Dying Mother Saves Son from Death

Written by Barbara Behling, Communications Director

In honor of the many men and women who have served our country and continue to serve, we thank you today and everyday for your service. 


Even from a deathbed, a mother can save a child. This was the case for Neil Starke, serving in the US Coast Guard during WWII. Thanks to the American Red Cross Services to Armed Forces program he was able to share her last breaths, a visit which also saved his own life.

In the heart of WWII, the USS El Paso was situated at 114° North & 120° East. From these decks, air & sea rescues off the Philippines coasts were conducted. It was in the heart of the fighting, he received a cablegram from the Red Cross which explained his father had fallen while riding a bus, with trauma to his head, he was sent to a mental institution. Meanwhile, in another hospital, his dying mother yearned to see her son one last time. His superior officers granted permission for a 38-day leave of absence. It was this stroke of timing that saved his life.

SONY DSCNeil was taken off one ship, sailed to land on another and then boarded a military plane to fly back to the states. Altogether, the journey took two weeks. While at his mother’s bedside, he shared stories, a smile and the unmistakable touch of a mother’s hand until her passing.  Even today, when sharing his story, he remains visibly shaken.

Now with tears in his eyes, it was time to return to duty. “It was the first time I heard my father’s voice falter when saying good-bye.” Neil explains. By military plane, he flew back to the base and was ready to rejoin his ship. He waited a week. Then two, he was eager to join his team. “It was ironic and a blessing, I was pulled off that ship as it was declared lost in the Yellow Sea typhoon.  While I never saw any man I served with again; the vessel was found two-weeks later. The boilers had been destroyed so it must have been tossing around like a toy in a washing machine,” Neil concluded.

A short-time thereafter, an international peace agreement was signed. The war was over. “Until that cable gram, I had been mad at the Red Cross about $.15 lemonade that tasted awful.  Then I learned the greater meaning of their work. It allowed me to be with my mother in those final days and it also saved my life.”

The Service to the Armed Forces division of the American Red Cross helps our military members and their families across the world with one primary function being Emergency Communications. If family needs to get in touch with a service member while they are on active duty, they can call the Red Cross Emergency Communication line for the military at 1-877-272-7337. The Red Cross will get family in touch, and provide vital verification services so that commanding officers can make informed decisions about emergency leave. The Red Cross is the only organization entrusted with this responsibility because of our longstanding history with the military, as well as our Fundamental Principles of Neutrality and Impartiality.

Red Cross Prepares for a Different Kind of “Ice Bowl”

No, that’s not a typo…We recently participated in a multi-faceted simulated disaster called Ice Bowl. It was aptly named as a fictional airliner crashed into our frigid, frozen water.  The inaugural Mass Rescue Operations preparedness exercise was sponsored by Austin Straubel International Airport, Brown County Emergency Management, WI DNR and the US Coast Guard. This was such as collaborative and large-scale event, that this FAA-required disaster exercise, was held off airport grounds.

With any simulated disaster, our goal is to test our processes, give our disaster team hands-on experience, simulate mutual aid, identify gaps and learn how we would react – and improve upon our systems without the pressures of actual lives lost.

The role of Red Cross in any aviation accident is defined through a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996. These two documents provide the framework for our response. Just like a residential fire or tornado, various first responders, federal, state, county and local departments all play a role in response and recovery.

For nine months, Judy Gregory, Red Cross Emergency Services Director has spearheaded our Ice Bowl participation and more than 50 volunteers and staff were involved during the actual event!

Local responsibilities included:

Emergency Operations Center & Joint Information Office: This is the central hub of incoming information, disaster response and public information/media relations.

At the Crash Site: Mass care workers and a mental health professional were available along with the Emergency Response Vehicle and Mobile Operations Center so first responders had a respite, could re-hydrate with water, hot beverages and food.

Three Local Hospitals: Two hospital liaisons were available so tracking of survivors could be communicated to their immediate family members.

Austin Straubel Airport: As passenger’s family members gathered waiting for official airline up-dates, they would be supported by Mental Health professionals, Health Services, Caseworkers and Security.

Family Assistance Center: St. Mark’s Church hosted this central location as family members waited for news about their loved ones. As we received tracking information on  passenger’s condition we shared that with the airline representatives. Together, with our Mental Health professionals they then met with actors posing as distraught family members.

Operations Management: This team provided guidance on the disaster on a whole and ensured the full support of Red Cross resources.

With any mass casualty event, the loss of life requires the best – and most – emotional support of any disaster. Therefore, we also included groups such as the county Mental Health Services, Public Health, Clergy Association and the Church of the Brethen so they are better prepared for the worst case scenario.

 We’re so proud of our volunteers and staff who have trained, prepared and practiced skills that make our communities stronger!