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Memorabilia given to Provo Red Cross

Collection spans decades of an adventurous life

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PROVO — John Cross can spin a yarn about his adventures that would make Indiana Jones anxious.

And like the fictional archaeologist, Cross believes some items are too precious for private collections. They belong in a museum.

His Red Cross collection inspires many a tale about service and heroics, but more importantly, Cross hopes that it will inspire more interest in the local Mountain Valley Chapter. Cross donated his collection to the chapter last week.

"Can you imagine schoolteachers and their kids lined up to hear the stories attached to these things," he said. "This is going to open doors for other people."

Cross said he expects the collection to grow through the donations of others holding Red Cross memorabilia.

A collector of historical objects for decades, Cross, 82, began assembling his Red Cross collection half a century ago. It includes a Red Cross centennial flag that dates to 1876, before Congress chartered the organization as the American Red Cross in 1881, along with Red Cross uniforms from early in the 20th century and World War I. Some of the items may be as old as that flag, he said.

Clara Barton started the movement in the 1860s with her example, programming and planning, Cross said.

"Anything that had anything to do with the Red Cross, I picked it up," he said. Many of the items were added during his younger, more adventurous years when he worked for the government, the Red Cross as an instructor and later as an executive for the Boy Scouts.

He also spent 42 years running and exploring rivers in the western United States and Mexico as a Scout leader and later in the tourist business.

The 1876 flag and a World War II Red Cross flag are the only flags he has ever let out of his collection, he said. The World War II flag was rescued from the battleship USS Utah, now a national monument at Pearl Harbor. The flag collection spans a wide range and includes historic flags of Utah.

An American Red Cross uniform worn during World War I is one of Cross' highly prized items. Composed of a blue suit jacket and matching skirt, the uniform has the patches and emblems on it that marked the Red Cross during that period. It also includes medals and pins from that time.

Cross bought the uniform from a teacher in California. She would dress in it or have one of her students dress in it as part of their history lesson. It brought the subject to life, he said.

"I didn't dicker. When I saw (the artifacts), I bought them," he said. "I could have sold them, but money isn't everything."

When he donated the collection to the Red Cross, he read a statement that explained why he would give it away rather than sell it:

"The gift also says 'thanks' for the privilege and courtesies of your organization in my life, my family's lives and in our becoming eligible, in the past, and qualified, to serve in your name wherever and whenever those services could be extended here at home and abroad."

A metal banner taken from the fender of a World War I Red Cross ambulance, dresses, buttons, medals and other insignia, training books, pictures, posters and post cards are all now in the possession of the Mountain Valley Chapter. Cross also donated a well-preserved Oct. 29, 1898, issue of the Deseret Weekly News that reports on services of the Red Cross during the Spanish American War.

Since its charter in 1881, the Red Cross has spread throughout the world and is still a primary source of care in many Third World countries, said Chloe Langston, health and safety director. Often, Mexican nationals come to the Red Cross office on Freedom Boulevard for care because that's how they associate it in their country, she said. Red Cross workers refer them to medical facilities.

"Whenever you find the Red Cross," Cross said, "you find this spirit of service and giving."

E-MAIL: rodger@desnews.com