Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What did you do in the war, Mommy?

Last weekend gave us Armed Forces Day. This weekend brings us to Memorial Day. The end of summer as we see it ends at Veteran’s Day. We are given three days to set aside for respecting those who serve and served in uniform. It doesn’t really seem enough, sometimes. What we offer in respect seems small, considering how even some of our elected officials deem it fair to condemn our troops as monsters long before an official inquiry has come to any conclusion of its own (as did John Kerry in the 1970s and John Murtha has done only last week). Our respect for the members of our military, now and past, seems limited as we hear little from the front of the great accomplishments, and much of the vulnerability and loss. But for me, as the product of a modern, feminist generation, it seems especially scanty when I think how often the word “veteran” is used in masculine terms only.

As Abigail Adams once wrote to her husband, John, when he was away building a new government for a new and free democratic republic, “I desire you would remember the ladies”. While she was not thinking of women in uniform, she was reminding him that women are a part of this land nonetheless, and must be considered. Eventually, they were. And, now, many of our women are far away, trying to help build and maintain the governments for other new and free democratic republics.

Since the beginning of time, women have been a part of war -- mostly in support roles, until this modern era . For little more than a century American women have been serving in uniform. We have entire generations of veteran women to remember, now, and their daughters and granddaughters in service to continue to honor. Today, women serve this great country in record numbers, and their foot-in-the-door was women who are now grandmothers, great grandmothers, and beyond. From their unofficial presence, disguised as men, or as “camp followers”, laundry women, and the like, to their first official roles in uniform in 1901 with the Army Nurse Corps, then 1908 in the Navy Nurse Corps, to our women in the modern military, out on the front lines, servicewomen should be remembered.

According to the records cited by the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation, “ [A]t least 359 servicewomen died during World War I, the vast majority from the influenza epidemic that swept around the world, killing millions of people. Approximately 543 military women died in the line of duty during World War II, including 16 from enemy fire, and others from a variety of causes including aircraft and vehicle accidents and illness. Seventeen military nurses died during the Korean War, most from aircraft crashes. Eight military women died while serving in Vietnam, one from enemy fire, and 16 died during Operation Desert Storm.” And, our women continue to add to the count during the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The so-called “weaker sex” have served and have given their ultimate, and will continue to do so alongside the men. This is the risk all adults take, the choice they make, when they put on the uniform. They do not do so lightly.

While we attend services this Memorial Day, look to the uniforms representing and represented by the flag. They are many, and they are varied, in age, race, sex and branch of service, among other divisive groupings. But they all have one unifying thread: they believed in the innate good of their country, and they offered us everything in order to defend that goodness. That took extraordinary courage.

It still takes courage. In fact, in light of the negative press so many Americans are seeing, concerning military actions, motives, and such, for them to stand committed to service in the name of our country, our flag, our Constitution -- and most importantly, our people -- they must certainly have an almost saintly faith that the rest of us will do our part. Belief in us must be the greatest hurdle. Thus for them to give their all, in the name of our country, is the greatest gift.

This amazing gift must not be discounted, especially if somebody called the donor “Mommy.”

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