During World War II especially on O'ahu; volunteers were in high demand everywhere, including the Red Cross. One of the many volunteer stories was that of LeBurta Gates Atherton. Her life changed in the early morning hours of Dec 7, 1941.
"I was still asleep when it happened. My husband was home. He was just going to become a Navy intelligence person. I decided to stay here in the islands with my husband."
While most of the military families relocated to the Continental United States to be farther away from the war in the Pacific, LeBurta stayed in the islands, volunteered with the Red Cross and became one of their “Grey Ladies”. When the war started, the Gray Ladies started making hundreds of thousands of bandages. They made helmet covers with fishnets so they could attach camouflage. They would help to feed the wounded personnel and help write letters to their families back home. But being a Navy wife, LeBurta also helped out with the war effort.
"I worked in a ward center, in the air raid defense in a tunnel in Honolulu, think it was in Shafter. There was a huge board in there. Different stations around the island would report in. People would be there with ear phones and got reports. I started out listing and plotting out on the board. Eventually would decide where the plan was going (Navy/Army officers). I was part of the Women’s Air Raid Defense and we tracked planes. We would ask “is this your plane?” If no, then we would send out fighters to intercept and see what’s happening."
When the war ended things began to return to normal.
" My husband said we couldn’t have a child until the war was over, peaceful. After the war, I became pregnant and had to stop Red Cross volunteering. I had 3 children, grew up here."
Even after her volunteering ended, she was a constant financial supporter of the Red Cross. Leburta's legacy of volunteerism and work with the red cross would continue in her family; LeBurta’s eldest daughter, Balbi Brooks currently serves as a Hawaii Red Cross Disaster Volunteer and has assisted in Red Cross response efforts for Hurricane Sandy, Tropical Storm Iselle, Tropical Storm Flossie and with the ongoing effects of Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii Island. Both LeBurta Gates Atherton and the Hawaii Red Cross turns 100 years old this year.
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