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News / Clark County News

Red Cross doughnuts heal old indignities

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter
Published: November 9, 2009, 12:00am
2 Photos
Vivian Johnson/ for The Columbian
Julie Burger sings and old Navy song with Norm Kime, who served as a Navy SeaBee during World War II, as Burger joined other Red Cross volunteers to give away coffee and doughnuts Saturday to veterans at the 23rd annual Celebrate Freedom Veterans Parade at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
Vivian Johnson/ for The Columbian Julie Burger sings and old Navy song with Norm Kime, who served as a Navy SeaBee during World War II, as Burger joined other Red Cross volunteers to give away coffee and doughnuts Saturday to veterans at the 23rd annual Celebrate Freedom Veterans Parade at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Photo Gallery

Julie Burger figures the American Red Cross owes some World War II veterans a doughnut or two.

That’s why Burger was passing out free coffee and doughnuts Saturday morning to vets — and anybody else — who wanted to fuel up for Vancouver’s annual Celebrate Freedom Veterans Parade.

A Red Cross volunteer for more than 40 years, Burger was part of the team working in the Southwest Washington chapter’s disaster response vehicle parked along Officers Row, near the Marshall House.

“During World War II, the Red Cross charged service members for doughnuts and coffee. There still are World War II veterans who remember that and don’t let us forget,” Burger said.

At previous veterans’ events, “I used to carry a roll of nickels with me. When a vet came and complained, I gave him a nickel for each time he had to buy a doughnut.”

But it wasn’t the fault of the American Red Cross, she said. American defense officials established the policy so all Allied troops would receive equal treatment.

“The British didn’t have as many resources. The British Red Cross was charging service members and requested we do likewise, so it wouldn’t appear the British soldier was being taken advantage of.

“We wrote letters and everything. It finally got to the secretary of war, and he said we had to charge. That’s the reason we charged.”

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Burger, until recently a member of the Red Cross national board of governors, has a copy of the letter establishing the policy.

Dated March 20, 1942, it was sent by Secretary of War Henry Stimson to Norman Davis, chairman of the American Red Cross.

Stimson indicated that the Red Cross policy of free food and lodging for the troops is “impractical, unnecessary and undesirable. It is understood that all similar allied service clubs in the British Isles make suitable charges for this particular service.”

A noted “urban myth” Web site — snopes.com — provides even more information about the policy at snopes.com/medical/emergent/redcross.asp.

The setup site for Saturday’s doughnut dishing is worth noting, since the Marshall House was the first permanent home of the Red Cross in Clark County.

And, its most famous occupant — Gen. George Marshall — was Army chief of staff during World War II.

After Marshall retired from the Army, he became president of the American Red Cross and the whole doughnut issue “came back to haunt him,” Burger said.

“It’s kind of ironic,” she added, that they were set up Saturday at the Marshall House.”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558 or tom.vogt@columbian.com.

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Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter