For all the years I can remember, Veterans Day was a day for me to especially honor and thank all the men who served our country in any of the branches of the armed services. However, I take my gratitude seriously every day of the year. Never miss an opportunity to tell a veteran thanks for his service. Sam and I are both that way. I try to live it all year long, and I could tell you stories of the many men whose faces have lit up when I walked up to them. Whether I was teaching school, doing an errand at Lowe's, or waiting in line at a restaurant or the grocery store. Our city has a huge military installation, and there are always lots of guys to thank. There were a few soldier moms around our school. I thanked them, too, but I didn't know any of them personally. Some of the best substitute teachers we ever had at our school were ex-military. The kids loved them and absolutely no behavioral problems. Yessir!
After teaching for many years, I started a second career in a huge medical facility. I worked for a group of wonderful doctors in a specialized division of the OB GYN department. Although, I did not deal with pregnant women, my job called for me to work with many female patients over the years. I met some incredible women as I gathered needed data for my medical division. Much of my time was spent right in a standard clinic setting assisting doctors and nurses who were dedicated to helping women who had significant medical issues. It was a very fulfilling job, and I came to know women of all ages. Some were still in college, some active in their own careers and raising a family, and some retired.
Over my time in this position, there were a good sized group of veterans accompanying their wives to the doctor's office for support. I always thanked them before we got down to the data I was recording from the patients themselves. I thanked the women, too, because when a man is in the service, the whole family is serving.
When I started that job, I never thought about meeting a woman soldier, but my Veterans Day post this year is to share with you the stories of two women veterans that I came to know very well over a period of several years. Most of their medical care was available at the Veteran's Administration Hospital here in town, but there were certain specialty doctors for women that were not available there. We collaborated with the VA to provide the appropriate care.
Sheri was actually close to my age, and she was already retired. I never met her husband, because he was also a veteran but with considerable physical impairments. Sheri had her own set of medical problems that stemmed from her service in Vietnam in the 1960's, but she had cared for her husband for many years. Although she had not served in combat, this woman had been seriously hurt during her deployment in Nam and suffered a list of medical problems including some brain damage.
She was quite a character. Bubbly and happy and outgoing. None of her clothes ever matched, and she had a huge fanny pack (or bum bag for our British readers) because she didn't like purses and always lost them. She had significant memory issues and became confused easily. I think she was comfortable talking with a woman near her own age about the medical issue that brought her to us. We thoroughly enjoyed each other. I found her to be a delightful person and always thanked her for her service at every visit. Once she knew how I felt, she proudly wore her Vietnam Veteran's cap to her appointments. Always felt wonderful that our doctors could help her even though she lost her medications on a regular basis. Sweet woman who made me laugh.
My other female veteran was a much younger woman in her early thirties. She had served in combat in Iraq. Karen was very shy and soft spoken; one might even say "meek." She had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the doctors suspected she had also been raped. The medical issues with which she dealt were conclusively related to her time in the service.
It took many months of working with Karen before she became more open with me. Finally she would tell me about her therapy and how she was progressing. I could see the changes. There were more smiles and laughter. Her body language was that of a whole new woman She was working part time and going to college full time. She shared stories with me of her time in the service, and I always felt so honored. Perhaps it was my teaching that made me a good listener. Karen so appreciated that, and, of course, my gratitude for her service as a soldier.
On Veteran's Day last year, I took the time to write Karen a lengthy email to thank her for her service to the citizens of the US. Just like I did with my students years before. Since she did not ever wear anything that would clue people into her years in the armed forces, I can imagine she did not receive much notice. She wrote me back a lovely thank you note for remembering her and said that it was the only greeting she received that day. How much it meant to her.
Unfortunately, her treatment did not produce the results for which both she and the doctors so hoped. To my surprise this did not bother her in the least. She thanked us all profusely and said how far she had come in the year and a half she was under care at our facility. We had a bit of a teary farewell, and I wished her my best.
This was what I wanted to share with you for Veterans Day this year. My personal interactions. You don't really know someone's story until you make the first move to greet and thank a vet. I met my first World War II veteran this year, too, and it would not have happened if I felt self conscious about going up to a perfect stranger. People think, "Oh, I don't want to bother him," and they are so wrong. I have never had a vet brush me off. They are always gracious and grateful that people remember.
Sam and I have attended many gatherings at which WW II veterans were being honored. We even were present to sing Happy Birthday to one. If I remember correctly, he was turning 96 years old. Everyone stood for that birthday song. We are running out of time to thank the veterans from that war. Every day, 372 of them die. The last figure I saw was that there are only about 558,000 left of the 16 million men and women who served from our nation. In the UK the figure is much smaller - only about 100,000. Of course there were the Canadians, the Australians, and the French, as well.
Some veterans went into battle and many more served in other ways. What they all have in common is their willingness to sacrifice for their nation and its people. Many will share that they see this as their duty. I believe the rest of us also have a duty, and that is to thank and honor them in a personal way every chance we get.