I wanted to write some thoughts for Veterans Day but nothing would come. Thus, I stared at my computer with a look of consternation. Since it was Sunday, Penelope's was closed and I couldn't seek the council of a chai latte. I was on my own, at home.
Quietly, Kaitzer walked by carrying a load of laundry and said, "Can't think of what to write about?"
"Nope," I said.
Over the din of the dryer, she calmly said, "Write about the sacrifices of women," and then disappeared with another batch of clothes.
Hmm. I never thought about the sacrifices women have made in American wars.
After some reading, I realized a reality that I had taken for granted. It was a picture of the Vietnam Women's Memorial. How could I have escaped the impact of the contribution and sacrifices of women? The sculpture depicts three uniformed women with a wounded soldier. While one nurse comforts the soldier, another kneels in thought or prayer. The third looks to the skies — for help from a medevac helicopter, or perhaps from a higher power.
This picture spoke to me and I realized that my ignorance of women's contributions was merely repression. The women's war was different from the men's. Instead of exploding jungles, their war exploded in the mind. Surrounded by death, the nurses had to shut down emotionally. They could not show their feelings to the soldiers they were trying to heal. Some lost their lives, but all lost their innocence.
As I stared at this sculpture, it stared back. I could imagine what the nurses gave: kind smiles, gentle touches and the soft words that eased the wounded soldiers' pain. Many acted as surrogate mothers giving a dying soldier the last bit of comfort and love.
The Vietnam Memorial would encompass many more names if it weren't for the nurses who gave a full measure of their devotion. Ironically, we have accumulated the statistics that tell us how many helicopters we lost, but we do not have a definitive number of how many women served in Vietnam.
There is a glorious history of women of courage who have served this country from the Revolution to Iraq. Women are interwoven in the battle history of the Revolution, the war of 1812, the Mexican American War.
Many women posed as men, and fought alongside the men. In 1778 Deborah Samson enlisted in the Continental Army as Robert Shirtliffe. Disguised as a man, she fought in numerous battles and was wounded twice. My favorite story is about Mary Hagidorn. When discovered, she was ordered into the cellar of a besieged American fort.
"Captain," she said, "I shall not go to the cellar should the enemy come…I will defend the fort." The captain, seeing her determination, answered, "Then take your rifle and be ready at the pickets to repel an attack."
In all the wars that America has fought, women were there: some disguised as men, some joining their husbands in the cavalry, others manning ships, cannons or rifles, some as nurses, others as infantry, some beating the drum on the march, some as flag- and stretcher-bearers, as spies and pilots, and some as simple patriots. They have been decorated and honored with our nation's highest awards. In 1997, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial was dedicated in Arlington Cemetery as a tribute to women of courage.
The heroics of these women of courage pulled me farther and farther into their stories. Finally, when I saw the pictures of women killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, I felt the full impact of their sacrifice. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words. I thought; that's somebody's little girl. And this one's for you.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at email@example.com.