National Volunteer Week–Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway in Milan ,1918When you read one of Ernest Hemingway’s works it might not strike you that he was once an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross! As we celebrate National Volunteer week, we would like to highlight the contributions of our devoted volunteers to the Red Cross mission particularly, of renowned American author Ernest Hemingway.

During World War I, Chicago-born Ernest Hemingway responded to a Red Cross recruitment effort in Kansas City and signed on to become an ambulance driver in Schio, Italy and then as a canteen worker at the Piave River until he was wounded. While Hemingway was distributing chocolate and cigarettes to Italian soldiers in the trenches near the front lines, an explosion seriously wounded him. But regardless of his injuries, Hemingway carried an Italian soldier on his back to a first-aid station, for which he received the Italian Silver Medal of Military Valour.

The Italian government cited with the award that, “Ernest Miller Hemingway of Illinois Park (Chicago) Lieutenant of the American Red Cross responsible for carrying sundries to the Italian troops engaged in combat, gave proof of courage and self sacrifice. Gravely wounded by numerous pieces of shrapnel from an enemy shell, and with an admirable spirit of brotherhood before taking care of himself, he rendered generous assistance to the Italian soldiers more seriously wounded in the same explosion and did not allow himself to be carried elsewhere until after they had been evacuated”.

He spent five days at a field hospital where he allowed other soldiers who were more seriously wounded by the same explosion to be treated before he was and remained with them until they were all evacuated. He was then transferred for recuperation to the Red Cross hospital in Milan for six months where he also found his first love in Red Cross nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky.

But Ernest Hemingway’s association with the Red Cross went beyond his voluntary work. Hemingway always admired the work of the organization, and when he returned home from the war he often wore his Red Cross uniform proudly around town. Ernest Hemingway’s Red Cross enlistment was one of the most influential experiences of his life and his development as a writer and a thinker. It also provided much of the source material for his work ‘A Farewell to Arms’ and his writings about Italy and the Great War. His involvement with the Red Cross led to some of the finest American literature on the Great War.

Ernest Hemingway represented all the values of a Red Cross volunteer—bravery, sacrifice, service and compassion for others. The Red Cross always respects the incredible hard work put in by all our volunteers all over the nation. Thousands of volunteers are out there every minute helping the community with emergency disaster response, providing life saving health and safety training and constantly trying to meet the immediate need of blood. The Red Cross celebrates the efforts put in by all supporters everywhere through National Volunteer week. Visit our website http://www.redcross.org/il/chicago to find out ways in which you can volunteer.

Written by: Amisha Sud

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