Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Coffee & Doughnuts!

Got your attention now, haven't I? I know I can't start my day without a cup (okay, usually two cups) of joe, and my waistline can attest to the fact I've enjoyed a few doughnuts in my day as well. But these morning favorites have led to a misunderstanding that has lasted for 70 years!

During World War II, the Red Cross continued its long-standing tradition of Services to Armed Forces, supplying plasma that saved tens of thousands of lives on the battlefield; shipping 28 million packages of food and comfort items to 1.3 million allied prisoners of war; handling 40 million messages between soldiers and their families; and making 2.5 million loans to help with emergencies. Still, many WWII veterans and other community members have one question: "Why did the American Red Cross charge soldiers for coffee and doughnuts during World War II??"

Photo courtesy
It's a perfectly reasonable question. After all, our Services to the Armed Forces have always been (and continue to be) free. And there's a perfectly reasonable answer: The American Red Cross did sell coffee and  doughnuts to military personnel during World War II for the only time in its history, at the request of U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson (you can see his letter to the Red Cross below). The request was made as a matter of morale: service agencies in Britain could not afford to give away similar items, so it was deemed to be "impractical and undesirable" for American soldiers to receive these services for free while their British allies had to pay. The American Red Cross complied with the request and sold these items at or below cost, did not profit from the sales and has never again charged military personnel for refreshments.

As the late Paul Harvey used to say, "Now you know the rest of the story."