Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Rediscovered Memorial Pays Tribute to WWI Women Who Served

By Daniel Sieberg, American Red Cross in Greater NY 

The foot of the flagstaff memorial to those who served with the Red Cross in World War 1. It reads: 
"In memory of the members of the Overseas Service League who served with the Red Cross during the first and second World Wars."   
For eight decades, millions of New Yorkers and tourists alike in Central Park have visited a memorial to Red Cross volunteers who served in WWI - likely without ever realizing it. Perhaps because it’s “hidden” in plain sight. 

As the first global war escalated starting in 1914 and the U.S. became increasingly drawn in, the Red Cross was still a nascent organization searching for a strong identity but with an influential honorary chairman to help draw attention to its importance: President Woodrow Wilson. 

Whether in the U.S. or the European theater of war, hundreds of women volunteered and served with the Red Cross in WWI from medical care to running canteens to offering civilian aid. 

In 1925, more than six years after the end of WWI, a memorial of 24 trees and a flagstaff in the east side of Central Park in New York was conceived by the Overseas Service League to pay tribute to the number of women who had died (two more trees were added at a later date) - many of whom were members of the American Red Cross. 

From a report in the New York Times, we know a dedication ceremony took place where hundreds of people gathered to honor the occasion, complete with a color guard from Fort Jay, Governors Island. Lt.-Commander Nathan A. Seagle made the principal address and pronounced the benediction. President of the Overseas Service League, Mary Martin, laid multi-colored wreaths on the saplings. Indeed, according to a news report of the day, the entire grove was decorated with wreaths and sprays of poppies, irises, peonies, white lilacs and other blossoms. 

Over time, though, the impact and visibility of the memorial faded. The trees eventually blended into the surrounding foliage, their stories lost to the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest city parks in the world. 

1945. Marseille, France. The Coast Guard lands Red Cross worker
on the Riviera to catch up with the advancing allied forces in Southern France.
Credit: American Red Cross
Earlier this year, after the East Side WWI Centennial Commemoration (ESWWICC) rediscovered this tribute memorial to New York City women veterans, the American Red Cross joined them, the NYC Department of Veteran Affairs, and a cross-section of leading organizations and  elected representatives to bring this important site, also known as the Overseas Service League Flagstaff and Grove, out of obscurity and back to public recognition.

On November 6, 2019, just days before Veterans Day, under a clear autumn sky with a sun that burned shadows onto the paths, a re-commemoration ceremony marked by speeches delivered by more than a dozen non-profit, civic, community and government officials, made clear this site plays a critical and enduring role in reminding us all of the women who served (and continue to serve) their country.

“The American Red Cross began as the vision of an extraordinary woman,” said Susan Rounds, Interim CEO, American Red Cross in Greater New York, at the event. “Clara Barton risked her life to help wounded soldiers from the North and the South during the Civil War, selfless, humanitarian action that laid the foundation for the organization. Far ahead of her time, Clara forged a path for women. It was in this spirit that women volunteered with the Red Cross during World War 1.”

Greater NY Red Cross Interim CEO Susan Rounds speaks at a re-commemoration ceremony
alongside community, civic and local government partners   
Now that it has been brought back to the public eye, the hope is to make this tribute event an annual occurrence. The Overseas Service League Flagstaff and Grove is the only site in NYC that recognizes the women who served in overseas wars. 

And it’s a tribute to women who served that we should all look up to. 

If you’d like to visit the memorial yourself just head to the 69th Street walk entrance on the east side of the park - and find the flagpole, and for the Grove and trees, look to your right and walk the path up to 71st Street 

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