In “A Bulwark Against Mighty Woes” (February/March 1980) we celebrated the work done by the American Red Cross during World War I—and the fact that this year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the organization. Now reader Priscilla M. Harding of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, offers a sidelight that demonstrates the remarkable dedication of many Red Cross volunteers:
“One cold December night in 1914, nurse Mary Gladwin kicked something metallic while making her rounds in the American Red Cross Field Hospital in Belgrade, Serbia—the only Red Cross hospital then located in a combat zone. Looking down, she saw a hand grenade roll from beneath an Austrian soldier’s cot. It was not the first time that weapons had been found in the hospital. Several weeks earlier, rifle-bearing Serbian patients had crawled to the windows to blast away at an Austrian plane. After this fusillade, the hospital had been declared a neutral zone; anyone caught concealing arms would be shot. Now the patients tensely watched the pantomime between their comrade and the American nurse, fearful that she would report him. Once they understood that her only concern was to get the grenade out of the ward, many rummaged through their own pallets. Sheepishly, like small boys caught in an orchard with their pockets crammed with apples, the wounded men turned over their arms, gently placing them in Gladwin’s outstretched apron, which soon was heavy with grenades. Cautiously, she made her way out of the ward toward Dr. Edward Ryan, who gingerly relieved the nurse of her deadly harvest.
“Gladwin—who, through a long career contributed much to her profession—personified the best that was in the Red Cross volunteer in other ways, as well. The organization’s purpose was never better stated than in her reply to a 1913 flood victim in Ohio who had refused Red Cross aid, which he called charity and considered demeaning. ‘This isn't charity,’ she told him. ‘It’s just your neighbors, some of them at a distance, that’s true, but all of them trying to help you because you are in trouble.’ ”