By Sunshine Burgess
“We, today, stand on the shoulders of our predecessors who have gone before us. We, as their successors, must catch the torch of freedom and liberty passed on to us by our ancestors. We cannot lose in this battle.” Benjamin E. Mays
Our active duty spouses are always reminded that they stand on the shoulders of those that came before them, but the same can be said for us as spouses. As we enter Women’s History Month, I think it is important to pay homage to the amazingly strong women on whose shoulders we stand. In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett and Mellie kept the fields of Tara planted while they waited on the men to return from war. War brides of the past were resilient before resilience was a thing – before the military trained anyone on techniques to use. They were resilient because it was all they knew and who they were. It was their life. Scarlett and Mellie are fictitious examples of the real women who keep the home fires burning in their own ways. I am sure we all have known a few of these real women.
When I was a newlywed, my husband came home with orders for a one year remote to Korea. Of course I thought my world was ending. Things were very different then. We got a 15 minute free morale call each week with the base operator on the line. We had email, but there wasn’t Skype or FaceTime. Nothing could brighten your day more than hearing “you’ve got mail”. Although I consider that time so much harder without all that modern technology brings, it was not nearly as hard as what my predecessors experienced. During that year, I found a sisterhood and received emotional support from two women who had been in my shoes. Theirs was a much earlier, harder time and they made me appreciate how lucky I really was.
Grandma Louise, my husband’s grandmother, was a military spouse during WWII. She was a part of the first generation of women to really go to work outside of the home. Some of them did so as a means of survival (a way to pass time and keep their minds occupied while waiting months in hopes of letters from the front) but for some it was a means to support their families. It was also a way to do their part to support the war effort. Grandma Louise was one of those women who did it for all of those reasons. She worked many jobs, but the ones that have been legendary in the family are Fisher Aircraft and Consolidated Vultee. During her tenure, she was an inspector on B-29s, B-25s and the P-38s. I always remember the P-38 because my father-in-law took a picture of my husband in front of the static at Lackland at his BMT graduation. My son even had a model of one suspended from the ceiling of his bedroom. She wasn’t just the lady you could count on to bring her signature deviled eggs or chocolate cake to family gatherings or the one who always remembered to call for every birthday and anniversary, but she was a pioneer in the world that I had just jumped into heart first. She passed away last fall, widowed for over 30 years knowing that soldier would be the only man she ever loved.
Another family war bride fascinated me my entire life, my great-aunt Dinah. When Dinah married Carson, she knew she loved him with all her heart and she would follow him to the end of the Earth. Well, that is just about what she did. Carson also served during WWII, but he was in the Navy. Not wanting to miss any small chance she had to spend time with him, she left Mississippi with a one way bus ticket to California and $16 in her pocket. She just wanted the possibility that if he had a few hours of shore leave, then she could spend it with him. At first she found work as a short order cook. As the second of eleven kids, if she knew nothing else it was how to cook (her biscuits and gravy were amazing). Then she found a new career; she became a real life “Rosie”. She learned welding and took a job as a welder building war ships. While her sisters and friends were back in Mississippi going to school or raising families, she was alone in California doing what was once a man’s job, all in hopes of seeing the love of her life. When she passed away, she had been widowed for over 40 years. She, like Grandma Louise, went to her death, still only loving one man.
The one common, sustaining factor that we all share, then and now, is our love for someone who has chosen to serve this country, whether near or far. They put service before self and we put our love for them above the uncertainty of this life. Whether you stay behind tending to the home like Scarlett planting her crops or follow the lead of Grandma Louise and find a job to expand your career or just fill your time, you do what you must to survive. We can’t always follow our service member across the world like Aunt Dinah, but we no longer spend our days waiting for the mail man to bring us letters like they did long ago and praying that we don’t receive the last letter months after the notification of death has knocked on your door (Grandma Louise once told me that happened to a lady she knew). We must cherish all the benefits of modern technology and the tools and education we are given to make our adjustments easier. Lest we never forget those phenomenal women who paved our way and their stories. Across the generations. Across the world. One sisterhood. Military spouses.
If you have a story about a memorable, past military spouse in your life, please share it in the comments below.