One seldom reads of patriot tales today. Rather it is about so-called heroes. But there are among us many former military service members who have what may seem to be rather mundane experiences in the Armed Services, but which are clearly tales of American patriotism. They are seldom recorded, especially those of women who have served.
Here, therefore, is one which speaks of a woman who is now a grandmother, and can be cited as a good example in a patriot tale.
In the summer of 1985, the eldest daughter of an Army veteran returned from a year in France. When her father picked her up at the airport, he expected her to dazzle him in a newly refined French accent. Instead, she said, “Dad, I’ve just spent a year in France. Now I want to do something for my country. I’m going to join the Army Reserve.”
“Sure!” her father thought. “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Two months later she called him. She had joined the Army Reserve. And what did he, and her family, think of this slight, five foot five inch individual’s projected part time Soldier’s military experience? Her father was a little bemused. Here was a world traveled, college educated, 26 year old woman, “playing soldier” on weekends. He had known her as a self-confident daughter. He, however, had not seen her as a tough physically fit U.S. Army medic. But he would learn.
Her liberal grandparents, surprisingly, were most pleased. Her conservative grandparents were not so pleased. Soldiering was men’s business. Her younger sisters thought she was crazy. For sure they weren’t going off to be Soldiers.
The time came for her to depart for her basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. There were no tearful farewells. Once at Fort Jackson, news coming from there about basic training was sparse. But what little news there was told a great deal. A postcard said she was a squad leader. A big deal? Yes. Three other women, appointed to each of the other trainee squad leader positions, hadn’t lasted more than a week. Into her fourth week she still held the position.
Then came the postcard, pictured at the top of this article. It showed a photograph of a tremendous jungle gym, maybe three stories high. Hanging from several towers were cargo nets used on large ships. Various daunting structures formed of wooden horizontal beams were interspersed at intimidating heights among the nets. Her comment on the jungle gym: “We did this yesterday.”
What did her father think of this newest family member in our Army? First, she was obviously in her element. Second, she was becoming what she wanted to be, a good Soldier. No, she was not becoming a female Soldier, just a Soldier spelled, S-O-L-D-I-E-R. Third, she was still a trainee squad leader. So she had definitely won, and maintained, the respect of her superiors.
So what did her father think? He was damned proud of her.
At the end of basic training there was a graduation parade. Her grandfather, a decorated Army officer in his own right, and her father attended. They wore their uniforms. Her grandfather, a combat veteran of World War II, recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross (just below the Medal of Honor in precedent), four Silver Stars, and three Bronze Stars, still looked very much the general at 80 years of age.
The air was expectant as the training center’s band began to play. In the first unit to come on the field, and at the head of her squad, was his daughter, now an Army private. Her father and grandfather picked her out immediately. She not only looked like a soldier, she was a soldier.
After the usual speeches came the awards for the best trainees. A young woman stepped forward from the ranks. She was not her father’s daughter. They knew she would not be called forth having learned why the evening before.
Her father had asked her if she had competed for the best trainee award, and she had said, “No.” There were some Soldiers in her squad who needed extra help if they were to graduate. She had made a choice, either go it alone, or see that the “team” made it. She opted for the team.
His daughter went on to get married, become an Army Reserve sergeant, a mother of two girls and a boy, and a grandmother of a boy and a girl. She did active duty for training in Germany, Kentucky, and Texas. At Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in advanced individual training, she came within five points of scoring the maximum on the Army’s physical fitness test. She was one of the few men and women of her training cohorts to win a “Master of Fitness” award.
Did her desire to do something for her country become a reality? Yes. Did she as a woman have a place in the U.S. Army? A fellow Air Force trainee in her medical Advanced Individual Training course perhaps answered the question best when he told her, “If I ever had to go to war I’d want a trained Soldier like you beside me.”
So much for one’s patriot’s tale.
Editor’s note: Brig. General (Ret.) Raymond E. Bell, Jr., PhD, is a writer noted for his breadth of publications that includes more than 300 pieces covering a wide variety of World War II historical events and current military subjects.