NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (NNS) -- The American Red Cross has played an important role in providing assistance across the area now known as Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (NSGB) since 1898.
Historian Herbert Collins said that the Red Cross first provided their own ambulances in the Spanish-American War, when in 1897 Cubans revolted against Spanish domination. Clara Barton, Red Cross President at the time, asked President McKinley to help her raise money for Red Cross relief to Cuba. She also set off to Cuba in February 1898 to help the injured during the Cuban insurrection.
The government eventually joined the effort, but only after the conflict turned into the Spanish-American war in 1898.
When the United States declared war on Spain, Clara Barton - who was 76 years old at the time - traveled to hospitals recruiting nurses to work for the Army at medical camps in Florida, and Cuba. On June 20, 1898, Clara Barton and the Red Cross nurses then sailed to Havana, Cuba, to provide nursing care, medical supplies, food and other necessities to American service members and victims of the Spanish-American War. The Red Cross also provided a non-medical service for the armed forces by handling inquiries from families.
Barton's most significant act during her closing years as head of the American Red Cross was to take supplies to Cuba on a specially chartered ship during the Spanish-American War. Aid was given to the American forces, to prisoners of war and to Cuban refugees. This effort was the first step toward the broad programs of service to the armed forces and to civilians during wartime that have become traditional in the American Red Cross. On resigning as president of the organization in 1904, Barton left a foundation of service to humanity for others to build on.
During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the American Red Cross played a major role on the base again while assisting the families of military personnel who were evacuated from the base. Notified of the evacuation on Oct. 22, evacuees were told to pack one suitcase per family member, to bring evacuation and immunization cards, to tie pets in the yard, to leave the keys to the house on the dining table and to wait in front of the house for buses. Dependents traveled to the airfield for flights to the United States or to ports for passage aboard evacuation ships. On Dec. 5, 1962, Red Cross begins collecting medicines and food for Cuba in exchange for release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners of war. After the crisis was resolved, family members were allowed to return to the base in December 1962.
In January of 2010, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay's American Red Cross office stood at the ready once again to help with providing supplies by air and ship to the people of Haiti following a major earthquake that devastated the already impoverished nation.
Finally, when three major hurricanes threatened NSGB in the span of a little over a year, the American Red Cross staff and their volunteers swept in to assist with ensuring all residents were kept safe, whether that be mission essential personnel who remained in shelters on base, or dependents who had been evacuated to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.
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