WASHINGTON, D.C. — In May, Preble County Veteran Services took a group of 29 veterans and their families to Washington D.C. to explore the nation’s capital and the monuments constructed to honor their service.
The group left Preble County on Thursday, May 16 and returned late Saturday, May 18.
Veterans from different eras were able to attend this trip, but only three of those individuals were female veterans.
One was Julie Neaveill, who served during the Vietnam Era. She went into the military right out of high school, and served in the Air Force. She worked in a hospital in the Intensive Care Unit, due to a computer glitch. There she learned “so much” and was able to care for many.
In Japan, she worked in an OB/GYN and Surgery clinic and traveled a lot. She started having health troubles herself and was discharged.
To her, the people she worked with became her family. She never experienced discrimination for being a female veteran, but she saw others be harassed and belittled.
“If you stayed in your group, you did things together as a whole group. Being away from home and everything was okay, because the people you worked with became your family. We had a hard time, we lost a lot of patients. They sent the worse patients to us, throughout the country,” she said. “I’m glad that it is better now, because I really think women were talked down to back then. Sexual harassment definitely was an issue.
“Being a female veteran, I didn’t experience it myself, but I saw it happening, where a lot of women were looked down on. I didn’t notice it happening to most of the women officers, but I noticed it happening more to the enlisted. I think the attention they have gotten now, I wish they got it then.”
As for her experience while in Washington, D.C. Neaveill said she was able to pull up names in Arlington Cemetery and read the obituaries for the soldiers buried.
“I liked getting the group out, I think that is really cool to be able to do that,” she said.
Martina Clark was another veteran who visited Washington, D.C. with Preble County Veteran Services. She is a Corporal who served during peace time. For her first year and a half, she was a cook and served 3,000 Marines a day. She then changed her military occupational specialty to Aviation Supply.
“I decided if I was going to go into the military, I was going to go into the best branch, the toughest branch, and that was the Marine Corps. I have a lot of military personnel in my family and my dad is a veteran. He met my mother in Europe and that is where I was born, because my father was in the Air Force and my mother was British. I came to the United States when I was three,” she said.
“I wasn’t born here, so it was important to me — because I was so appreciative of being raised in the United States — that I give back, so I joined the military. It was also a way to travel.”
One of her biggest challenges came when she gave birth to her daughter while she was active duty.
“I had my child while I was active duty. I got shipped out three months after she was born, so she was left with her dad. It was really hard for us to bond when I came back, because I was breastfeeding when I left,” she said.
Clark has only been to Washington, D.C. once before to renew a Visa and didn’t get to visit many sites. Because this trip was so veteran-oriented, it really meant a lot to Clark to experience that camaraderie with her fellow veterans.
To her, the Women’s Memorial was one of her favorite sights to see.
“Because there are so few of us — there are only three on this bus. That is why it is important,” she said.
Lori Melton was the last female veteran who traveled to Washington, D.C. with Preble County Veterans Services this trip. She served in the Persian Gulf and, like many veterans, had to make a huge sacrifice just to serve in the military. She was a 19-year-old single mother who had to sign guardianship of her son over to her parents.
She went in as a Dental Technician and then a Marine Corps Medic, who trained in casualties. She was a hospital corpsman and wore the Marine Corps uniform, even though she was Navy.
“I joined because both my grandfathers and father were military. I was proud to serve, especially to be a woman and wear the uniform,” she said. “To me, [signing over guardianship of my son] was my ultimate sacrifice, that is how bad I wanted it. I needed to prove myself. It was a challenge, but I hung right there with them. I was no longer labeled as a woman, I was a soldier.”
For Melton, her first trip to Washington, D.C. was when she was active duty. This time, it was special to her to see all the different monuments. She got to spend this trip with her second family — fellow veterans.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH