My family at Pearl Harbor

How the need for blood banks was realized 75 years ago.

December 7, 2016

It was 75 years ago today that Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was attacked by Japan, sinking many of our Navy vessels and killing thousands of American military personnel.  This event of course is what eventually pulled the USA into World War II. December 7, 1941 was a pivotal day not only for our country, but also for a special member of my family.  My great-uncle and aunt, Charles and Bernice Hemphill, were stationed there because he was in the Navy.  Thankfully neither of them was hurt in the attack, and amidst the chaos, Bernice rushed to volunteer at a local hospital.  Can you imagine what that day must have been like for her and the others in the medical field trying to treat the many wounded at Pearl Harbor?  It had to have been an emotionally trying few days.  A problem that immediately became evident was the lack of blood needed to treat/replenish all the wounded there.  In the years following, my great-aunt set out to make sure that wouldn't happen again.  It became her life's work, founding blood banks, and organizing those new operations of collecting and sharing blood donations.  It started with the Blood Bank of Hawaii, which she helped get up and running very shortly after the attack.  Before WWII was over, she moved back home to San Francisco where she became the first managing director of the Irwin Memorial Blood Bank.  In the 1950's, she developed and began implementing her "clearinghouse" idea, which facilitated the sharing of blood amongst blood banks, making life-saving blood readily available when and where it was needed.  A major advance born directly out of the disorganization at Pearl Harbor.  This led to her founding the California Blood Banking System, and later the Amerian Association of Blood Banks.  Her vision would eventually take her around the world advising various nations in setting up their own blood banks.

Because of this, I always do my best to donate blood when I can, and I applaud those of you who have donated in the past as well.  I had known my great-aunt was influential and respected in this industry, but I didn't realize just how much so until one afternoon when I was doing a remote broadcast with 107.9 at a local blood bank.  I randomly mentioned to one of the doctors there that a family member of mine by the name of Bernice Hemphill had a lot to do with the formation of blood banks back in the day.  His eyes lit up, and he went to go get something.  He brought out a framed picture of my great-aunt presenting an award to someone at the bank.  Evidently the award is named after her and is one of the most prestigious awards someone in this field can receive!  That blew me away.

It's fascinating to me that the blood bank program as we know it today developed out of a dire need that fateful day at Pearl Harbor 75 years ago.  So on this anniversary, I thought I would share this story with you, and encourage you to give blood when you can.  I would also like to remember and honor the 2400+ Americans whose lives were cut short that day.  My great-aunt Bernice lived into the 1990's, so I had the pleasure of getting to know her a little bit while I was growing up.  Here is a link to her obituary if you'd like to read it.  Thanks for reading this, I hope you found this little nugget of history interesting.