Veterans honored on their day

Maj. Vanessa Marshall has seen the changes in the United States Army firsthand. That’s why she knows there is still a long way to go for women in the armed forces.

“People see my veterans license plate and ask me where my husband served,” she told a Trumbull High assembly on Veterans Day, where she was the keynote speaker. “I get letters from the Veterans Administration addressed to ‘Mr. Vanessa Marshall.’ And when I joined the American Legion, someone asked loudly enough for me to hear, ‘Is she really a veteran?’ He got an earful.”

Marshall dedicated her talk to the role of women in the military, dating all the way back to the original Minutemen. These women included 16-year-old Sybil Ludington, who relieved an exhausted courier and rode more than 20 miles to Ridgefield, Conn., to warn of a British advance. Her actions gave the militia time to assemble, but the Battle of Ridgefield gets little attention today because the hero of the day was Benedict Arnold, she said.

In the Civil War, hundreds of women disguised themselves as men to fight. It is not known how many exactly, because they typically were discovered only when they were killed or wounded.

More than 400 women were killed by enemy fire in World War I, due to field hospitals being located within artillery range of the front lines. And women were employed in large numbers carrying out military tasks that freed men for combat duty in World War II.

After the world wars, though, women were typically forced out of the service.

“After the war, Congress closed the service to women,” Marshall said. “It was, ‘Here’s your hat, ladies, now go home and cook dinner.’”

And yet through her story, Marshall wove a narrative that women’s place in the service gradually expanded as pioneering females proved their mettle. How far have things come?

“When I joined, if you were diagnosed as being pregnant, you were out of work in two weeks,” she said. “Now we have maternity uniforms.”

The assembly also included numerous veterans as honored guests, and remarks from numerous town officials, including First Selectman Tim Herbst, who noted that a common thread among veterans is their willingness to continue serving their community after their enlistments ended.

“They have always been civic-minded and ready to serve,” Herbst said. “For that we are very, very grateful.”