World War II volunteer made a difference for soldiers

Ninety-eight-year old Marian Krinke was 29 when she served two years as a Red Cross volunteer at a military hospital in England. (MPR photo/Dan Olson)

Marian Krinke wanted to do her part for the war effort, but she was a home economist, not a nurse with the medical skills the military was after in WWII. But Krinke, 98 who lives in Bloomington, found her calling as part of a American Red Cross unit of volunteer workers tending to wounded U. S. soldiers at a military hospital in northern England.

In a new Minnesota Sounds and Voices story today on Morning Edition we hear from Marian, who grew up in Lamberton a small farm town in southwestern Minnesota.

Marian Krinke and her brother Harold served in England at the same time during WWII.  (Photo courtesy Marian Krinke)

Homesickness during her two-year stint abroad was held at bay because her younger brother Harold served at a nearby military base as a quartermaster for a bomber group. They visited each other several times.

Marian Krinke, second from left, at the 20 year reunion of the group she served with during WWII. (Photo courtesy Marian Krinke)

Marian says she and the four women she served with became very close in part because they had no choice; they all lived in the same room complete with beds, a fireplace and gas masks and helmets.

At their hospital, the needs were painfully apparent. Krinke says many of the soldiers in the hospital’s psychiatric wards were unresponsive to the staff. “The hardest were these patients who had seen things that they had never experienced in their life so they retreated into themselves,” she said. “They did not speak.”

One patient, she recalled, sat alone and never talked. One day she touched him on the shoulder and said, “Soldier is there anything you’d like?”

The young man looked at her and said, “I’d like a fresh egg.”  Wartime rationing dictated a steady diet of powdered eggs.  She says she and another volunteer bicycled into the nearest village and began a search for fresh eggs. They returned to prepare scrambled eggs and toast for the soldier, an act which apparently helped him.  Krinke says he slowly emerged from his silence and began talking with hospital staff and other patients.

Marian says her two year stint as an American Red Volunteer was an amazing experience. She credits the experience with helping her become a better listener and a more compassionate person.