Hessie Davidson lay on the Red Cross table, squeezed the rubber hand grip and tried to will his blood to flow.
"Squeeze gently, gently, not like you're going after Saddam Hussein," said nurse Janice Knorr. Gradually, a puddle formed in the plastic bag strapped to the table. The nurse nodded approvingly.
"Now you're donating blood, darlin,' " she said.
Davidson smiled. It had been awhile since he'd given blood to help American servicemen. The last time was during World War II.
Hessie Davidson is 77 years old.
Yet there he lay yesterday, responding to the American Red Cross' emergency call at the Central Maryland Donor Center in northwest Baltimore. Davidson, a retired trucker who has lived through four wars, embraced the opportunity to give blood for his country.
"I just felt obliged to do it," he said. "But I hope a soldier doesn't need it."
Davidson was one of 80 unscheduled donors at the city's Red Cross headquarters, which last night issued 200 pints of red blood cells for use by U.S. military personnel. The blood, packed in ice and delivered today by Federal Express to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, was part of a 1,000-unit nationwide shipment that had been requested by the Department of Defense.
Yesterday, as war raged in the Middle East, the government asked for an additional 3,000 units of blood by this weekend.
The steady stream of volunteers did not surprise Pat Batzer, a Red Cross nurse.
"Everybody wants to do something to help," she said. "But, aside from baking cookies and sending them over there, this is it."
If Hessie Davidson was one of the oldest donors, 18-year-old Amy Beacht was among the youngest. A sophomore at Johns Hopkins University, Beacht set aside her apprehensions as a first-time donor.
"I prayed for peace all day Tuesday, but when war broke out, it was time to do something constructive," said Beacht, of Colorado Springs, Colo.
Her father, a retired Air Force pilot, flew more than 300 combat missions during the Vietnam War. Beacht herself is in the army ROTC program at Hopkins.
"I can't help militarily right now, but I can do this," she said.
Tim Hand, another donor, drove 25 miles from his office in Laurel to give blood.
"It's worth it," said Hand, 50, a former Marine. His son, Mike, is attached to a Marine unit in Saudi Arabia.
"This is what we have to do to support our forces," said Hand, who vehemently supports American policy. "Anyone who can't give blood can at least go down and protest against the protesters."
But the protesters were among the blood donors as well.
"I'm a pacifist," said Catharie Nass, 54, of northwest Baltimore. "But what can I do except give blood? It helps to alleviate the anger."
Last week, Nass fired off telegrams to her congressman and both of Maryland's U.S. senators, citing her disapproval of their endorsement of President Bush's policy in the Middle East. She protested strongly against the Vietnam War, and remains active in the anti-war movement.
Nonetheless, Nass donated her Type-O blood yesterday alongside veterans and flag-wavers.
"I don't support the president, but I do support the troops," she said.
Others, like Brad Lyman and his wife, Amy, of Govans, also criticized the military option.
"Some people seem to want to spill blood over there, so we felt we ought to put some back in," said Brad Lyman, 40, a sociologist at the Community College of Baltimore. "This is a ridiculous box that George Bush has gotten us into, so all we can do is give blood."
Amy Lyman, 38, hoped her donation would help ease the suffering on either side of the war.
"To be honest, if it was an Iraqi child who needed my blood, that would be fine," she said.