This post was written by Bob Hassmiller the day before a serious bicycle accident, when he was looking forward to beginning the Clara Barton Tour. He did not make it to Geneva, and died two days after we published this post. The post shows the type of man Bob was—creative, thoughtful, caring, and committed to the Red Cross. We are publishing this post to honor Bob and Sue Hassmiller (pictured at right) and give voice to his commitment to the Red Cross.
Henri Dunant’s Awakening
Geneva is perhaps as beautiful and tranquil a spot as any on earth. We’ve looked forward to going there to explore how this unique city became the nexus between overwhelming disaster and the hope (and action) that alleviates that disaster.
Just as in the first part of the Clara Barton Tour, we learned that the ideals and actions of determined, caring, dedicated, and sometimes flawed individual like Clara Barton could result in the founding of a great humanitarian organization, the American Red Cross, so too do we review the efforts of her European contemporary Henri Dunant.
As major military engagements go, the 1859 battle in Solferino, Italy, is now barely a footnote. Approximately 170,000 Austrians and their allies fought 150,000 combined Italian and French troops. A one-day battle, it left about 40,000 casualties and blocked the route of a young Swiss entrepreneur, named Henri Dunant, on his way with a business proposal to Napoleon. This Swiss neutral, like Clara Barton during the Civil War, threw himself into the overwhelming job of trying to organize local relief efforts and relieve the terrible suffering that confronted him. On that battlefield he became known to both sides as “the Gentleman in White.”
‘Would It Not Be Possible?’
Like Barton, Dunant not only cared personally for those who suffered, he worked tirelessly to help all others who suffered. In his book A Memory of Solferino, which he himself paid to publish, he asked:
“Would it not be possible in time of peace and quiet to form relief societies for the purpose of having care given to the wounded in wartime by zealous, devoted, and thoroughly qualified volunteers?”
And he further laid the basis for both the Geneva Conventions and the International Red Cross. He then sent his book to every major ruler in the world.
Great ideals are only successful when dedicated individuals sacrifice their time, talent, finances, and energy to put those ideals in action, as Dunant and others did in Geneva in 1863 to found the International Committee for the Relief of the Wounded. Dunant worked tirelessly to implement his vision and earned the very first Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
We will learn more about Dunant and the current work of the Red Cross as we visit the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Red Cross Museum, and the United Nations.
From Vietnam to Red Cross Volunteer
For me, interest in this tour and the call to service is personal. My international military experience was bookended by experiences of the Red Cross. In 1969, I landed in Vietnam as a 22-year-old combat platoon sergeant and received what I would later learn was a comfort kit from a Red Cross worker.
By New Year’s Eve, I had been shot, operated on in a field hospital in Chu Chi that day, shipped to another hospital in Saigon, and the next day flown to a military hospital in Japan. I was dirty, had broken eardrums, a shattered left wrist, and a right arm largely blown away, and was without glasses so I could barely see.
Out of that blur came a woman whose face I can’t remember—but I can remember the Red Cross pin on her lapel. “How can I help you, sergeant?” she offered.
I asked if I could call home and she found me a phone. Although three days had passed since my battle, my parents had received a telegram that morning from the army saying that I’d been shot, that I was okay, and that more information would come. Two hours later my mother picked up my Red Cross call—a tearful call indeed.
As a Red Cross volunteer now, every time I go to a middle-of-the-night fire call, install a smoke detector, donate blood, pack a Red Cross box for our troops in Afghanistan, deploy to other disasters, or make our Red Cross donation, I understand that without action, these Red Cross ideals cannot be fulfilled. We walk in the footsteps of both Clara Barton and Henri Dunant and many others, and now it’s important that we create our own.