2 minute readHistory

A Look Back at Red Cross Service during the Holidays

Red Cross service delivery during the holiday season has a special place in our history. Our archives team put together a few instances that really stand out, including Operation Snowbound and one Donut Dolly’s experience in the Vietnam jungle.

Spreading holiday cheer during the Vietnam War

There were few bright moments during wartime, so Red Cross recreational workers such as Shirley Atkins did all they could to bring the holiday spirit to the troops.

Hear her tell her story:

Shirley was a program director with the Red Cross in Vietnam from 1971 to 1972. For the holidays, the recreational worker teams organized decorating parties and caroling groups, passed out ditty bags and traveled to many outlying units to reach additional servicemen.

At Cam Ranh Bay, Atkins discovered that the Air Force had a unique way to announce the arrival of the Red Cross workers to the servicemen in the field: A plane painted with a Santa face flew over the jungle and played Christmas carols.

Red Cross volunteers at Walter Reed singing carols
Atkins could not pass up the chance to hitch a ride on one of these flights and said that “it was one of the best things that I can ever remember in Vietnam.”

Today, the Red Cross still continues this fine tradition of bringing cheer to the troops. In this photo from 2008, Red Cross workers and volunteers visited patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the Washington, D.C. area to fill the halls with holiday carols.

Disasters don’t take breaks during the holidays and neither do we

Plane delivering aid to snowstorm with Red Cross
Wikimedia Commons/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Public Domain

The Great Blizzard covered Nebraska, Wyoming, and North and South Dakota with a series of snowstorms that began before Thanksgiving 1948 and continued past New Year’s 1949. Sundance, Wyoming received more than 100 inches of snow, and snow drifts of 25 to 30 feet were common in Nebraska.

By late January the accumulation was so great that a disaster area was declared and Operation Snowbound began. This multi-force relief effort involved the Fifth Army Division, the Red Cross and the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), among others. Normal transportation was impossible; snow drifts covered even entire locomotive trains. With the assistance of the CAP, the Red Cross flew 261 missions in small, light airplanes that could land on snow drifts to deliver food and medical supplies to stranded communities.

Red Cross ERV responding to Missouri flooding over Christmas

Even last year, over Christmas and New Year, historic flooding struck many communities along the Meramec and other rivers in Missouri. The Red Cross provided essential disaster relief, such as shelter and hot meals, to families affected by this holiday disaster.

Red Cross youth brighten holiday meals

In the past, Red Cross Youth clubs in schools across the country have brightened holiday meal times for many hospital patients. Shown below are students from Stowe Township Junior-Senior High School in Western Pennsylvania in 1963, decorating placemats and creating tray favors with holiday themes. That holiday season, 1,000 hand-drawn placemats were sent to veterans and mental hospitals.

Red Cross youth making placemats for Christmas meals
Members of the Stowe Red Cross Youth club stayed after classes ended to decorate placemats which are shown in the second photo.

Whether tending to military personnel far from home or caring for disaster victims in an emergency shelter, Red Cross volunteers and staff bring the spirit of holiday joy to their work throughout the season.

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  1. –I was in Vietnam and saw Bob Hope but wasn’t aware other “spreading cheer” events. This is the first time I learned about Shirley Atkins and her group’s services. What a wonderful and story of an exciting experience! Over the audio you can hear it in her voice.
    –I was in the Junior Red Cross at Stowe – directed by Florence Hoagland, it instilled in me the importance of caring about others and making holidays more meaningful.

    Thank you and Happy New Year, Nick
    P.S. – Do I recognize Kathleen Mica – front row, left?