Phyllis Hastings recalls her time as a Red Cross Gray Lady with fondness. Then a young bride married to an Army officer, she said she began volunteering with the Red Cross in 1947 when a general’s wife strongly encouraged the other wives to volunteer with the Red Cross.
Today, at 95, Hastings reflects on her service at her home in South Carolina. Working as a Gray Lady was a good fit for the former nurse living in Virginia. She attended her Gray Lady training at Newport News, Va., while her husband was stationed at nearby Fort Eustis as an instructor.
Although the Gray Ladies provided non-medical care, they underwent a rigorous training process, provided by medical professionals and the Red Cross, which included hospital organization, ethics, psychiatry and occupational therapy. The affectionate term Gray Lady came from the wounded soldiers because of the distinctive hospital corps’ gray uniform with white collar and cuffs the volunteers wore. Their official name was changed to Hospital and Recreation Corps in 1934, it was the Gray Lady moniker that resonated through the years and in 1947, after World War II, the name was officially changed to the Gray Lady service.
During World War II, the service reached its peak with almost 50,000 women serving as Gray Ladies in military and other hospitals throughout the United States. Following the war, some Gray Ladies also served in U.S. military hospitals overseas. Although the numbers decreased, the Gray Ladies continued serving in American hospitals until the mid-1960s when the Red Cross shifted to a unified concept of volunteers.
After her training in 1947, Hastings worked in a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital giving out cigarettes and magazines to veterans. She later worked at hospitals at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and in Japan. During the Korean War in Tokyo, where her husband was stationed, she worked in a hospital with wounded soldiers coming back from the battlefield. Hastings said the work was rewarding although it was difficult at times to see so many injured American servicemen.
“Some of the boys were really hurt, especially in Tokyo,” Hastings said. “Most of the duties were writing letters and giving out books for them [the soldiers] to read,” Hastings said.
Hastings said she would also go to the Post Exchange (PX) for the injured soldiers to shop for them because they couldn’t go on their own due to their injuries.
After working in Tokyo and later Germany as a Gray Lady, her service to the Red Cross ended in 1955. While her time with the Red Cross may have been short, it left an impact on her life that many years later she still enjoys talking about.
“It meant a lot to me,” Hastings said of her service to the American Red Cross. “I was proud to wear my pin and my uniform. I was proud to be a Gray Lady.”
Today, the Red Cross continues providing support to hospitalized U.S. military personnel with dedicated volunteers through Service to the Armed Forces.