Transgender American Veterans Association

Participant Responses
This was indeed a very emotional weekend.  It must have been even more so for the Committee who did such a marvelous job arranging and keeping things on track.   The honors afforded to us were unimaginable even a short time ago.  Who would have thought we would have a police escort.  Brett did a super job as did the others in his group.   The time we spent at The Wall was most emotional for many of us, especially when we see the names of those we know.  The only term that applies to this place is "Hallowed Ground".
Thank you to all who leant me a shoulder to cry on.  We leaned on each other which is what Comrades in Arms should do.  We know without a doubt now there are others who will watch our backs as we watch theirs.   Once again, a disparate group of people have come together and formed a bond that only those who have served can possibly know.
I put some pictures on the Yahoo Group.  I hope all of you who supported us in spirit will get some of the thrill we did.

Blessings on you all
Thank you
Hugs
Jenelle

Hello Everyone,

I just got home last night and am still catching up on e-mail.  Went by way of Ohio to take my sister Sharon home.

I want to thank Monica, Angela, Steph, and all those who worked so hard to make this a success.

During the course of my 21 years in the Military, I recieved many awards and honors.   None of those mean as much as the honor of having been in the formation that layed the wreath at the tomb of the Unknown.  This was truely a historic moment, and to be included was a great honor.  Being in the first Transgendered group in history to pay our respects at the tomb, was maybe the most important thing in my life.  I am Honored and humbled to have been there.

Thanks again TAVA, we have arrived.

Sara Elizabeth Gibson

Monica and all your staff,

I want to thank you and your staff for a wonderful event you put together.  My friend Grace and I participated in the March and came to realize that we were part of history.  WE WERE THERE  You did a wonderful job and I know we made a positive impact on those that met us.  I hope we can do this again.   It has helped me put my service in a much better perspective.  I used to think my service was more like a job I had and left for a new career.  I know now that I was a part of something more special.  Meeting my sisters and brothers who were blessed with gender and also served was a bonding that I could not share in any other way.  I am proud to have served but even more proud to have met the courageous souls that dared to walk in public to educate the country.  It took courage to air refuel my B-52 but you all used greater courage to stand up and be counted when it would be easier to forget.  Bless you all for leading the way.


As part of the wonder of life, I was sent this information on the tomb and you may find it interesting too.



TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER

Interesting facts about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Sentinels of the Third United States Infantry Regiment "Old Guard"

1.  How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the tomb of the Unknowns and why?
21 steps.  It alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.

2.  How long does he hesitate after his about face to begin his return walk and why?
21 seconds, for the same reason as answer number 1.

3.  Why are his gloves wet?
His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle.

4.  Does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time, and if not, why not?
No, he carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb.  After his march across the path, he executes an about face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.

5.  How often are the guards changed?
Guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

6.  What are the physical traits of the guard limited to?
For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be between 5' 10" and 6' 2" tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30".

Other requirements of the Guard:

They must commit 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.  They cannot swear in public FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES and cannot disgrace the uniform {fighting} or the tomb in any way.

After TWO YEARS, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guard of the tomb.  There are only 400 presently worn.   The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin.

The shoes are specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet.  There are metal heel plates that extend to the top of the shoe in order to make the loud click as they come to a halt.  There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform.  Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror.

The first SIX MONTHS of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone, nor watch TV.  All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.  A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred.   Among the notables are: President Taft, Joe E. Lewis {the boxer} and Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy, {the most decorated soldier of WWII} of Hollywood fame.   Every guard spends FIVE HOURS A DAY getting his uniforms ready for guard duty.

The Sentinels Creed:
My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted.  In the responsibility bestowed on me never will I falter.  And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection.  Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements, I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.  It is he who commands the respect I protect.  His bravery that made us so proud.  Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

More Interesting facts about the Tomb of the Unknowns itself:

The marble for the Tomb of the Unknowns was furnished by the Vermont Marble Company of Danby, Vt.  The marble is the finest and whitest of American marble, quarried from the Yule Marble Quarry located near Marble, Colorado and is called Yule Marble.   The Marble for the Lincoln memorial and other famous buildings was also quarried there.

The Tomb consists of seven pieces of rectangular marble:
Four pieces in sub base; weight B- 15 tons;
One piece in base or plinth; weight B- 16 tons;
One piece in die; weight B- 36 tons;
One piece in cap; weight B- 12 tons;
Carved on the East side (the front of the Tomb, which faces Washington, D.C.) is a composite of three figures, commemorative of the spirit of the Allies of World War I.
In the center of the panel stands Victory (female).
On the right side, a male figure symbolizes Valor.
On the left side stands Peace, with her palm branch to reward the devotion and sacrifice that went with courage to make the cause of righteousness triumphant.
The north and south sides are divided into three panels by Doric pilasters.   In each panel is an inverted wreath.
On the west, or rear, panel (facing the Amphitheater) is inscribed:
HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD
The first Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a sub base and a base or plinth.  It was slightly smaller than the present base.  This was torn away when the present Tomb was started Aug. 27, 1931.  The Tomb was completed and the area opened to the public 9:15 a.m. April 9, 1932, without any ceremony.
Cost of the Tomb:  $48,000
Sculptor:  Thomas Hudson Jones
Architect:  Lorimer Rich
Contractors:  Hagerman & Harris, New York City
Inscription:  Author Unknown

Interesting Commentary
The Third Infantry Regiment at Fort Myer has the responsibility for providing ceremonial units and honor guards for state occasions, White House social functions, public celebrations and interments at Arlington National Cemetery and standing a very formal sentry watch at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
The public is familiar with the precision of what is called "walking post" at the Tomb.   There are roped off galleries where visitors can form to observe the troopers and their measured step and almost mechanically, silent rifle shoulder changes.  They are relieved every hour in a very formal drill that has to be seen to be believed.
Some people think that when the Cemetery is closed to the public in the evening that this show stops.  First, to the men who are dedicated to this work, it is no show.   It is a "charge of honor." The formality and precision continues uninterrupted all night.   During the nighttime, the drill of relief and the measured step of the on-duty sentry remain unchanged from the daylight hours.  To these men, these special men, the continuity of this post is the key to the honor and respect shown to these honored dead, symbolic of all unaccounted for American combat dead.  The steady rhythmic step in rain, sleet, snow, hail, heat and cold must be uninterrupted.  Uninterrupted is the important part of the honor shown.



Hugs from....Laura:-)

Hey, Kelly & Kassie here.   We got home safe & sound, just decompressing a bit.  Anyway, we got the photos unloaded from the Digital, and put them up.  Now, they're pretty hi-resolution (2.1 megapixels, or 1600x1200, for the most part), but some of them are shorter becase we had to crop them a bit to fix the image, or remove the occasional purple-ribbon person who got by us, etc :).  Anyway, I've got them up on my webspace.  We'll have the 35mm shots up as soon as I get 'em developed, but meantime we hope you enjoy these:

http://kelly.twu.net/pix/TAVA2004/Digital/

Kelly & Kassie

I am sitting here with Monica beside me after returning from DC to my home in Raleigh, where I will be taking Monica later tonight to catch her flight from RDU to Atlanta.

It is hard to express the way we feel right now about the March to the Wall.   We all were thinking of you when the Sargent of the Guard announced in front of a large contingent of TAVA (50), PFLAG, AVER, NTAC, SLDN and various other GLBT Veterans groups in DC who gathered at the Tomb of the Unkown, that "This wreath is being presented by the Transgender American Veterans Association".  You can believe me when I say that there was not a dry eye in the house.  The four members of TAVA who advanced the wreath to the Tomb and all present could not hold back the tears of pride as they heard the word "Transgender" for the first time, on this most hallowed ground.

There will be many more reports about this weekend in the near future.  I am sure that the vast majority of them will be overwhelming in their praise of this weekend and the events that occurred.

Both Monica and I want all of you to know that our thoughts throughout the day, were remembering all of you and how much we hoped that you could be with us.

From the police escort for the bus at the hotel by the DC police with sirens and lights on, all the way to the wall, and then from there to the Iwo Jima Memorial and on to the Wreath laying in Arlington, we were exactly on time, well coordinated, without mishap or aggravation to anyone and from many, surprise that we were there and thanks for our service and a big welcome home.  It was truly an incredible two days of intense emotion, pride and a constant rollercoaster of joy, love and unity among all of us veterans present and those who saw us.

This March established TAVA in the eyes of the rest of the GLBT community in general and the Transgender Community specifically as an official and unified group that will be asked to many tables to discuss veterans issues in the future.  We have truly become a "Force to be reckoned with and respected".

As noted, many will write about the last two days and what happened, but only the most eloquent among those who attended well be able to convey the true feelings that occurred and what it has meant to all of us.  It is well beyond my capability.

The first battle has been won.  Now onward, to win the war for our rights with far greater certainty than ever before.

Watch for the pictures and press releases that will be following on the TAVA site and thank all of you for your support and encouragement in making this a reality.   We have made some history for our community, now lets make that work for us in the tomorrows that come.


Angela Brightfeather
&
Monica Helms

Seldom have my emotions traveled from one extreme to the other in a matter of moments, but it happened this past weekend in Washington, DC.  From the joy of meeting long-time sisters and brothers to the gut wrenching pains of memories formed what seems like an eternity ago on the battlefields of a distant shore; this was my experience this past weekend.   Sisters and brothers whom I had met many years ago via the magic of computer bulletin boards and the internet but due to physical distances had not until now been able to greet with a hug and a kiss was absolutely overwhelming.  Alex and Jamison, Phyllis, Jessica and so many of the rest of you who until now had been just a mass of words on a crt or a picture taken years ago when we all looked so much younger and better, to finally meet all of you and hug each of you just further confirmed in my mind that there is indeed a higher power that does love and care for us all.  I still do not have the words to thank each and every one of you who over the last 20 or so years have provided me with a source of not only information but also inspiration to keep going when there seemed to be no hope or light at the end of that very dark, very long tunnel that each of us have traveled to get to where we are today.  Please accept a very humble and inadequate 'Thank You' from the very depths of my being.

The events that transpired the past couple of days would never have happened five or ten years ago.  Never have I seen such a large group of the Gender community gather in one place with such a total commitment to the group effort.  To be a part of history, and never for one second doubt that it was not an historical moment, was an honor and a privilege.  A special thank you must be given to all those dedicated individuals who participated in the planning and execution of this weekend and another thnk must go to everyone who showed up and who shared their stories.   Each and everyone of you will certainly inherit a crown of finest gold in your next life.

Again thank you from the depths of my soul for all the love, comfort and inspiration that each of you shared with me on this very special first weekend of May 2004.

Connie Anne Spry
Sergeant  USMC(Retired)

For those of you who were unable to make it to DC, I want to share what my 'daughter' Abby wrote of her experience:

My trip to the Vietnam Memorial was indeed a life-altering experience.  With all that is happening in the world today, seeing those names etched into stone made it all the more tangible.  I can only imagine the plethora of emotions each of those soldiers felt; and the pain their families have had to endure over the years, is the same pain that families are experiencing now as the war rages in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It saddens my heart, but lifts my soul all at once to think of the pain as well as the sacrifice...the willingness these soldiers have, and have had in the past, to lay down their lives for the good of their country is a gift that should never be forgotten.  This poem is the result of my thoughts as I stood before the wall and felt the sheer magnitude of the results of war and conflict.....

Price of a Tear

Price of a tear,
value of life,
war torn countries
riddled with strife.

Brother, neighbor,
enemy, friend
each name represents
pain without end.

Thoughts, impressions,
memories untold,
unseen fears, the call to be bold.

Onward, upward
a soldiers cry,
Pleas for mercy,
no wish to die.

Prayers for safety,
prayers for relief,
bittersweet moments,
long lasting grief.

Price of a tear,
debt paid in full,
each life given freely
courageous young souls.

Price of a tear.

By Abigail Eileen Forester
May 1, 2004

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines an epiphany as (1) the sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) an illuminating discovery.

On May 1, 2004, while visiting the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall, I had an EPIPHANY!

As I walked along the reflective pool, I grew prouder and prouder of what I had done for my country between 1974 and 1986.  About my role in preserving the freedoms we hold so dear.  Until that day, I never really gave it much thought.   My memories of my military service are twinged with the bitterness of guilt and shame, marital strife, loneliness and fear.  The fear that my terrible secret would be found out.  I was a good airman, a team leader and an excellent electronics technician.  But I carried the burden of a damning secret, I was Transgendered.   But the worst part of all was that I blamed myself for being this way.

But on that spring day, something happened.  For the first time in my life, I understood that the suffering I had endured for the last thirty years.  The suffering I have brought into the lives of my loved ones.  The suffering of trying and failing to be a good father and husband.  The alcoholism, the drug abuse, the depression and the traumatic stress.  ALL of this pain and suffering DID NOT HAVE TO HAPPEN!!!!

The sad fact was that a medically recognized treatment to ease my suffering was available, but that treatment had been withheld!  For all these years my own government had seen and known about what troubled me yet I was denied access to relief for my pain.   My own government had been treating me like a Prisoner of War!

But as I gazed at the Wall of faceless names, so many thousands that never returned, so many, many more that survived but still haven't made it all the way back home yet.   So many still waiting to hear the words `Welcome Home'.  As I gazed at the Wall of faceless names, I felt that big, black band-aid across America's Heart bind something inside ME.

Even though I had not served in Viet Nam, I heard those words `Welcome Home' in my soul that day, and I felt truly honored for who I was and what I'd done for my country.

And I wasn't ashamed any more.

Synthea Freeman

Former TSgt, USAF
Ground Radio Communications Technician/Supervisor

Several years ago I visited the Wall but it didn't have the impact that it did on May 1, 2004.  I can't put into words what, how, or why this trip had such a humbling impact on me this time.   Perhaps it was because I was there in my BDU and VVA beret which made me feel that I was more of a part of the Vietnam War than I ever imagined.  That indeed I was there and did lose so many of my brothers and sisters than I had realized.   That this time it finally touched me in a way I never felt before.  The realization that some of those who gave their lives were transgendered but never had a chance to live in their true identity.  I felt very proud to be in their presence while in uniform.  To touch them in a way that cannot be explained but only felt.

These same feelings were still present during the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb Of The Unknown.  I have never felt the amount of pride that I did when the Sergeant of the Guard bellowed out "Present Arms."  I stood at attention and rendered a hand salute until commanded to "Order Arms", all the while trying unsuccessfully to hold back the tears.  Seeing that wreath with the TAVA acronym placed in front of the tomb caused a tidal wave of emotions within me.

I cannot give enough praise to Angela Brightfeather for this event and all the work she did to make it a reality.  Angela dear, Bravo Zulu on a job well done.

I feel so proud to be a member of TAVA and to have been a part of this history making event.

With deepest love,
Darlene Patricia Strauch

 

You had to be there.

You had to see the faces,
clench the hands,
feel the energy flowing out of everyone,
that unbelievable positive push of pure undistilled joy at being at that place in that time,
knowing that you were part of a first,
part of history.
You had to be there.

To walk along the Wall,
black gash in the earth, mass grave,
name follows name in a roll-call of curtailed lives;
hopes, dreams, futures... now nothing but words on a stone.
Touch the name of the one you lost,
and remember.
You had to be there.

To stand at the base of the statue,
hands of bronze clutching the flag,
raising it up, saying "here we are and here we stay"
A silent shout of defiance against all foes, forever.
You had to be there.

To walk among the graves,
row on row, always at attention,
soldiers to the last.
How many brothers? How many sisters?
How many that never knew the simple joy of being their own true self?
How many more, when all is said and done?
The silent ranks, always increasing in number wordlessly remonstrate us, never let us forget.
You had to be there.

For the snap of heels and the barked commands, punctuating the reverent silence.
For the four chosen, two by two, one last march, one last mission.
The wreath presented reverently, an offering and a sacrifice.
Peace with the past, old wounds healed.
We were here, yes, and served gladly.
Remember us.
Remember us.

You had to be there.


Kelly

I would like to add my voice to this chorus of praise and highlight an essential element in the success of this historic event.

IMHO, An important part of our transgendered experience (M-t-F) is the feminine nature of our thoughts and actions.  The whole concept and approach to advancing our agenda at this March was done without using `MBT' (Management by Testosterone ?:-}.  Angela, I think you've been guilty of `thinking like a GIRL'!

I have never been involved with a group of Women who displayed a more genuine concern for group nurturance, empathy for others, relationship-building, cooperation and non-confrontation.  The idea of `Laying a Wreath' to dramatize our legitimacy was an emotionally charged stroke of genius!

I just hope this continues to be a signature element of any future TAVA mobilizations.

[JFTR (just for the record) I am in no way detracting from the contributions, support and legitimacy of our TRANSMEN.  So please `Don't Go There'.]


Synthea
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