By Carl Manning
American Red Cross
When Joe Mouton was a young Marine officer in Vietnam, his mother died, and the American Red Cross stepped in. A half century later, he remembers that with gratitude.
Just before leaving for Vietnam in 1966, Joe told his wife that in the event of a dire emergency and the need to get word to him, the fastest route is to contact the Red Cross, which she did, he recalled.
And as the Red Cross has done countless times, it cut through red tape to get Joe home to his wife and three children to attend his mother’s funeral in Lafayette, Louisiana.
At the time, Joe made a promise to himself that when the time came, he would repay the Red Cross.
In 1979, when he retired as a Marine captain, Joe started a second career with the state of Missouri supervising probation and parole officers in the Kansas City area.
After he retired from the state, Joe decided in 2000 to begin a third career as a Red Cross volunteer to help those in need. At age 85, he is still going strong.
“I finally was able to live up to that promise I made a long time ago,” Joe said with a mix of pride and humility. “I had Red Cross on my agenda for years and now I was able to do that.”
Because of his ability to connect with those in need, he was asked to join the Disaster Action Team as a volunteer responding to home fires and helping those who had been displaced.
“You go help people who have lost everything, and you can talk to them to show you care and to listen. I shed some tears with them and enjoyed being helpful to them,” Joe said. “It’s a brief encounter. They really appreciate it, and I feel grateful to be able to help in some small way.”
But Joe’s desire to help others wasn’t confined to the Kansas City area. Over the years, he deployed to numerous disasters from Florida to California and places in between---all with the same goal of helping others.
“I enjoy meeting people and the interaction with them, seeing smiles after the tears and knowing somebody is trying to help them, that’s what is important to me,” he said.
For the most part, Joe deployed as an Emergency Response Vehicle driver and over the years has trained some 75 Red Cross volunteers as certified ERV drivers. When he sends an ERV crew to a disaster, he always checks in with the crew to see how they are doing and whether there is anything he can do to make their job easier.
After years of DAT calls, Joe decided to help military personnel and their families through the Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces Program.
He volunteers at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Kansas City, escorting arriving patients to their destinations. But most of all, he is there to talk to the veterans and listen to them. Being a combat veteran makes that communication easier.
“We have a lot in common, and it has helped in counseling and talking to them. They actually are a support system for me because they want somebody to talk to, and I get satisfaction in talking to people,” Joe said. “The military was a life-changing experience for me, and I can understand how it can be for them as well.”
Jason Ramlow, who heads the SAF operation in the Missouri-Arkansas Region, says that Joe’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
“Joe is a very giving individual--always thinking of others before himself. His long military background plays a role because he is trained to think of the mission and the greater good before his own needs,” Jason said.
Jason said that over the years Joe has played a key role in maintaining and improving relations between the VA Medical Center in Kansas City and the Red Cross.
“He always has a cheerful and helping attitude. It’s very infectious,” Jason said. “I hope that when I’m in my golden years, I’m able to help others and make an impact the way Joe has. He’s certainly made an impact on me.”
Joe also plays a lead role in coordinating Red Cross participation in the bi-annual Heart of America Stand Down events in the Kansas City area to assist marginal and homeless veterans---removing barriers that prohibit them from more fulfilling, productive lives.
At a recent Stand Down event, Joe was making sure veterans got the assistance they needed, from hot coffee and snacks from the ERV he drove there, to clothing and shoes and contacts with those who could help them.
Although it is not something Joe mentions, he received The President’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015 for a “lifelong commitment to building a stronger nation through volunteer service.”
But for Joe, it is not praise and acclaim, but the chance to help others and give back to those in need that is behind his service.