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2015 dava

Remarks of a Hero

On Veteran’s Day, the UW community honored the men and women throughout our region for their dedication and service in our U.S. Armed Forces at a ceremony at the Medal of Honor memorial on the Seattle campus. The ceremony included recognition of the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Veteran Award, Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, M.A. ’76, Ph.D. ’91, U.S. Army (retired). These are the remarks made by  Col. Cammermeyer at the ceremony.

Honorable hosts and guests, it is humbling to be a part of the commemoration of Veterans Day here at the University of Washington and be the recipient of the 2015 Distinguished Alumni Veteran Award.

My fellow service members, I salute you and thank you for your service. 

You are, and will be serving in a different military from those of us who are veterans. Today’s military is built on our experiences and the challenges of the past including changes in the society.

Self-servingly, I would say that the legacy of Vietnam is significant in how service members today are deployed and treated upon return home. We were sent as individual replacements and returned home alone. We were spat upon, called “baby killers,” and our experiences denied.

We have learned that in addition to physical injury, multiple deployments inflict enormous emotional and psychological trauma. By contrast to Vietnam, we are grateful for your service and support you as a hero as you readjust and transition home.

We now have an all-volunteer military.  Reservists and active duty personnel have been deployed together for the past 14 years in this war on terrorism. Today, men and women work side by side in virtually every military occupational specialty. Women’s experience in combat now has standing and is recognized for promotion. And as of last week, women can now apply for ranger training without constraints.  

 Artificial barriers to full service are dissipating one by one.

When I joined the military, only single women could serve.  

Enlisted men would cross the street rather than salute a female officer. 

When I married a fellow officer, we were offered separate bachelor’s quarters but denied married quarters because we were both in the military and neither a dependent.   

And, I was forced to leave the military when I was pregnant with my first son because women could not have dependents under 16. 

Four years later, the policy changed and I returned to the military.

Over time my personal life also changed. 

After 27 years of service and an epiphany, I disclosed to an investigator that I was a lesbian, as I applied for a top secret clearance. I was devastated when I was discharged for my honest statement. I had always believed that the military took care of its own.

I challenged my discharge in federal court. And it was determined that my discharge was unconstitutional, denying me equal protection and due process under the 5th Amendment. 

I was welcomed back to my unit and served for an additional three years.

An aftermath however, was the enactment of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  And for next 17 years I and others told our stories of love of country and service, we lobbied Congress, reached out to change public opinion and challenged the law through the courts. 

Finally in 2010, before the courts could act, Congress repealed and by September, 2011 there was open service.

I would say the military made me a warrior for social justice and allowed me to live my truth.

And so now  I challenge you!

When you experience injustice both in and out of uniform, take the opportunity be willing to take a stand to change the status quo, so there really will be liberty and justice for all.


View images from the Veteran’s Day Ceremony

About the Distinguished Alumni Veteran Award

Established in 2012, the Distinguished Alumni Veteran Award (DAVA) is given to a living University of Washington alumnus veteran who made a positive impact on the local, national or international community, the University of Washington or the veterans’ community. Our previous award recipients distinguished themselves both in community service and in their professional lives.

For more information about DAVA and the previous recipients, visit uwalum.com/dava.

I would say the military made me a warrior for social justice and allowed me to live my truth.
Col. Cammermeyer