VISTA, California, May 22, 2015 – Sitting with her back against the wall waiting for the physical therapist to summon her to the table, she looked out at the open landscape of the Veterans Administration clinic. The oblong, open waiting room of the newer building was clean and bright, with few people waiting to be seen. She could see the large hallway where veterans pass, making their way to and from designated treatment areas.
She could see the volunteer table with snacks and a coffee cart and the waiting room across from where she sat.
A woman walked through the hallway handing out some item to the veterans in her vicinity. The woman looked her way but kept walking. A tall, stiff, older man, wearing a crisp, camouflage military hat also walked around, prowling for those who had served. He was handing out trinkets accompanied by heartfelt, but firm words of “thank your for your service.”
The man, cloaked in the aura of a hardened military life, made his way to the waiting area where the female veteran sat waiting. He scanned for a veteran to thank and saw one sitting “right oblique” to her; this man was given the gifts. The trinket man moved on in his search, eventually uniting with the woman. The two briefly conversed as to the certainty of having reached out to all of the veterans. Then they moved on.
Having received the gifts, the man sitting in the adjacent chair looked over at the female veteran.
Watching the situation unfold, she sat there, the unknown face of a female veteran. A member of the elite “few and proud,” though even fewer. She had wondered throughout the unfolding scene whether she would be noticed or even asked whether she had served. She had not. Not this Marine.
She was summoned and went to her table, where the hands of her therapist worked magic to relieve the chronic pain from her injuries. The magic that happened during this therapy session was beyond expectation. She lay there face down. The session was briefly interrupted by the man who sat next to her in the waiting room. He spoke to the physical therapist and completed his newly assigned self-initiated mission. Then he walked away.
The physical therapist delivered the “COURAGE” ”HONOR” ”SERVICE” ”SACRIFICE” pin to the female veteran on his behalf. He understood. He restored her sense of value. She was part of the family again. It is I, the unknown face of a female veteran.
What image comes to mind when you hear the word “veteran” or “soldier”? For many, a man in uniform surfaces. Women have evolved from working in military administrative positions to serving side by side men in combat, but if you were walking next to one of us on the street, you probably wouldn’t recognize us. Even if we don our branch insignia, it may be presumed we are the spouses of servicemen. Veterans, men and women alike, share the same pride in having served and sacrificed for our country. We are part of the team, despite the challenges that set us apart from our colleagues.
As this Memorial Day approaches, take a few moments to think about the price not only our servicemen, but also our servicewomen, have paid.
Think about the sacrifices these women have given for our country and how it may have been different for them serving in our military throughout the eras. Should you have the opportunity to share your gratitude at a cemetery, don’t let the headstones camouflage those buried below.
Look at the names. Look at the ages. We all have a face. The face of a fighter.