By Julianna Jaynes, an AmeriCorps member
Both of my parents grew up in military families, but with neither of them enlisting, I grew up a generation removed from being considered an immediate family member. Having been born much later than when any of my family members were active in the military, I did not have the chance to experience their service alongside them but instead was introduced to them when they were already proud military veterans.
Sitting at the dinner table, my whole family laughing, my Uncle Sammy once again tells the same story that, in my mind, is paired with the essence of who he was. He would always smile as he told it, even though I’m quite sure that on the day the story took place, he was doing the exact opposite. See, my Uncle Sammy was a paratrooper in Central America, and in his youth, he was quite proud to have earned the title. Unfortunately for him and his pride, during his very last training jump, he managed to land not on his target, and not even on the ground near his target, but instead, in an unsuspecting and probably quite surprised tree. With that, he managed to break his leg, expel himself from the paratroopers, and was instead sent to Germany to be the assistant of a Jewish chaplain stationed there not long after the end of World War II. Though the story told at the dinner table would usually end here, followed by the continuous teasing of my family, his military experience did not. My Uncle Sammy, a once paratrooper, now chaplain’s assistant and Jewish American soldier, instead went on to help a still-grieving community heal from the recent trauma of the Holocaust.
My grandfather passed when I was still relatively young. Yet, I will always remember the tribute the Navy paid to him when he passed, for how much it honored both his memory and his service, even though he had been active many, many years before. Though I only had to chance to know him when I was young, meaning I never got the chance to hear about his service from him, my dad was able later to tell me about his time in the military. He had enlisted in the Navy during the Korean War and spent most of his time repairing ship motors in Japan and Hawaii. Two Navy members came to his memorial service and presented us with the American flag. To this day, every time I see it, proudly framed in a wooden triangle, I always think of him.
My mom was born an army brat on a base near Huntsville, Alabama, to my grandmother, an outgoing civil rights activist, and my grandfather, an army engineer, serving during Vietnam. They entered the service right as the sputnik missile was being launched into space, meaning that all the engineers stationed there were working hard to catch up. Being the critical mission that it was, the debate was rampant in the arsenal, and to encourage the troops to get back on track so that the USA could win the space race, John F Kennedy himself showed up to the base. My grandfather met the president with an outstretched hand and a quiet “wow.” Telling the story now, my grandfather always assures us that this was not in response to meeting the president of the United States, but instead was a reaction to the president’s choice of clothes. “I’d never seen a $1500 suit in real life before.”
When I saw an AmeriCorps position open for “Service to the Armed Forces,” I honestly thought something along the lines of: “Cool. I guess I’ll be teaching them about disasters or something.” As it turns out, service to the armed forces means so much more than that. I had no idea that the Red Cross acted as a verifier to help the military make informed leave decisions. I had no idea that if an active member or a veteran called desperately needing financial assistance, that caseworkers at the red cross would work tirelessly to connect them with organizations and resources that could help them. I had no idea about the work that was put into comfort kits, disaster kits, and events for active military members, veterans, and their families.
One of my very first cases was a MEPS call, meaning I was simply calling the family of a newly active military member to let them know that the Red Cross offers these sorts of services. I got a very concerned father on the phone, who needed absolutely every crumb of information repeated so he could write it down, even though I assured him the information would again be sent to him in written form. With this call, I could hear a woman who at one point identified herself as the mother, asking him to then repeat the information to her, so that she could write it down on a separate piece of paper, just in case the first piece of paper got lost, even though, again, I assured them several times the information would be sent to them. I remember hanging up this call and thinking of my family. Of remembering these stories and realizing how glad I was to know that the Red Cross was there for them, and how glad I am to know that the Red Cross will continue to be there for military members, active or veterans, and their families all across the country.
It’s hard to believe, too, that this is just the tip of the incredible iceberg that is service to the armed forces. As my grandmother said, when I asked about her time on that army base in Alabama, “Serving our country is one of the most important [things]. Anybody who serves their country – they deserve to be taken care of.” Being a couple months into this position, I feel like that is exactly what the Red Cross does, and I am so happy to be a part of it.
On Veterans Day, the American Red Cross honors all the men and women who have served and sacrificed to protect and defend our country. Every day, the American Red Cross provides 24/7 global emergency communication services and support in military and veteran health care facilities across the country and around the world, and that is only possible because of our dedicated employees and volunteers. Learn more about our Service to the Armed Forces.