It’s Veterans Day as I write this, and as I’ve worked on projects and done errands, I’ve been listening to the radio. It’s full of stories about World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and other parts of the world. Sad stories, brave stories, stories of loss and forgiveness and patriotism. Not many of these stories are about women, although women had roles in all of these conflicts.
When I first moved into my neighborhood over 15 years ago, an older woman lived across the street from me. Ilene was frail even then, and neighbors cut her grass and shoveled her walk when it snowed. She’d lived there for over fifty years, a wife and mother who looked out for neighborhood children and enjoyed seeing flowers bloom. My son liked to go over and talk to her when we saw her in the yard. He’d make pictures for her, and she’d share cookies with him. One day she gave him a set of plastic plates shaped and decorated like Hawaiian shirts. She understood exactly what appealed to a four year old boy.
I didn’t find out until after Ilene died that she’d been in the WAVES, a volunteer who served in the military as support for the men fighting World War II. One of her friends came to her funeral, dressed in the WAVES uniform in honor of Ilene’s services. It was a surprise, but only because, like many veterans, she’d never mentioned her experiences during the war.
And that brings me to Eleanor Roosevelt. She supported many progressive ideas, from desegregation to women taking a larger role in the military through the WAVES. Her life was full of challenge and change and tragedy, but her impact on the world was impressive. She worked with the poor, she traveled the country when her husband couldn’t, she was passionate about world peace, and she spoke up when there were things she thought the country needed to hear even if it would not make her popular.
Our Eleanor by Candace Fleming was published ten years ago, but it’s still worth a look. It’s a reminder of all the amazing things Eleanor Roosevelt did, all while she fought back depression and felt ugly and didn’t fit in. She wasn’t a veteran, but somehow what Eleanor did as First Lady and afterwards reminded me of the many contributions women have made during wartime, whether they served in the military or not.