Every day I post a Woman of Note on this blog and once a week I post a biography of a First Woman To. . .During almost six months I have posted 163 daily Women of Note and 26 biographies. Ten of those Women of Note were women whose accomplishments were as members of the military, and two of the biographies were women with military connections: one a woman who managed military operations (Sheila Widnall, August 12), the other a woman who combined her achievements with her military service (Grace Hopper, December 7).
As Christmas approaches I think of military women, and military men, who are far from home during this season that is treasured by so many families. I think especially of their families, those parents and siblings, spouses and children who will mail presents overseas, have an empty seat at the table, and sing Christmas carols with a lump in their throats.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that, in a previous life (with a previous husband), I was an Air Force wife. When I phrase it like that, “Air Force wife,” it sounds like I was a member of the military, and indeed it felt like I was. I am certain that even today when many military spouses have professions other than that of military spouses, they feel as if they are wed to the military, their careers, families, and homes dependent on the next set of orders that will uproot them once again from the lives they have attempted to establish.
On December 18, 1971—one week before Christmas, my military spouse received a phone call to report the next morning. We began to pack his bags but stopped long enough to open the few presents that were already under the tree. Pictures of that Christmas, in their grainy color, show our five-month old son, sitting upright in front of packages, in his scruffy overalls, his hair not even combed. There would be no Christmas outfits or fancy Christmas feasts. Christmas Eve Mass would be with other wives in the same predicament, while their teenage children watched our little ones.
It takes courage to be a military spouse, not the same kind of courage as those who serve in combat, but courage nonetheless. It requires the ability to switch roles as spouses move in and out of their families. It requires strength to present a positive picture to children. It requires faith that you will see your loved one whole and happy again. And, when the military member is wounded, it requires guts to help them re-enter life. If the ultimate sacrifice is required, the spouses must then have the strength to start a new life, with a hole in their hearts.
The Christmas I spent without my husband I did not know where he was, or when he would return. It was the Christmas when our government bombed Hanoi and Haiphong in an attempt to get North Vietnam to the negotiating table. It reminds me of the crude saying (which I will paraphrase): “Bombing for peace is like fornicating for chastity.” It seemed insane then and, in my mind, continues to be so today.
And so my prayers this season are twofold:
I pray for those whose military family members are separated from them, whether for routine military duty or, even more frightening, for duty that places them in harm’s way.
And I pray that we will take the message of the angels to heart and work for peace in this world, a peace that will make these separations unnecessary.