Academic journal article Air Power History

Destination Unknown: Adventures of a WWII American Red Cross Girl

Academic journal article Air Power History

Destination Unknown: Adventures of a WWII American Red Cross Girl

Article excerpt

Destination Unknown: Adventures of a WWII American Red Cross Girl. By LeOna and Kathleen Cox. CreateSpace Publishing, 2009. Photographs. Pp. 210. $12.82 paperback ISBN: 978-1466412484

My first thought on flipping through these scrapbook-like pages was that this was going to be a "fluff" piece with lots of photos. Wrong! While bookshelves are loaded with personal accounts of the horrific realities of battle, this book gives poignant insight into the state of mind of the American soldier on his way to, or coming back from, war. It is a treasure trove collection of more than 200 letters written by a 27-year-old teacher, LeOna Kriesel, who left a secure college teaching post in 1943 to become a Red Cross girl in North Africa and Europe.

Recruited by the Red Cross, LeOna passed a thorough FBI background check and was ordered to pack a footlocker with everything she would need for two years. She viewed this as the most exciting thing to happen in her life; her parents dreaded it. After several weeks of stateside training from how to play ping-pong and blackjack to properly donning a gas mask, LeOna sailed with 1,300 soldiers and 400 nurses and Red Cross workers to a foreign port known only to the ship's captain--Destination Unknown.

This book is loaded with photos and copies of LeOna's handwritten letters--most, thankfully, transcribed, and some juxtaposed with her handwritten letters on the opposite page. Interspersed throughout these typed letters are helpful explanations in bold font about who some of her subjects were, as well as current events to help the reader understand what was happening in the war and how her letters related to those events.

LeOna's letters bring the reader back to a bygone era of innocence. Few of us today would guess that the most popular form of entertainment overseas at Red Cross canteens was square dancing. And, yes, calling square dancing was another job a Red Cross girl had to know how to do. And those dances were packed!

For sixteen months LeOna's detailed letters regaled her parents with anecdotes of how she and her fellow Red Cross workers helped thousands of American soldiers. …

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