This Memorial Day don’t thank retired Navy veteran Dawn Fromme for her service. It’s true that she served her country for 25 years, worked her way from a seaman recruit to Boatswain’s Mate Senior Chief Petty Officer, fought in Desert Storm, and was stationed in Bahrain after 9/11. But it’s also true that she’s alive and she says her pet peeve is when “people always say ‘thanks for your service.’ I’m not dead. Thank me in November. Understand there is a difference. Because the market out there has all these sales, people get confused.”
Unsurprisingly, Dawn won’t spend Memorial Day weekend lining up for doorbuster deals. She’ll probably go to the Sunset Garden Memorial Cemetery in Henderson and place flags on the graves of fallen soldiers. There might be a small ceremony with a 21-gun salute. She’ll remember her father and uncle who didn’t die in the line of fire, but still served their country during war time. She’ll remember a young soldier who died of a brain tumor. Most likely there won’t be many civilians at the cemetery — partly because organizations like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars don’t publicize as well as they could and partly because most will be home barbecuing and not thinking about why they have an extra day off.
After the extended weekend, she’ll get back to fighting. This time against Veteran Affairs. If, right now, you are starting to feel guilty for not appreciating those who have fought for our country, Dawn says there are ways you can support the living veterans: “Help us fight for the big issues going on in the VA right now… If there’s anyone that I don’t feel gives us respect, it’s the VA, and they are the ones that should be taking care of us. If I had to ask for the public to help us in anyway, that would be it: to help us to fight for what’s rightfully ours. Care that was promised when we signed up.”
Memorial Day is an important time to honor the service men and women who have given their lives. It’s not, as Dawn said, a holiday for the living veterans. However, I think our deceased veterans would want their legacy to be a country that took care of its own. It is our responsibility to make sure that they are honored by doing just that.
Dawn thinks the “USO of North Carolina is awesome” especially its collaboration with Hire Heroes USA. Hire Heroes “effectively trains veterans in the skills of self-marketing, then supports their career search until they find good jobs with great companies” and has a chapter in Raleigh.
Another NC organization is Women Veterans Support Services. WSS cites a 2009 study that says there are 450 homeless women veterans in the Triangle area alone, but believes the number to be slightly higher than that. While the organization is “unique in its commitment to female veterans, [they] never turn down a veteran that [they] can help regardless of sex.”
When Dawn enlisted, women were first being introduced to naval ships. She felt like some people held the belief that females didn’t belong there. Dawn had to prove herself again and again, even though, deep down, she knew she had just as much right to be there. Over the years, she gained respect, and, now, doesn’t feel there is as large a difference between the men and women who serve. There shouldn’t be a difference between the honors we give to the dead and the respect we pay to the living. This Memorial Day, honor the soldiers who are no longer with us by helping the living veterans to get the respect they deserve.
Jennifer Brick is a freelance writer and former teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @jenbrickwrites.