National Geographic : 1944 Dec
Red Cross Girl Overseas BY MARGARET COTTER UPON the horizon the blue shadow that was the African Continent came into view. It was hazy-but then so was everything I had in mind about the place. As a confirmed movie-goer of many years' standing, what could I expect but swarms of vicious animals and natives hiding in the bush just waiting for us to land so the attack could begin? There was that, and, of course, a savage, powerful enemy, swollen with success, who would have to be beaten back by the blood and sweat of the thousands of young American soldiers who crowded this big troopship. We were just completing a voyage of almost 25,000 zigzagging miles over submarine- and mine-infested waters (page 749). Whatever my illusions about the place, I had none whatsoever about my job there. I knew that the fact that I was a girl with the American Red Cross, and not a boy toting a gun for the American Army, wouldn't help me at all when a German finger flipped a bomb release 35,000 feet overhead. I'd have to duck with the boys, pray with them, and get by or get it, just as they would. I didn't expect, nor did I want, conditions to be any better for me than they were for the soldiers. I would eat their chow, live their life, share their chances and, most important, their troubles. In those respects I got what I expected. American Women Land in Egypt The actual landing, however, was a different story. A terrific, exultant roar burst from the throats of the massed thousands of troops who lined the sea wall toward which our land ing barge was chugging, as they realized that the steel-helmeted, gas-masked human beings crowding the bow were females. We 60 Red Cross girls had known that we should be welcomed, but we hadn't expected to create a sensation. Amid shouts of "Welcome, Yanks!" "Jeep ers! Look! Girls! American girls!" and so on, some boys rushed to help us out upon the sea wall and relieve us of our gear, while others simply stood by as if they were stunned. We were hustled into trucks, staff cars, and jeeps, which immediately took off for our pri mary destination (page 750). Thence we should be dispatched to various places all up and down the fighting fronts. As we drew away from all the confusion and noise of the docking area, we waved our hurried good-byes to the soldiers who had made the crossing with us. They were already forming in efficient looking groups ready to move up. We won dered how many of them we should see again. Night fell as we rode along. A brilliant moon rode with us. All at once the convoy, which had hung together as it crept along with dimmed lights over the lonely desert roads, came to a halt. We wondered what was up. We were tired, keyed up and irritable, and wanted to get where we were going. But we forgot all this as we saw, off to the right, a scene which dwarfed our petty feelings. Seeing the Sphinx and the Pyramids There, in immobile indifference, just as they have stood for nearly five thousand years, were the Sphinx and the Pyramids.* Time for seeing these famous monuments could certainly be spared. We dismounted and approached them (pages 752, 755). As we stood there in the sand, under moon light bright as that of a giant neon torch, I realized that for the first time since I had been with these girls we were all quiet at once. But for the barking of hungry dogs in the desert and the monotonous rhythm of crickets, it would have been completely still. Those ancient people had built well. Their ideas on Eternity were expressed for me there. I felt that we were surreptitious midgets in the presence of monsters. We did not attempt to climb those steep inclines of the Pyramids because, frankly, it looked impossible (page 754). In the light of day it still looked pretty tough, but I did manage to climb one with a bunch of soldiers, about six months later, when I had two whole days off duty in Cairo. The Sphinx, with its enormous, inhuman face in profile to us, stared out across the desert. Its giant chin, in concession to puny man's destructive ability, rested on hundreds of interlocked sandbags (page 756). Actually, to me the face was like that of a giant bull dog. Looking at it, with the cheeks swelled and the thick-lipped mouth seeming to smile eerily, I wondered how any human ever had enough imagination to create such a thing: the head of a man, the body of a lion. No wonder it cast a spell. It was out of this world. * See "Daily Life in Ancient Egypt," by William C. Hayes, with 32 paintings by H. M . Herget, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1941.