On Saturday, July 8th the museum had a special visit from Julia Rigutto Pagan. It was a step back in time for her as she made her way toward the “Charles O. Sweetwood” Red Cross Blood Donation Car at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, California. Accompanied by her loving family each step, Pagan approached the blood car wide-eyed as memories came flooding back.
As one of four original nurses employed by the American Red Cross in January of 1951, Pagan, now just shy of her 96th birthday, was honored for her years of service on the “Charles O Sweetwood”, a railroad passenger car used by the Red Cross and Western Pacific Railroad to collect blood in support of the Korean War.
Credited with saving thousands of lives, the “Sweetwood” was the first of its kind used to collect and store blood along a route that took it to small towns and big cities. Traveling over 28,488 miles, over 11 railroads in 4 states, and running as far east as Pueblo, Colorado, this blood car achieved the collection of over 25,000 pints of blood. It is this significant piece of American Red Cross history that Pagan so humbly attributes her success.
With an artfully orchestrated surprise, Pagan was honored by her family, directors of the Western Pacific Railroad Museum, Bill Sweetwood (nephew of Charles Owen Sweetwood, a Korean War medic for whom the blood car was named after he was killed in action), representatives from the American Red Cross, and a representative from Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s office for her service during this unique blood collection operation.
The American Red Cross presented Pagan with a Certificate of Recognition for her service, and Shane Starr, representing Congressman Doug LaMalfa, was also there to present her with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition.
When asked about her years of service, Pagan exclaimed she had nothing but good memories and always felt the work was important. “It was a pleasant time when so many were happy giving,” said Pagan.
September 2017 marks the “Sweetwood” railroad car’s 100th birthday, and nearly 64 years since it ended its blood collection service. Plans to celebrate this significant milestone are in process with the hopes of a guest appearance by Julia Rigutto Pagan, members of the Sweetwood family, and the American Red Cross.
View a slideshow of the History of the WP106 prepared by Eugene Vicknair for the 2013 Western Pacific Historical Convention that was held in Old Sacramento. (Please note, this is a very large pdf file that will take a minute or two to download....)