The United Veterans of Port St. Lucie will present its annual Veterans Day Service this Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park.
“We have that every year, same time, same date,” Catherine La Valle, chairman of the United Veterans, said of the 11 a.m. event at 2100 SE Veterans Memorial Parkway.
There’s a reason for that. Veterans Day events are traditionally held on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour – that’s when Germans and Allied nations signed the Armistice of Compiegne that started the end of the Great War in 1918. Today we know it as World War I. While the armistice ended the largescale shooting, the war wouldn’t end with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles for another seven months.
Nevertheless, the world came to see the armistice as the end of the Great War and established Nov. 11 as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, and, in the United States, Veterans Day. Armistice Day remembrances started in the U.S. in 1919. President Woodrow Wilson wrote a public message urging Americans to recognize Great War veterans “with appropriate ceremonies” on Nov. 11. That would continue until shortly after World War II, when many called for expanding the remembrance to all veterans, so it was renamed to “Veterans Day.”
There’s only ever been one definition of a military “veteran.” It’s someone who’s served in the armed forces. But stereotypes about who “veterans” are abound. For example, almost inarguably most automatically think “veterans” are men. Most are, but an increasingly large percentage of veterans are woman.
“When I first moved here to Port St. Lucie in 2001, I enrolled in the (Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Health Administration),” La Valle said. “They had a hard time knowing I’m female.”
It’s obvious La Valle is a woman if you’re standing in front of or talking to her on the phone. La Valle said the people who were looking at her medical records before they met her were too often surprised to see she was a woman. “They were not really used to having women in the VA,” she said.
That was all too commonplace in the VA. Back in 1994, Congress mandated that the VA form the Center for Women Veterans and for every medical center to have a women’s clinic. At the time about 4 percent of veterans enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration were women. They now make up about 8 percent of the health administration’s clients.
The West Palm Beach VA Medical Center, which has St. Lucie in its catchment area, has now had a women’s center for several years. La Valle said that’s made things much better for her. She said previously her medical-care providers at the VA shifted frequently. The women’s center, La Valle said, helped her get consistent care.
“Now I feel much better I get to see the same person,” she said. “They know my history and know women’s issues.”
There is growing recognition throughout the state of the important roles women have served in the military, and in Florida, going back to the Revolutionary War. For example, the United States Navy League Central Florida Chapter commissioned artist Don Reynolds to create an as-yet-unnamed bronze statue to commemorate women sailors. The proposed heroic-scale statue – 110 percent life-sized – when done will stand nearby to the Lone Sailor Memorial in Blue Jacket Park, 2501 General Reese Ave., Orlando.
The park commemorates the Naval Training Center Orlando, which operated from 1968 to the late 1990s. It was the Navy’s only co-ed recruit training center for most of its existence. The league reports that nearly 188,500 women graduated from Recruit Training Command Orlando.
The Florida Department of Veteran Affairs figures there are about 155,000 women veterans in the state. That’s the third largest population of women veterans in the nation. About one in 10 Florida veterans are women. A few years ago, the state veterans department added a women veterans coordinator to its ranks to help women veterans get services they need.
St. Lucie County Veterans Services has also reached out to women veterans. The county office has veteran service officers who help veterans file claims and appeals to the VA, among other things. Wayne Teegardin manages the officers.
“I’ve got two (female veteran service officers), specifically hired because we wanted to have that capability for female veterans who come in,” he said.
Teegardin explained having women veterans for others to see seems to help those women file for all the benefits and services due them. Teegardin said he’s suspected at times that women he was helping were not telling him everything they needed to get appropriate services and benefits.
“I think they’re uncomfortable talking with male (veteran service officers) about some things,” Teegardin said.
Teegardin said he’s asked women if they’d rather talk to another female veteran and the answer is often, “Yes.”
La Valle is an Air Force veteran. She served from 1975 to 2001. The 61-year-old is now a paralegal for the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office. La Valle did security and police work at Air Force bases in Europe during a time of intense leftist terrorism and the constant threat of espionage by and a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
“I was there for all the Cold War stuff going on,” she said.
In addition to leading the United Veterans of Port St. Lucie, which is made up of local veterans organizations, she’s the president of the local American Military Retirees Association chapter.
Saturday’s ceremony will feature music by the Port St. Lucie Community Band, a Sheriff’s Office helicopter flyover, and more.
“We’re going to have the Junior ROTC from Port St. Lucie (High School), Treasure Coast (High School) and (St. Lucie West) Centennial High School,” La Valle said.
In St. Lucie County, St. Lucie West Centennial High School will also host the musical performance “Salute Our Veterans” on Friday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. The free concert will include performances by the Eagle Vocal Ensemble, the concert band, the jazz band, and the symphonic winds. The school is at 1485 SW Cashmere Blvd. in Port St. Lucie.
St. Lucie County Veteran Services is at 1664 SE Walton Road, suite 205, in Port St. Lucie. The phone number is 772-337-5670.