By Jim Buchanan
As January unfolded across Jackson County in 1942, all eyes were focused on the war effort.
The Dec. 7 sneak attack on Pearl Harbor had galvanized all sectors of the public. Young men were filing into recruitment offices from across the county and from Western Carolina Teachers College.
Those too young to fight or work in factories were determined to contribute as well, and found a venue through the American Red Cross.
They turned out in legions.
From the Jan. 15, 1942 Jackson County Journal:
1,700 JACKSON BOYS AND GIRLS JOIN THE RED CROSS
According to an announcement made today by Miss Cordelia Camp, chairman of the Junior Red Cross for Jackson County, approximately 1,700 students in Jackson County have joined the Junior Red Cross and have made a contribution of one penny or more to the organization. Eleven schools at this time have become members. They include Sylva Elementary School, Cashiers, Qualla, Willets, Greens Creek, Glenville, Dicks Creek, Beta, East LaPorte, Cullowhee Elementary and High School, and the Jackson county colored school. The students in the various schools are working on sundry projects to aid the nation in defense. One class, the eighth grade at Cullowhee High School, sponsored by Dr. A.L. Bramlett, is collecting scrap paper which the children plan to sell. With the proceeds from their sales they plan to buy defense stamps which will belong to the class. Before Christmas each grade in the training school adopted one or more soldiers from Jackson County and sent them Christmas greetings and gifts.
* * *
It’s hard to overstate the contributions the Red Cross made during World War II, and sadly, many of those contributions are often overlooked.
Many of the lives of nearly 1.4 million American and Allied POWs in the European theatre of war were likely saved by the efforts of 13,500 volunteers who packed 27 million parcels containing food and other aid. (Due to the lack of Japanese cooperation, relief supplies were not distributed in the Pacific).
All told, the Red Cross served virtually all of the 16 million U.S. service personnel throughout the war years, and nearly every family in the country pitched in, contributing more than $780 million, their time and literally their blood.
It also provided relief to nearly a million Americans on the homefront during the war era, and it’s those efforts that have largely been forgotten. The U.S. was hit by hurricanes in 1940 and 1944, as well as a disastrous fire in 1942 at the Cocoanut Grove night club in Boston that claimed nearly 500 lives and the 1944 circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut that killed 168. In all those cases the Red Cross response was swift and vital.
As to the Junior Red Cross, the youth of Jackson County were far from alone in their enthusiasm. Membership in the organization peaked at 20 million in 1945 – a number representing about 75 percent of the school-aged population. Activities of the JRC focused on things like preparing gift boxes for needy children overseas, comfort items for the military, Victory Garden work and monetary donations to the National Children’s Fund, which provided aid to children overseas in nations rebuilding from the devastation of war.
It’s an admirable history. It’s also an admirable tradition that carries on in Jackson County. For more on that, see accompanying story.