You Can’t Park There. You’re Not a Veteran. Get the Hell Out of that Spot. Or, a Reminder About What Memorial Day Really Stands For.
I was just stepping out of my Honda in the Home Depot parking lot. The space was clearly marked for veterans/military. The man was standing a few cars down. His face was bright red.
He was pissed.
Gesticulating wildly at me.
Look. I don’t carry my DD214 with me at all times, like papers I have to show to the authorities when I cross a state line. This isn’t Russia. My Idiot-in-Chief is doing his best to sell us off to them, but not yet.
Nor do I have to prove who I am to every Tom, Dick and Harry who happens to want to challenge me.
My license plate is clearly marked. I’m a disabled veteran. No hubby. No brother, daddy or cousin.
I just happen to be female. And, I’m not in a wheelchair.
That, apparently, is what set this guy off.
“WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, TAKING A VETERAN’S SPACE?” he hollered, coming closer. Ready to do battle over a parking space in a Home Depot parking lot.
“A 100% disabled veteran,” I answered mildly, squaring my body off to face him. Looked him straight in the eye. “Vietnam Era. Five years active duty United States Army. One year Reserves. Got any more questions, sir?”
He stopped. Stumped.
It apparently didn’t occur to him that a female, upright and walking normally, could possibly be a disabled veteran.
For those of us women who served, this is very common. When I had a Facebook account, I used to see memorials and dedications and requests to remember Vietnam veterans. They never once included a female face. Much less a Black or Asian or Muslim face. Yet from Revolutionary times, we have served. Given our limbs and our lives for our country.
Once, and once only, I saw a meme that featured some eight women vets, young, all of whom had lost a limb or more to IADs in the Middle East. Posted by a female vet. Of course it was.
When I saw ads for Wounded Warriors, I didn’t see a female face. When I type in the words “female veteran” into Deposit Photos, most of what I get are photos of men.
Then there’s this:
The photo just above is what Unsplash gives me (among others) when I type in “female veteran.” This is uniquely insulting to the 1,620,110 female veterans in the US. To say nothing of those who have served, including in combat because combat came to them, in every single war we have ever fought as Americans. Just because you’re a nurse doesn’t mean that war won’t overrun your field unit. Just because you’re a woman in the Signal Corps doesn’t mean the enemy isn’t going to target your communications. Of course they will. And you’d damned well better be able to fire your weapon. Of course they did. And died for it.
We are Not. All. Nurses, folks. I was in the Signal Corps myself.
Let’s just think here.
If you’re the enemy, you’re going to want to target Engineer Corps bridges, Signal Corps communications centers. Not just infantry grunts. You want to hit the supply lines. Populated by non-combat forces. Including women. They’d damned well better be able to fight back, protect themselves and their troops. And in today’s wholly different war theater, everyone but everyone is at risk, all the time, anywhere. The rules of engagement are shifting fast. Problem is that we need all kinds of people with all kinds of new skills who can think very differently from any other time, ever. That demands diversity across the board.
We are still a country in denial of women in the service. It’s changing slowly. Those of us who don’t have an obvious disability- people of all genders- are also questioned.
Like by the angry man in the Home Depot parking lot.
Ask anyone who has an invisible disability what this is like. I have migraines, lots of them, I’ve lost organs, and I am a bleeder. I’ve got PTSD from multiple rapes by senior officers. Disabilities wear a great many faces. Just because I’m not using a walker doesn’t mean I don’t have challenges. This has taught me a great deal about the way others deal with what life has dealt them. My fellow female veterans, so often invisible to society, don’t need to be missing a limb from an IAD to be disabled.
Part of that disability is society’s denial of our existence. The military culture that sees our bodies as a handy smorgasbord for Rank Has its Privileges. The post-service treatment of female vets at the VA, pockmarked by insensitivity, incompetence and lack of caring about our mental health (which touches all vets, let’s be clear, but women in particular).
Female veterans have a much higher suicide rate than civilian women. I can attest, I nearly did it myself.
People like Senator Tammy Duckworth who not only served but lost multiple limbs are among the faces who are changing what America understands about our female military.
Senator Martha McSally, R-AZ, who has also committed to serve her country well beyond her military service, revealed what is true for so very many of us: military rape culture. She was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat.
How dare she. We pay dearly for breaking barriers. Then when we do, we are punished, ignored, vilified or jeered for it.
After a long successful fight to legitimize LBGTQ service people, the laws have been rolled back yet again. How dare they seek to serve. These good people live in constant fear.
Veterans from other countries are being deported after honorable service. How dare they seek to serve. We punish people after they have given their time, their bodies in service for the freedom the rest of us enjoy. We punish them for dealing with PTSD. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 91,000 U.S. veterans are lawful residents who don’t have their citizenship.
Thanks for helping keep us free. Now get the hell out.
You can’t park there. That’s only for veterans or military.
Here’s how that lands: you’re not a man. Therefore you can’t possibly be a veteran.
In the Home Depot parking lot, the old man backed off. Still angry. Nobody enjoys being made wrong.
I get it. But by the same token, none of us likes to be invisible, either. Punished, ignored, challenged for our legitimacy, deported, attacked, name your insult. Called Mister at the VA when we have vaginas.
We don’t like being pawed and stalked and groped at the VA Hospital any more than we enjoyed it during our time in the military. There’s a good reason we don’t like to use the VA facilities. They still aren’t safe for women veterans.
I’m more saddened than maddened. That train left the station long ago.
We Americans really want our military when we need them. However, without the draft, the immediacy of what it means to serve has created significant space between civilians and those who have taken the oath of service. It’s like thanks, but we’re embarrassed about it. When we feel threatened as a country, we want a strong force. If that force isn’t in play, then it seems we have a very hard time relating to those willing to do the hard work to keep everyone free. I certainly can understand.
Today’s America has a limited understanding of who we are and what we did so that they can live the way they do. That’s not a criticism. It’s a fact of our changing world. I also think the military is bloated. The military also taught me to be virulently anti-gun. Not every soldier is a Republican, and NRA member. Many of us went on to full lives as Democrats, Independents, Libertarians. If anything, handling weapons taught many of us what so many goose-stepping White Nationalists don’t understand: the right to wield one is earned. And only used in extreme circumstances, not to march desperate, legitimate asylum-seekers into confinement, wearing fake badges and posturing like they’ve actually worn a legitimate uniform.
In other words, making a royal ass out of yourself.
The other fact of our changing world is that our military is having one hell of a time finding qualified recruits. Drug use, obesity, a host of issues mean that some 70% of today’s youth don’t qualify. If we don’t accept — and value and respect — women, people of color, willing immigrants and the LGBTQ community who do care, are committed and are indeed focused on serving, we will have arms all right. But no arms to (wo)man them. If you’ll pardon the pun.
We served. We continue to serve. Put ourselves in harm’s way for our country. We continue to be in harm’s way, including potential deportation, more sexual assaults, and harm to ourselves for the price we paid to serve.
I wore a uniform so that Parking Lot Protector Man could enjoy his rights.
So that you can have your Pop Tarts and barbeques and raves and be able to say anything you please about us or my military peeps on line or in our faces.
Including this, which went viral:
You enjoy your freedoms because what veterans gave. Memorial Day, just as a reminder, acknowledges those who died. For you, for me, for all of us. Veteran’s Day honors those who are fortunate enough to still be standing. And able to park our Hondas in the spaces that are, on very rare occasions, made available to us for our service.