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An Oral History of the American Red Cross

by Michele Turk

ISBN: 0-9777192-0-0

The voices of 29 volunteers and staffers form a collection of moving testimonies about the American Red Cross.

Turk, who has worked with the Red Cross in the New York area, celebrates the 125th anniversary of the American chapter, but also acknowledges the fact that the organization received criticism after 9/11 and the Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2005. By calling on a wide range of people dedicated to the service of others in times of crisis, Turk refocuses attention on the efforts and needs of individuals, successfully dispelling skepticism about volunteerism, if not completely exonerating the larger bureaucracy. The author concisely traces the organization’s history in her introduction, and she occasionally interrupts her speakers to provide necessary context for the subsequent groupings of oral histories. These begin with World War II and proceed, more or less, chronologically, to Vietnam, then to the narratives of those involved in subsequent disasters, including the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, 9/11 and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The testimonies end with those from some small-town heroes, reminders of the importance of seemingly mundane matters such as CPR training and blood donation. Although brief, the histories contain numerous telling details and unexpected insights. One female morale-booster, or “Donut Dollie,” spent just one year in Vietnam but still thinks of it as the highlight of her life, and she recalls feeling relatively useless upon her return home. Particularly moving stories include that of Ken Thompson, who relates the moment he realized his mother died in the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, or that of a mental health worker who recalls a crane operator’s discovery of a severed leg at Ground Zero in New York.

An anthology of poignant, humane narratives, emotionally honest and intense in their simplicity.