In Your Neighborhood/Opinion

With respect and gratitude, honoring women of every stripe

In a time of mounting deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, this Memorial Day offers an opportunity to remember all the women and men who have served

Photo courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps

U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Maria Daume, left, is congratulated after graduating from the Basic Mortarman course at Marine Corps Base Camp Geiger, N.C., March 23, 2017.

By Mary Ann Sorrentino
Posted 5/18/20
A poignant reminder that all those serving in the armed forces of the U.S. now include women and men of every stripe, every denomination, every skin color, and every sexual identity.
How can we change the stereotypes around what participation in the U.S. armed services means? In a post-pandemic world, will the re-imaging of our world include a commitment to community service corps to help rebuild the nation’s fraying social fabric? What kinds of lessons can be learned from the importance of investing in the army of health care workers in a time of pandemic?
As the number of dead and dying Americans surges toward the 100,000 mark, a death toll reached in little more than three months, there is something perverse and obscene when the President’s son claims that the coronavirus pandemic is a political hoax, or that the high death toll is a result of “greater risk profiles,” as HHS Secretary Alex Azar claimed.
Such misinformation and distortions need to be called out by the news media. As we honor those who have fallen this Memorial Day, let us also honor the lives of so many whose life, liberty and pursuit of happiness has been cut short by the virus, through no fault of their own.

PROVIDENCE – At the end of May, America will pause from its coronavirus obsession to remember those who have given their lives for them and their country.

Since women have become more visible in the ranks of all those we call soldiers, Memorial Day 2020 will be a day for remembering their equal contribution – and our debt to them as well as to their male comrades in arms.

Years ago I had the chance to broadcast my talk radio show from the iconic Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina. The invitation to do the radio shows there for a week came from a local Rhode Island recruiting office, who had challenged my ongoing advocacy for women in the military as equals, even in combat.

In those days, there were only a few women in Marine training – and those few were in non-combat units exclusively. [Even now, and only since 2016, there are just 92 females serving in the Marine Corps combat arms.]

The young women I met in Parris Island were everything that pioneers and great soldiers ought to be: capable, committed, loyal and strong. As the trailblazers, those young women exhibited a particular determination to prove that the Marine Corps faith in them was not misplaced.

No special treatment
Any theatrical attempt of mine to follow their lead made for great broadcasting, but – as the mother of a young woman the same age as these soldiers – my crawling through pipes, swinging from tree limbs, and shooting high-gauge automatic weapons was not the stuff recruitment films will be made of. The merciless screaming of stone-faced drill sergeants who cut me no slack as a “media guest” was terrifying as well.

My Parris Island experience solidified my respect for all the men and women who defend us – as had my older brother, who had served on a Navy carrier during World War II.

I am proud that women have been able to prove their skills and worth and that they have been able to rise in the ranks to become officers and even generals and admirals at the four-star level.

Of course, all that progress means that military women also have equal opportunity to make the ultimate sacrifice. They have been buried beside their male comrades in graves that, this Memorial Day, will all have a flag planted near their markers.

Becoming part of the tradition

Women we lose in the military leave family members and friends to deal with the loss of their love, and, as women, they may leave behind motherless children who slid into life from their wombs, nursed at their breasts, and looked to them for the kind of nurturing and direction mothers traditionally provide.

Once again, this Memorial Day – like those before it – will be replete with traditional images of brave men raising the flag at Iwo Jima, storming the beaches at Anzio, or navigating the jungles of Vietnam. Already “Saving Private Ryan” is playing on TV, the weekend before Memorial Day.

I hope America can remember that living or, tragically, dead soldiers come in many forms: black, brown, yellow, red, and white, with partners of the same or a different gender, of every faith or no faith, and they may be female as well as male.

Whichever of all those boxes the soldiers we lose in service ticked off on the original recruitment application, may a grateful country respect, honor and salute each and every one this Memorial Day – and always – with respect and gratitude.

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