June 23–RYE — When scores of young men took up arms to win the war in Europe, Margo Harrington wasn’t willing to take a back seat.
Then in her mid-20s, Harrington was healthy and fit, and she was looking for a way to support the troops heading overseas to fight in World War II.
Harrington knew she would be more useful working outdoors than in a military hospital, and she found that opportunity through a new program organized by the American Red Cross.
The war had been raging for several years, and as American soldiers entered the fray, the American Red Cross also opened up a new front in the battle.
During World War II, Harrington and dozens of other women were deployed to provide comfort and support to the fighting force in vehicles that came to be known as “Clubmobiles.”
Riding in buses and trucks, roving teams of Red Cross women followed behind American troops as they advanced across the Continent, beginning in England, then traveling to the beaches of France and across Europe, eventually reaching the Far East.
Along the way, Harrington and the other women in the Clubmobile crews served up coffee and doughnuts to the troops, bringing the comforts of home to the front lines.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution recognizing Harrington and the other women who served on the Clubmobiles, providing a measure of recognition for their unsung efforts during the war.
The resolution, co-sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, came as an unexpected gift to Harrington, who also celebrated her 96th birthday on Thursday.
Shaheen paid a visit to Harrington at her Blueberry Lane home in Rye on Friday to deliver a copy of the resolution and thank Harrington in person for her selfless actions during the war.
Recounting her experience, Harrington said she was first assigned to serve in a coastal town in England after joining the Red Cross.
Like the other Clubmobile women, Harrington passed through a rigorous interview process before being selected to travel overseas on the Queen Elizabeth, docking in Scotland to avoid the threat of interference from German ships.
Each day, the women made the rounds through encampments of American soldiers who were massing on the English coast.
The Red Cross women handed out cigarettes and played vinyl records on speakers attached to the trucks to make the troops feel at home, but it was doughnuts and coffee that became the legacy of the Clubmobiles. Between 1939 and 1946, the Red Cross purchased enough flour to make 1.6 billion doughnuts, and Red Cross women served the baked goods at a rate of 400 per minute between 1944 and 1946, according to a history provided by the organization.
When American forces stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944, Harrington and the other Clubmobile women followed soon after. Harrington said she was assigned to a Red Cross unit that traveled across the English Channel in July 1944. She said the group landed at Omaha Beach, and recalled driving a truck into the water and up the shore.
Shortly after the D-Day Invasion, 80 Clubmobiles with 320 American Red Cross volunteers were at the front, according to the Senate resolution passed this week.
And their service was not without sacrifice. Fifty two women were killed while volunteering in the Red Cross, some of whom served in the Clubmobiles.
Harrington is believed to be one of only two surviving women who manned the Clubmobile vehicles. When she returned to the United States, Harrington said she spoke little about her time overseas, given the fact that few other Red Cross volunteers sought recognition for their experience.
She married and moved to Portsmouth with her husband, a New Hampshire native, and lived there for several years before resettling at her home in Rye.
Today, Harrington’s Red Cross uniform, stored in an upstairs closet, is one of few signifiers of her experience in the war.
Shaheen, whose father was a World War II veteran, said Harrington’s work during the war years exemplifies the largely unsung efforts of women who supported the war effort.
“I’ve heard these stories about the war my whole life … and often the women who served are not recognized the same way as the men,” she said.