HAMILTON: We Ought to Act Like Women are Veterans, Too!

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By: Ken Hamilton

Dateline: Late August, 1973.

“I’m not saluting her,” I said to my male classmate, as we were walking to the base meal hall for lunch after just leaving our officer training preparatory classes. We had looked up the sidewalk and saw a full-bird Navy captain walking towards us. She was then about 70-feet away. “Me, neither,” he said.

From that point on it was a silent, daring game of chicken. As she and we rapidly got closer, my classmate and I exchanged with each other the steely, determined and stern glances of mutual confirmation. San Diego’s sunshine poured down like honey from our forwardly-tipped white hats, and golden thoughts of how sweet it would be in not saluting a woman whose rank was far superior to our own dripped into our minds.

Crunch time came, and she was a mere 10-feet in front of us as we looked right through her as if she wasn’t there.  And then, as if by the magic of a mousetrap, her eyes fell upon us, and without thought, our right shoulders and elbows sprung into a sharp salute and in the harmonious words, “By your leave ma’am,” loudly poured from our lips just before our passing. She returned the salute and passed us by. We both then looked over our shoulders, and it was as if she had heard us conspiring from those first 70-feet away, and just now 10-feet past each other, we could almost see, even from the back of her head, the smirk on her face. At that point my classmate and I called each other the often-used derogatory word for women and continued sillily on our way.

Dateline: Early November, 46-years later.

As it was and is in the military, we all have to be taught respect; and we don’t give women veterans the respect that they deserve. I don’t blame any woman for being upset about it, either. We must change that – NOW!

My awareness on the topic of the under-respect for female veterans surfaced when I posted a post on a veterans’ Facebook page that asked, “What Is A Veteran?”

The text of the post said, “A “Veteran” – whether active duty, discharged, retired, or reserve – is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to “United States of America,’ for an amount of “up to, and including his “life.”

“That is an honor,” it goes on to say, “And there are way too many people in this country today, who no longer understand that fact.”

I was a tad-bit upset with Facebooker and US Air Force veteran Barbara Jane Rodgers comment about a correction that she would have liked to have been included in that post. Her comment was, “At one point in his or HER life,” instead of just his.

I immediately set upon research to show her that the number of women in the military is comparatively minuscule , and she needed to call retreat her sensitivities on the subject. My research surprised me and proved Barbara’s point.

An article by George M. Reynolds and Amanda Shendruk was printed April 24, 2018 in the Council on Foreign Affairs website on titled Demographics of the U.S. Military. It points out that less than 0.5% of America’s population are now in all of the services. Their numbers, however, do not include the US Coast Guard.  But of the 1.29-million members cited, the ratio of enlisted women now stands at 16% while the officer corps is 18%.

Those numbers are significant – far exceeding the 2% of 1973 women when the draft officially ended. Our recognition of them should likewise reflect their current growing numbers and more.

As a male American war-veteran, I’d say that we have some catching up to do, as it appears that at the end of the American War in Vietnam when we stopped forcing men into the military, the women began to volunteer in masses.

I’ve spoken with two such Niagara Falls-area female veterans. The other one was Joanna Romano who was a medic and served 13-years in the US Army, Air Force and National Guard.

Like most male veterans, one of the things that Romano liked most was her travels around the U.S. and overseas, and how, as she said it, “… people of different cultures came together to defend our country.”

One of her experiences was with the cadets at the US Army Academy at West Point, and her greatest worry there was that one of the cadets would fall off a ridge in the dark and hurt themselves during their nighttime mock exercises.

Finishing her stint in the military as an E-6 sergeant, Romano did recognize that what her colleagues and she had learned as a result of the military training its medics for the worst of wartime casualties had also allowed their surgeons, doctors and medics to returned to the 99.5% of  regular American life with their techniques, they could add value to civilian trauma centers, thereby saving lives that may not have ordinarily been saved.

But the woman who’s responsible for raising my level of awareness is a retired Niagara Falls schools’ librarian and has long been an advocate of a greater profile for female vets; she, in fading echoes, had often asked me to get her a long-overdue seat on the Niagara Falls Veterans Memorial Commission. I think that it’s a good idea.

Currently the commission comfortably consists of mostly elderly white male veterans, and its years of existence I remember only one female event keynote speaker, and that woman was a University of Buffalo student that headed up the Korean Student Association there. She was chosen for the Korean War veterans’ ceremony on Memorial Day this year as a way of the Korean people thanking those American veterans for the contribution that they made in securing her part of the peninsula – and she did a great job so doing.

Ms. Rodgers was not available for additional comments prior to the deadline of this report, but her comments will be presented at a later day.

Our armed forces represent the diversity of this nation, and our sincere recognition of all of our veterans should be commiserate with their service.

For Barbara: “A veteran IS someone who, one point in his or HER life writes a blank check that is made payable to the United States of America.” This article is your interest payment.

Thank you, Joanna, Barbara, and all WOMEN and men who have endorsed such a check for our America the Beautiful.

 

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