Volunteer Spotlight: Veteran Volunteer Recalls Red Cross Services During Wartime

Written by Eugenio Cortez, Red Cross Volunteer and US Army Veteran

I was a young soldier in the US Army when I first learned about the American Red Cross and the organization has been a lifeline when I needed them. I say “them” because the Red Cross has always been volunteers who selfishly donate their time and energy to help their neighbors in need. 

“The Red Cross would traverse the countryside to meet with other units wherever they were. Red Cross members were looking after us and volunteering their time in places of danger to bring a little bit of the US to those serving their country.”

In South Korea, where I was stationed near the DMZ, it was a welcome sight to see the Doughnut Dollies from the American Red Cross when they would come by to lift our spirits. We would all gather around, whether we were in the field or in our compound, and have coffee and donuts, play games and chat about what was going on in the world. The Red Cross would traverse the countryside to meet with other units wherever they were. Red Cross members were looking after us and volunteering their time in places of danger to bring a little bit of the US to those serving their country.  The Red Cross has come to my aid during my time in the Republic of Panama, Korea, Vietnam and Germany. They provided information about my family when I wouldn’t or couldn’t write to them because of my circumstances. Not only did they get in contact with me, but the Red Cross aided me in returning home when there was a family emergency.

A year before I retired from the San Antonio School District as a School Social Worker, I attended an orientation about the Red Cross and became a volunteer attending classes about disaster services. When I did retire I quickly became an active volunteer. Truth be told, my wife declared that I wasn’t going to stay home and do nothing, so she pushed me out, and I am thankful she did. 

I took my volunteering seriously and my idea was to become a custodian or a janitor. However, the director of disaster service had different plans for me and asked me to work with shelters.  I was assigned to work with another volunteer who had set up the groundwork but a month later, I was working independently on the project.  Fortunately, I had learned enough to take on the responsibility.   Next, the director asked me to join the Disaster Action Team (DAT) , which I didn’t mind because the shelter management wasn’t taking too much time to manage.

Being a DAT volunteer opened my eyes to some of the work being done by volunteers with regards to home fires. Being on call for seven days can be strenuous and the home fire calls are almost at night or in the early morning, but my wife had joined as a volunteer as well so together we would venture out to answer the calls.  The fact was, we didn’t mind at all, because we saw the need of people, we were assisting during our home fire responses. My DAT responsibilities became the position where I was able to help my fellowmen.   

The Red Cross has become digitalized to better serve our communities around the world.  But it is the volunteer who selfishly dedicated their time to helping those recover from disaster who ensure that the Red Cross will continue to be around for the next generation.   

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a volunteer, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer

Author: American Red Cross Central & South Texas Region

The American Red Cross Central & South Texas Region provides humanitarian services -- including disaster relief, services to the armed forces and CPR/first aid training -- to 80 counties in the state of Texas. Chapter offices are located in Waco, Bryan, Austin, San Antonio, Kerrville and Midland.