Honor the Veterans, including the women

Published 2:29 am Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Times-Picayune ran a story once titled “Service Women Get Own Monument.” The monument is located at the entrance of Arlington Cemetery and the dedication was attended by a great number of service women and veterans of wars, some going back to WW I. Frieda Hardin summarized the change in a woman’s status in these words: “When I served in the Navy women were not even allowed to vote. Now women occupy important offices. In my 101 years of living, I have observed many wonderful achievements but none as meaningful as … women … taking their rightful place in society.”

The second story informed us that the Marine’s first female striker pilot is from Meridian Mississippi. These two events took me back in memory to a high school girl at Randlett, Okla. In those days, classes were small and everyone knew everyone else on a kissing cousin basis.

Jewel Pfeifer was a classmate. She was petite, with curly black hair, intelligent blue eyes, and a ready smile. I remember her as one who could draw pictures of her classmates and teachers that were remarkably real and her caricatures were downright funny.

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Many years later, during WW II, I heard that she had joined the U.S. Air force. The army had just established the Women’s Air force Service Pilots (WASP’s) which was set up to make use of women pilots. They ferried planes and participated in turning raw male recruits into skilled pilots. In spite of the fact that their record was exceptional, the program was canceled before the war ended, probably because it was specifically for women.

Jewel had joined and completed her training in the last WASP class and never got to serve. She was deeply disappointed but refused to let the dream die. In compensation for her loss and, as a memorial to the considerable contribution of women in the military, Jewel sculptured three bronze statutes:

The first statue was placed in the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas and was dedicated by astronaut Neil Armstrong.

The second is located in Sweetwater where the WASP’s training center was located in the 1940’s.

The third statue is a life-size figure of a young woman in military uniform stepping forward and looking upward with a parachute on her back. It stands in the library of the Texas Women’s University, Denton, Texas.

Jewel and I dated during our junior year, going to the movies or school events but not to dances. I had no problem with dancing but Jewel explained that her Methodist church was beginning to frown upon it. Not to worry, the young people, always respectful, simply changed the name of our dances to “swinging games” and continued our wayward ways.

Fifty years later Jewel contacted me to speak at the high school reunion. Johnie was not up to the trip but was quite tolerant when I confessed that I had hugged the “girls” at the reunion. (I shook hands with the “boys”.) Jewel was a talented writer and the four file folders of letters she wrote to me over the next few years would be worth publishing. She sent copies of her award winning poetry, pictures of our class members and herself and long interesting letters that always included a funny joke or one of her remarkable poems.

In one of her letters Jewel described a reunion of five of the WASP women pilots she had in her home in Dallas. “Yes, we had a glorious jubilee! Three solid days and evenings of laughter! Can’t ever remember of having such a time. Everyone was so glad to see everyone else and our informal home atmosphere and reminiscences, stories and getting caught up on one another was so perfect. We laughed (and wept a bit) and hugged and just sat like idiots looking into eyes that looked back at us with more love than any poet could describe. What a blessing — all those old women pilots who lived through three wars and a lifetime of joy and horrors and still come back smelling like roses. God has been good to us all and survival being foremost, has helped us with a sense of gratitude and a sense of humor.”

Dr.  Banks used to say, “Everybody says ‘I don’t want to live to be a hundred’ and that’s what they think until they’re 99!'”

I have a suggestion for remembering the veterans on this Veteran’s Day: If you have a copy of The Greatest Generation, published by the Picayune Item, pull it out and look at the pictures and stories of the young people from this area who served in the military in time of war. (I understand copies are still available down at the paper office.) Also recall the special days at church when the veteran’s were asked to stand or come down front and be recognized.

While the advance of women has been rapid and dramatic in the military, nothing can compare to the traditional role of wife and mother. This is because the family is the very foundation of our nation — the source of our greatness. For example, Jewel married Tom Estes decades ago and filled the traditional role of wife and mother as admirably as she used her artistic genius to commemorate military women in bronze.