Last night, I watched the PBS program honoring American Veterans. It was a good program, the vets who spoke, Ritter, Whittacre, and a young woman who searched endlessly for a father she never met, all brought home the sacrifice and service our military members provide. They remind us how much we owe these valiant men and women of the military for our safety and security.
And, while I can’t put my finger on what it was, I felt something was missing. It vexes me. There was something flat about the program. I will probably never know what engendered that feeling. Today, I wanted to say something about veterans I’ve personally known, that added to the impact and importance of veterans. One of my uncles came home with “Shell Shock” from Korean War, and it destroyed his life. They now call that PTS and it is treatable. My husband, his brothers and my current companion, all vets. A brother, a brother-in-law, a sister, several uncles, two nieces from our current war, all vets. I have many choices.
As a journalist, in the 1980’s, I wrote about a WW I Nurse who served during the war only to die of the horrible flu epidemic of that time. Her family contacted me and I know how proud they were of her generations later.
Maybe it is because I am anti-war that I have a difficult time coming to grips with this subject. I know I’m fumbling here, but I decided to see how many wars brought women into service and I was stunned at what I learned.
THE CIVIL WAR Thousands of women joined volunteer brigades as nurses during the Civil war. Some even dressed as men and served as spies and took up arms.
WORLD WAR I Army nurses numbered 21,480 served in military hospitals overseas. The army recruited 233 multi-lingual switchboard operators and 50 stenographers that served overseas. And thousands of women were drafted into the Civilian Work Force, here and abroad. The first regular women enlisted service of 13,000 women trained as Navy and Marines were given equal pay of $28.75 a month. One woman, Frances Gullick was awarded a citation for valor and courage under fire in France. The enlistees were quickly demobilized after the war.
WORLD WAR II Instigated by women, in 1942 a Women’s Auxiliary Corps was formed. They did complete military training, four weeks of basic, physical, uniform and all. 150,000 of them served as radio operators, dispatchers, delivery drivers, first aid workers, all within the boundaries of the United States. All volunteer, they served without pay.
Also in WWII, the WASPS, a group of trained women pilots was formed, trained and dispatched for military service. They could only fly in the U.S. boundaries. They flew new planes to airfields, flew personnel all over the country, carried cargo. They flew over 60 million miles so male pilots could be put into battle.
KOREAN WAR. 22,000 women served in Korea, 7,000 of them as battlefield nurses. The rest rigged parachutes, served as pharmacists, radio operators, drivers and other stateside applications.
And, of course today, we have many more women in the military today. I read one figure of 2.5 million women served in the military. That figure was from 1980 and may have included all the WACS, WAFS, and so on from earlier wars. In any case, for everyone’s service the words we hear and see so often today are: ALL GAVE SOME. SOME GAVE ALL.
Whatever our personal beliefs about war, WE SALUTE YOU AND THANK YOU.