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Women Veterans Tell What Veterans Day Means to Them

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 12, 2005 – Five women, one from each service, including the Coast Guard, told an overflow audience here at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial's theater what being a veteran means to them during a special Veterans Day observance.

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"Being in the military is an honor," said Maj. Ladda "Tammy" Duckworth of the Illinois Army National Guard, who lost her leg when an insurgent's rocket-propelled grenade slammed into her Black Hawk helicopter. Photo by Rudi Williams
  

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"Being in the military is an honor," said Maj. Ladda "Tammy" Duckworth of the Illinois Army National Guard, who lost her leg when an insurgent's rocket-propelled grenade slammed into her Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq. Doctors managed to save part of her right leg.

When soldiers say, "I am an American soldier and I serve the people of the United States," it captures the spirit of what it means to be a veteran and what an honor it is to wear a military uniform, Duckworth said.

"So many have come before me who gave in their own way, whether it was being injured or the ultimate sacrifice," she said. "Whether you gave your son, your husband or your daughter, or whether you gave of yourself, it's always an honor to serve the United States."

Duckworth said the country is better when everyone pulls together and serves in whatever way they can. "Not everybody can put on the uniform. Not everybody has the capability or is afforded the opportunity to do so," she said. "What's important is that each one of us gives something back for all of the gifts we have for being Americans."

She received a standing ovation when she said she wouldn't hesitate to strap on her new, titanium legs and return to Iraq. "I, along with the rest of the soldiers at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) would strap on our new limbs, pick up our weapons and go right back, if we could," she said.

To those who say today's military members aren't on par with those from past generations, Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Rosemarie Weber had an impassioned response.

"They're wrong! Young men and women today are just as willing to serve as any ever were," she said. "And they're doing a fine job of it, all day, every day, right this very second in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places too numerous to mention."

Veterans Day isn't all about pride and honor, she said. "It's also about giving thanks--thanking a military veteran for what they've done and what they're doing and for what they will do in the days to come," she said.

Ensign Vanessa L. Franada, a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve Nurse Corps for the past year and a half, said she's quickly come to appreciate what it means to be a veteran.

"In that brief time, I've gained the experiences of being away from home, serving my country and humanity, enduring a deployment and regretfully, the loss of a friend and fellow shipmate," said Franada. She was deployed in the hospital ship, USNS Comfort, providing relief following Hurricane Katrina.

Franada said walking the halls at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., in the course of her duty reinforces the pride she feels in her military service. That comes through whether she is serving long-retired veterans of past wars, or new veterans just returned from Iraq, she said.

Today's newest veterans defy the misconception that veterans are all "elderly, gray and male," she said. "Both men and women are serving with honor all across the battlefield, in all parts of the world," she said.

"Veteran's Day has always been a special day to me, because it's also my birthday," said Col. Linda McHale of the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

She said only after deploying to Iraq last year did she come to fully appreciate what it's like to serve in a war zone and the sacrifices veterans make.

Lt. Cmdr. Holly Harrison, the first Coast Guard women to be awarded the Bronze Star, said that less then three years ago, she didn't know what it meant to risk her life against an enemy in defense of the nation.

"But that all changed as my shipmates and I steamed up the Khawar Abd Allah River into Iraq," Harrison said. "I now know what it means to be a veteran and with the insights I've gained, I've developed a much deeper, much more personal respect for those who've served."

Harrison said she's gained particular respect for her family members who served before her. Both of her grandfathers and father were in the military, but never talked much about their wartime experiences, she said. Now Harrison said she understands why.

"When I got back from Iraq, all my friends and family wanted to hear stories about what it was like over there, but I wasn't in the mood to tell stories," she told the audience. "I figured it was because I was burned out, yet even now I still hesitate to tell stories about what happened in Iraq.

"To talk about some of the things that happened...I simply can't do them justice," she said. "I can't explain in words what it was like and to try to do so cheapens it somehow."

Now, Harrison said she and her father share a common understanding and she has a deeper respect and admiration for him and other family members who have served before her.

Harrison said she also feels a special bond with her shipmates who served with her in Iraq, experiencing "great highs and terrible lows" together.

It's given her a new appreciation of Veterans Day and what it means to be a veteran, she said.

"Yes, Veteran's Day may be a day off from work, but what's changed for me is that I get it now," she said. "I understand. I respect, admire and I'm humbled by the dignity and courage my veterans shipments and family members and thousands of other veterans out there...displayed in the face of tremendous adversity."

Harrison calls Veterans Day "a day for me to honor and cherish their sacrifices and hope that I can live up to the incredibly high standards they set...as veterans."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCol. Linda McHale, a nurse in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, said her military service has reinforced that Veterans Day is far more than a day off from work. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Reserve Ensign Vanessa L. Franada said that in her brief time in the Navy Reserve, she has gained new appreciation for veterans and their contributions. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Rosemarie Weber said young men and women today are just as willing to serve as any ever were in past wars and conflicts. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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