By Mike Parks, CEO, American Red Cross Northeast Ohio Region
RADM USCG (Ret.)
Members of the Northeast Ohio Region of the American Red Cross Family: Although I know many of you have been busy this weekend continuing the lifesaving work of our American Red Cross, I wanted to be sure to encourage each of us to take time to reflect and remember why we even recognize the holiday known as Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is mostly known as the party-packed kickoff weekend to summer, and it includes a day off from work. While, yes, that makes it an amazing annual celebration, the history of Memorial Day is extremely important to keep in mind. It is about honoring all the brave individuals who have lost their lives while serving in the military. This holiday is centuries old, and in the midst of hitting the open road with friends and backyard barbeques, we should at least take a moment to acknowledge all the service members who have died fighting for our freedom. After all, that’s why Memorial Day exists in the first place—and our freedom isn’t “free.”
To all of you, thank you for your tremendous service to the American Red Cross and what you do every day to help our communities. If you’d like to learn more about Memorial Day and the American Red Cross—I’ve included some information below. Have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend.
MEMORIAL DAY AND THE AMERICAN RED CROSS
Memorial Day (then known as Decoration Day) originally honored those who died in the Civil War. Because the Civil War occurred on American soil, it had the highest number of American casualties. About 620,000 American soldiers died in the Civil War, whereas 700,000 Americans have died in all other conflicts and wars combined. So following the Civil War, a tradition of decorating soldiers’ graves on a day in spring was born. It’s fitting that the origins of the American Red Cross were found during that same deadly conflict.
When the Civil War began in 1861, Clara Barton was just another clerk at the Patent Office in Washington, D.C. Barton’s great crusade, which helped define modern humanitarianism, began when she saw soldiers crowding into the city without food or shelter prepared for them. More importantly, there was not enough medical care for wounded soldiers returning from the front.
She began distributing food and supplies to sick and wounded soldiers in the area but soon realized there was an even greater need for her services closer to the battlefield. After receiving permission to travel to the front lines, she started delivering medical supplies and tending to wounded soldiers right on the fields of battle, often risking her life to do so. Eventually, army commanders recognized the good work she was doing and gave her responsibility for all the Union’s hospitals along the James River.
After the war, Barton continued her humanitarian work by helping relatives find the remains of 22,000 soldiers who’d been reported missing. She also helped identify — and bury — 13,000 casualties of the Andersonville Prison Camp in Georgia.
After four years of this work, Barton took a break and visited Europe. But any chance for a restful vacation ended when she learned of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which had been founded in Geneva in 1864. She was drawn to its mission of providing international aid to protect the sick and wounded on all sides in war.
Barton stayed to help civilians caught up in the Franco-Prussian War, and when she returned to the States, she urged the U.S. government to sign the Geneva Treaty that created the ICRC. U.S. approval to join the international organization came in 1881, and the American Red Cross was incorporated on May 21 of that year.
Now, 135 years later, the American Red Cross is still going strong, providing shelter, food, and healthcare services at roughly 70,000 disasters every year, from single-home fires to earthquakes that affect millions. Its blood program collects, tests, and types over 40 percent of the country’s blood supply. It delivers needed services to 150,000 military families each year, including training and support for wounded veterans. The Red Cross also provides training in first aid, CPR, and lifeguarding. As part of an international organization, it joins the Red Cross in 187 countries to help over 100 million people worldwide every year.