that tradition, just with “a few more fancy touches,” said Katherine Jones, Red Cross team leader in Baghdad.
While some valentines are available for purchase at the Base Exchange, the Red Cross program focuses on giving service members a way to create a memory and send a little piece of themselves home. Private First Class Bailey agrees, “This is great—my wife is always complaining I don’t take enough pictures, now she’ll get one and I get points for a homemade card.”
This Valentine’s Day, with the help of the American Red Cross, service members such Pfc. Bailey, Spc. Fair and CW1 Rodriguez were able to ease their own family’s pain of separation with a simple message of hope from Baghdad: “You Are Loved.”