This week a conversation and a greeting at a meeting “struck a chord” and a memory that I need to bring to the forefront. The message is that women veterans need to be remembered and honored for what they have done by serving in the United States military.
Women have worked shoulder to shoulder with men without equal acknowledgement in all aspects of their lives, whether a veteran, civilian or in the healthcare communities. Female or male, we both stood at attention, raised our right hands and swore an Oath.
That Oath is as follows,
“I, (state name of enlistee), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
This Oath does not mention any gender or length of the responsibility to follow the Oath. Most Veterans will tell you they would stand ready if there would be a National need. Some will say, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” Woman or man alike, across this nation, we are bonded by that Oath and that bond will continue until we no longer have a breath to lift our flag.
Recently, at a meeting, I met a retired female officer (of high rank) introduced as “little lady”, who has a distinguished military background. Her husband is also retired military. She told me they had visited an east Tennessee Veteran organization’s Post this past year.
When they went in the Post they were approached by the Commander. He greeted the two of them by saying to her, “The auxiliary meets over there,” pointing to the right. Then turning to her husband, who was told, “The men meet over there,” pointing to the right. She replied to him, “I guess you mean the veterans meet over there to the right. I am a veteran, so I guess I’ll be sitting over there with my husband who is also a veteran.” She said, “The commander was flabbergasted but offered no other remarks.”
This is 2019, what are male veterans thinking? My grandmother taught me better. Sitting at her knee, surrounded by six to ten other women, while they sat quilting and talking. I learned from their stories of family life and relationships.
I was taught that I am to say yes ma’am, hold open a door for women, treat them with respect, and stand up for them when they need. Her influence has caused me to champion many causes for women throughout my life.
One of my first memorable encounters after I got out of the service with this gender discrimination was in 1987. It was some Vietnam Veterans who were forming a group in central Florida. I had founded the Vietnam Veterans Artist Alliance and became a co-founder of this new group. One of the veterans that came to join was Joan G. a Lieutenant nurse, just out of the Army.
I talked with Joan for hours at a time, mostly listening and supporting as I could. My college course work was one class short of having a minor in psychology. It wasn’t the college courses that helped, it was acknowledging her as a veteran.
It was talking “military” with her to bring honor to her service. Through a connection I found there was a group of women veterans in Wisconsin working to make a difference. Joan had many talents they would need so she relocated there.
I haven’t heard from her since 1990 but I believe she had found comfort and acceptance in her life. I pray that has continued for her and many that I am sure she has learned to help.
Joan had gone to the Vet Center for counseling and help due to what is called today as MST or Military Sexual Trauma. She had been raped while in the service. I had made a close connection with Joan and became the person she talked with while trying to find answers.
Joan could not get help through the Vet Center. There were very few services set up for female veterans and the male veterans did not want to accept her. She was one of only a few female veterans in the area who identified themselves. She felt lost and talked about suicide. She just wanted to give up.
My relationship with Joan lasted only a short time but the lessons I learned gave me an awareness that many other male veterans have missed, the opportunity to help another veteran that has been clouded by years of thinking like a “Man” instead of a caring individual.
I don’t understand how a man can muster the courage to rush into a hail of bullets to rescue another person and yet be afraid to support or stand up in a crowd, shoulder to shoulder, and show how they honor female veterans.
My trip to Louisville and a National Convention showed me this attitude towards Women Veterans is unfortunately still rampant among the “ranks.”
As I do at all meetings, I searched out the Women’s Veteran Committee meeting. I am not afraid to be the only male in the room, though I always get the look, “What is HE doing here.” I realize that years of being talked down to, treated like a non-deserving person, facing the lack of respect for a job well-done and discounted for being a veteran has caused the many women to be distrustful.
When I share my story about the influence of my grandmother, my years of involvement with other women groups and my sincere desire to help, many accept me. There are those women that are still bias, just like there are still many male veterans that treat female veterans as non-deserving and don’t want them among their ranks.
The first day of the conference Molly and I met another “team”, Ms. “BA” (an Air Force Veteran) and her partner Mongo. Our two four-legged partners smelled each other and made instant friends. Of course, humans have a different way of making sure the other is ok to talk to. It took us two days to reach the point it took our dogs two minutes to do. We made “friends” and talked about our backgrounds.
I found that my new friend had been a dog trainer in the military and that Mongo was as important to her as Molly is for me. Both animals have become our “go to” in times of trouble and need. I listened to her story and it echoed that of Joan’s I heard over thirty years ago.
Ms. BA is one of few women Veterans in her area of North Carolina. Today she faces many of the same attitudes, as Joan, from the male veterans in her area. (I found this problem was one of the main issues facing the women in the committee from around the country).
Her post is a bar and we all know what happens when alcohol gets involved with a shot of stupidity. She said she had only found one or two of the men she felt comfortable talking/confiding with, one she spoke of as a mentor.
At her post, male members shun her. They engage her in verbal and non-verbal confrontations and disrespect the fact she is even a veteran. As she told her story my heart filled with sadness as it echoed that of Joan’s from over thirty years ago.
Next week I will continue this story about Ms. BA and how she represents the ongoing issue of how women Veterans are treated by the men who have served and stood shoulder to shoulder with them.
This week I was approached by several people who had read the column about the suicide of Sergeant John Toombs. They all had been touched by the story. One sharing, “It brought tears to her eyes.” I would like to thank them and many people in the community that have told me they follow my column.
I pray my words will help the community see and understand what veterans have gone through. There are many ways to support local veterans and the Newport Plain Talk has allowed me this avenue, with a lot of latitude, to present my information.
I attempt to provide topics that are current and information about legislation, benefits and healthcare that will help the local Veterans. Please continue to let me know that you read my words and contact the Plain Talk and let them know they are doing a great service to the community.
American Legion Post 41 is planning a memorial program to commemorate National POW-MIA Recognition Day, September 20th. The program beginning at 10 a.m. will feature the installation of a POW-MIA Flag on the pole at the Cocke County Memorial Building.
The building is located at the corner of West Broadway and Cosby Highway (across from Walgreens). Representative Jeremy Fasion will be keynote speaker, there will also be a presentation by the Parrottsville Quilt Guild, Quilts of Valor. Dave Mills, Commander of Post 41, is inviting all Veteran organizations to join them in their “avenue of flags.” All area Veterans and the community are invited to the ceremony. For more information contact Dave at (423) 237-6896.
NEWS OF NOTE:
Disabled American Veterans Chapter 102 at 148 Pine Street. Chapter 102 meets the third Thursday of each month. The next meeting will be this Thursday, September 19 at 148 Pine Street and will set plans for the upcoming Harvest Festival and other holiday events. Begins at 6 p.m. with a potluck meal followed by the meeting at 7 p.m. For more information contact Larry Hartsell, Commander at 423-623-5112.
Rob Watkins is a totally disabled, Air Force, Vietnam combat veteran. He has worked with Veterans for over 40 years. As a member of local organizations, he continues his path to help others. Please send information, dates for events, two weeks in advance, questions or suggestion; by mail to 565 Caney Creek Road Cosby, TN 37722 or c/o Newport Plain Talk, email; firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook/View from the Bunker, or call 423-721-8918.