In the 1960s, Col. Ben Robinson was serving a tour of duty in Germany when his mother became seriously ill. His commanding officer was notified by the American Red Cross, which, by congressional mandate, is the only organization authorized to provide emergency communications to the armed forces. Robinson was given leave to visit his mother, who hadn’t spoken for two weeks due to her illness, according to Cindy Erickson, CEO of the American Red Cross Greater St. Louis Region. “When she heard his voice, she said, There’s my baby,” Erickson says. “The colonel really believes it was his presence—and the doctors do, too—that motivated her recovery. She lived another 30 years.”
Robinson went on to serve for a total of 23 years, followed by several years of civilian service. During that time, he became a colonel, and saw how important the Red Cross’ emergency communications were to the soldiers serving under him. Then, while fighting in Vietnam, he and his unit were cut off from supplies, and he attributes the rations dropped by the Red Cross for their survival. “He retired on a Friday and I met him as he was walking in the following Monday to volunteer for the Red Cross,” Erickson says. Robinson volunteers three days a week, and as a trained caseworker, helps military families who are dealing with difficult situations like the one he faced.
Robinson’s story is all too common for members of the armed forces. Sean Murphy, an aviation electricians mate 3rd class (aviation warfare), was in boot camp in 2009 when his grandfather passed away. The Red Cross also helped notify him of his grandfather’s passing; and although he was unable to attend the funeral, he was granted an exception and allowed to speak with his parents, Erickson notes. “He considers it a tremendous gift that he was able to do that, and is grateful to the Red Cross for it.”
As the holidays approach, the community is invited to help the Red Cross, along with their partners the St. Louis Rams and Edward Jones, make a difference in the lives of service members and veterans in yet another way. Through the Holiday Mail for Heroes program, the Red Cross collected some 44,000 holiday cards in the St. Louis region, and 1.5 million cards around the country. “We hear time and time again how grateful the soldiers are when they’re in the bunker, missing their families, to know that someone is thinking of them,” Erickson says. “Especially during this season, when they’ve sacrificed so much to be away from their families.”
Volunteers are invited to either make holiday cards from scratch or to use pre-made cards on which they inscribe a message to an active service member or veteran. For more information on how to send individual cards or host a card-making event, contact Kelsey Vaughan at 516-2789 or Kelsey.firstname.lastname@example.org.