The Forgotten Veterans

By Monica F. Helms

Veterans Day is one the three most important days in this country when it comes to
patriotism and pride. At the eleventh minute, of the eleventh hour, of the eleventh
day, of the eleventh month, we start the day honoring all the veterans who have
served this country, both in peace and in war. Today, we have 26 million military
veterans in America, but sadly, we lose 1500 WWII each day and a similar number of
Korean War veterans as well. Soon, the Vietnam War veterans will pass away in
similar numbers.The men and women who fought in those wars over the last 230-plus years came from
every diverse background this country has ever known. People from every race,
religion, ethnicity, economic status, social status and sexual orientation have
fought, been wounded or died for this country. A current example of sexual
orientation is the first person wounded in the current war in Iraq. Eric Alva lost a
leg in the very early days of the war and then came out as being gay after his

Amongst the wide diversity of people who have served this country, Transgender
Americans have been an important part of the military since the Revolutionary War.
The word ?transgender? has come to mean ?Anyone who crosses the gender lines,
regardless of whether it is temporary or permanent.? has the
definition as, ?Noun: A person appearing or attempting to be a member of the opposite
sex, as a transsexual or habitual cross-dresser,? and, ?Adjective: Being, pertaining
to, or characteristic of a transgender or transgenders: the transgender movement.?

We have found that in the early part of American history, women could easily fight as
men because they didn?t have to go through a physical exam before enlisting. That
changed during the Spanish American War. Some of the women who did fight in those
early wars indeed returned to a life as a woman, but many did not.

In the early and middle parts of the 20th Century, we found that most of the
transgender veterans who served at that time started life as boys, but became women
in the years after the wars had ended. Others crossdressed throughout their lives
and even did so while serving in the military. In the middle 20th Century and early
21st Century, women began serving more frequently and even in combat roles where they
could not previously serve. We started seeing more women who later became men after
those wars were over.

One of the notable examples of a woman who fought as a man was Deborah Sampson, a
tall woman for her day, served in the Revolutionary War as Robert Shurtliff and even
became wounded. Another person was Lucy Brewer, who started her early adult life as
a prostitute, but served as a Marine on board of the USS Constitution in the War of
1812. After the War, she appeared as a man several times. Around 400 women served
as men in the Civil War, for both sides. Some continued their lives as men after the

One of the most interesting stories is that of Cathy Williams, a slave who changed
her name to William Cathey and served two years as a Buffalo Solider before she told
a doctor she was a woman. She did as well as her male counterparts, surviving the
harsh conditions of the desert Southwest.

As the understanding of transgenderism improved, stories of thousands of transgender
people who served this country in the military surfaced. The famous writer, B-movie
producer and crossdresser, Ed Wood, fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal. The first
known transsexual, Christine Jorgensen, spent eleven months in the Army and when she
came back from Denmark after her surgery in 1952, the headlines in the paper read,
?GI becomes Blonde Bombshell.? The headlines knocked the explosion of the first
hydrogen bomb off the front page. Later, Eisenhower even invited her to the White

We know of many transgender people who have fought in every late 20th Century and
21st Century wars we have been in. I have a friend, Jane Fee, who served during
WWII. I served during the Vietnam War, in the Navy, on two submarines. We know of
another transgender person who headed a special anti-terrorist unit for the Army and
even reported to the Vice President.

Transgender people have been in every war, served in every branch of the service,
have achieved every rank and have been awarded every medal this country has,
including the Congressional Medal of Honor. We have done every job the military has,
served in every base, port, ship, drove every vehicle, operated every weapon, flown
every aircraft and served in every hospital the American military has. We have done
our part to preserve the freedom of everyone in this country. If you ask us, we will
tell you that we are veterans first, who just happen to be transgender people. And,
we are proud to have served this great country.