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
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 discharge.
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
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
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 war.
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 House.
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.
2007 Gay Military Signal