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.

Reflection on the Operation Greatest Generation

By John Kost, Service to the Armed Forces Regional Manager

Jerry Prellwitz and John Kost in their WWII era American Red Cross uniforms.

American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces (SAF) attended Operation Greatest Generation at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay Friday May 4th.  Operation Greatest Generation was a State of Wisconsin organized event to thank World War 2 Veterans their service.  Our role last Friday was to provide Canteen Service- a service American Red Cross SAF is historically known for and still continues to this day.Dressed in Red Cross era uniforms of the day, canteen service was provided at the train depot for the arriving and departing veterans and their families.  For all Red Crossers working it was memorable day listening to the veterans share stories of how Red Cross helped them, and how it must of felt at that time to be serving the many your soldiers, sailors, marines, and airman during the warDid you know the canteen corps of Red Cross during the war provided 163 million cups of coffee, 254 million doughnuts, and 121 million meals with a staff as large as 105,571 volunteers.  Many more services, almost long and forgottten, were provided during this time.To learn more about Red Cross during World War 2 visit the Red Cross Museum at: www.redcross.org/museum/history/ww2a.asp.