The first American Red Cross Field Directors were sent to South Vietnam in February of 1962. The last Red Cross staff members to serve in country departed just over 11 years later, in March of 1973. During the intervening years there were five men and women of the American Red Cross who died in Vietnam in service to the Armed Forces. And on today’s bike ride, I went to see a small memorial to them, which is located on the grounds of The American National Red Cross Headquarters, which is located at 430 17th Street (MAP), just a few blocks from the White House.
The five Red Cross workers killed while serving in Vietnam were Vernon M. Lyons, Paul E. Samuels, Hannah E. Crews, Virginia E. Kirsch and Lucinda J. Richter. But other than their names and the dates of their deaths which are inscribed on the memorial, there was no information about who they were or how they were killed. So I looked into it later, and this is what I found out.
Of the five Red Cross workers killed, Vernon Lyons was the first. One of 300 American Red Cross field directors, hospital personnel and recreation workers serving in the war zone at that time, he on August 29, 1967, when his jeep exploded a mine near Danang. The 48-year old Lyons, who was from Wichita Falls, Texas, was serving as an assistant field director attached to the 1st Marine Division.
Paul Samuels was killed on January 25, 1968, at the Khe Sanh Combat base, in northwestern Quảng Trị Province, Republic of Vietnam, during the initial stages of the Tet Offensive. At the time of his death, the 44-year old was serving as an American Red Cross field director.
Little information is available about Hannah Crews other than that she died in a jeep accident in Bien Hoa on October 2,1969. Similarly, the only information I could find on Lucinda Richter was that she died of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder, in Cam Ranh Bay on February 9, 1971.
Virginia Kirsch, or Ginny as she was known to her friends, was perhaps one of the most tragic stories because she murdered by someone she went there to serve. The 22-year old from Brookfield, Ohio, had been in Vietnam for only two weeks serving as one of 627 in-country recreation workers, affectionately referred to as Donut Dollies, when she was stabbed to death on August 16, 1970 in her billet at the headquarters of the 25th Infantry in Cu Chi, 20 miles northwest of Saigon.
An investigation determined that she was murdered by an Army soldier named Gregory W. Kozlowski, who was arrested and charged. However, an Army Medical Review Board eventually issued a finding that Kozlowski was unable to determine right and wrong at the time of Ginny’s murder and that he was unable to cooperate intelligently in his own defense. As a result, charges against him were dismissed and he was never prosecuted for Ginny’s murder, the first in the history of American Red Cross service overseas.
Because Lyons, Samuels, Crews, Richter and Kirsch were not in the military at the time of their deaths, their names are not inscribed on The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. But their service and their lives are not forgotten.
Note: After the charges for killing Ginny Kirsch were dismissed, Kozlowski was discharged and placed on the Temporary Disabled Retired List and his medical records were transferred to the Veterans hospital at Wood, Wisconsin. Twelve years later Kozlowski was arrested for the murder of a man in Milwaukee. He was ultimately found, again, to be mentally ill and remanded to a series of mental health institutions within the State of Wisconsin. However, after years of treatment and therapy, the psychiatric doctors deemed Kozlowski to no longer be a threat to either himself or others . In January of 2008, the Circuit Court granted Kozlowski a conditional release to a group home in Milwaukee. There has been no further information regarding his whereabouts since that date.