Home Front Salute: May

By Circe Olson Woessner

Although May is often described as the “merry month of”– if you are military, this happy month has its somber side.

The Friday before Mother’s Day is Military Spouse Appreciation Day, and in this year’s proclamation, President Obama said, “We honor the spouses of those who have left behind everything they know and love to join our Nation’s unbroken chain of patriots, and we recommit to giving military spouses the respect, dignity, and support they deserve.”

That sentiment is appreciated—

Because of their unconventional lifestyle, many military spouses become independent and self-reliant.

Marine wife Stacy Marinaro recalls, “I remember a particular bad deployment. I was strong and silent and didn’t shed a tear at the bus depot while the buses carrying all our beloved, brave men drove off. I remember other wives mad at me that I didn’t cry. Well, it was my 4th time after all. My Family Readiness Officer came to my aid and stood up for me saying, that it was ‘ok that she’s not crying because she is a seasoned wife’. I kind of liked that term.”

Many military spouses are also mothers, and they deftly maneuver their families through unique conditions.

Military daughter Marilyn describes her mother fondly, “My mom was a WWII vintage, hauling kids from one end of the earth to the other, birthing children overseas, in dusty, remote duty stations, jungles and frozen tundra. Enduring seasickness, inoculations for God-knows-how-many exotic diseases, keeping our shot records, school records, silk kimonos, pets, bicycles, treasured toys (despite household goods weight restrictions—some of her stuff had to be left behind; it wasn’t nearly as important as her kids’ stuff).”

James Kenderdine remembers his mom’s courage, “My mother did not take the Army’s offer of evacuation during the Berlin Airlift (1948-49). She said, ‘I can stay the winter, no matter how bad it is.’ Watching her learn to shoot an MI carbine was fantastic, and to this day, I can still clearly see the image of her carbine, with a 20 round clip in it, round in the chamber, hanging by its sling next to her and dad’s bed.

This year, on May 8th, Victory in Europe Day, generally known as V-E Day, fell on Mother’s Day. This day traditionally marks the end of World War II in Europe, and is both somber and joyful.

On the home front, anxious families eagerly awaited the arrival of their loved ones.

A WWII wife describes her husband’s homecoming to their small New Mexico pueblo, “We didn’t know he was coming. He took the bus from Albuquerque and got off on the highway behind the hill. Our two children were outside playing, and our six-year daughter saw him and went running to her dad, but the littlest one ran away. I guess he didn’t know his dad.”

In 1949, Louis Johnson, the then US Secretary of Defense, announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. It was a time to pay tribute to men and women who serve in the United States’ armed forces.

It was that sentiment that had Vietnam veteran, Larry “Wolfman” Hurtado, create a Memorial honoring two of his friends who died in Vietnam. Located in the town of Bernalillo, the Sandoval County Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial consists of a high wall listing the names of New Mexico veterans, many who have paid the ultimate price. The memorial is a special place– a place for reflection, a place to hold ceremonies, to honor the dead, the missing, and Hurtado has built it with support from other veterans, friends and schoolmates. He is proud of the grass roots involvement in the project.

Currently, the Museum of the American Military Family is creating a memorial to honor 400 years of American Military Families’ service to America. Fundraising is underway and we plan to unveil it in the fall of 2016. (You can see more information on our website about this initiative.)

This Memorial Day, make it a point to go to one of the many local ceremonies happening across New Mexico and reflect on the true meaning of the day. As the names on the wall are read, or the somber music plays, remember the sacrifices of our service members –and those of the mothers and fathers, spouses, sons, and daughters, who loved and supported their loved ones—and lost them too soon.