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What’s the Story Behind This Iconic Photo?

Many have come across this photo before, as it has more than once made the rounds on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels. But the historic image deserves more than just a passing glance, as it speaks volumes about the the changing roles and importance of  women and the American Red Cross during World War II.

world war ii WWII red cross women beach dday d-day
Taken on January 15, 1945, seven months after the D-Day Invasion at Normandy, the photo captures a United States Coast Guard-manned barge unloading its passengers onto a beach in the Riviera Region of Southern France. These passengers – Red Cross staff – arrived ready to “carry out their duties and keep high the spirits of Yank fighting men.”

These vast and varied duties grew out of the 1905 congressional charter requiring the Red Cross to “furnish volunteer aid to the sick and wounded armies in time of war” and “act…as a medium of communication between the people of the United States and their Army and Navy.” During World War II, some Red Crossers overseas provided aid to and operated clubs for members of the armed forces, while others served in field and evacuation hospitals and on hospital trains, ships and planes.

On the home front, volunteers provided support to veterans and their families, covered hospital staff shortages, manufactured emergency supplies, collected scrap, cultivated victory gardens, and coordinated nutrition, first aid and water safety training programs.

World War II led to a vast increase in opportunities, many of them with the Red Cross, for women to make a difference. And make a difference they did.

Find additional information about American Red Cross activities during WWII  and learn about the American Red Cross partnership with U.S. military members.