The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

July 15, 2011

History, blood drive combine today

GENEVA —  When Jeanne Onuska closes her eyes, she sees blood.

A member of the European Military Historical Society, Onuska portrays a Red Cross nurse entrenched in battle-torn Europe during World War II, tending to wounded soldiers in harsh conditions.

Bringing history together with 2011, Onuska will host a living-history museum display and American Red Cross blood drive today at the Geneva Village Nursing and Rehabilitation center, 1140 S. Broadway.

“There is just a dire need for blood donations right now,” she said. “I was thinking of creative ways to get people interested in donating blood, and this is what I came up with.”

Onuska will set up a replica World War II German Red Cross field hospital as a living-history display. She will wear the uniform of a Red Cross nurse and teach about what life was like for nurses in war zones. The living-history display is free.

“Anyone and everyone can stop by and see the display,” she said. “The Red Cross will be here if anyone wants to donate blood, and we hope people will take the time to make that donation.”

Onuska will portray a Slovakian Red Cross volunteer.

“The women were often young, in their teens or 20s,” she said. “A lot of them lost families, their homes were bombed out, and they didn’t have the money to get an education. To learn a vocation, they took up the nursing program offered free through the Red Cross.”

A price went along with “free,” Onuska said.

“The women often worked in subzero temperatures in a canvas tent with a wood-burning stove and snow-packed floors, wearing a cotton dress and an overcoat,” she said.

The horrors of war extended to the nurse volunteers, Onuska said.

“It was a harsh life, a harsh vocation,” she said. “The Russians despised the Germans, so to deter some women from joining the service, they raped and beat some volunteers. Women were found hung in trees as a warning to other women to not join the Red Cross, even though the women had nothing to do with the German war effort.

“When the women returned home, they were often disgraced and stripped of their nursing papers because of their affiliation with Germany and Hitler, even though they had nothing to do with the Germans,” Onuska said.

Onuska said she appreciates the struggles of the Red Cross volunteers during World War II and she hopes telling their story will keep their efforts alive.

“We honor them with our donations of blood,” she said.

The American Red Cross is running the Good to Give Blood – Good to Go campaign. All blood donors are given a chance to win an all-inclusive trip to Walt Disney World for four people.

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