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June 29, 2007

Devotion

They also serve, who only stand and wait.

Those words have been spoken of military wives for generations. They have a fine sound: redolent of quiet sacrifice, of dreams deferred and fragile shoulders braced to bear a doubled load, of midnight tears shed in a too silent bedroom so that, come morning, the world can be faced with a cheerful smile.

We do not care, however, for too much nobility or sacrifice from those who stand and wait. It makes us distinctly uncomfortable:

Melissa Garvin begged her husband, Eddie, not to go to Iraq. The 19-year-old Marine lance corporal had no choice. He went in September, only to return in a casket a month later, and Garvin, like so many war widows, spiraled into despair.

But their story does not end there. Two months after laying Eddie to rest, Garvin joined the Army, a twist that has dumbfounded her family, raised questions about military recruiting, and underscored the Iraq war's brutal emotional toll on American families.

The Garvins had planned a lavish celebration of their marriage for this weekend on Revere Beach. Instead, the petite, soft-spoken 20-year-old is preparing for war.

She has heard the questions about her sanity and stability. But Garvin says simply that her choice is, in the end, about love.

"It's something I really can't explain," said the soon-to-be com bat medic. "It's just something I want to do. Have to do."

Garvin ships out to boot camp next month, and could be in Iraq by January. It is her fairy tale interrupted.

The young war widow had to overcome opposition from a family determined to prevent her from enlisting:

Her family has confronted Army recruiters to demand they reject her, arguing she was too emotionally distraught to make a clearheaded decision.

"The Army said they can't not take her. She's an adult," said her sister, Nicole Rabideau , 27, of Tewksbury. "They have numbers they have to meet and they don't care who they take, as long as they make the quota."

Indeed, the Army has had recruitment problems. It announced this week that it had missed a May national recruiting goal by 400 soldiers, the first time in nearly two years the service has fallen short of a monthly target.

But a look at this month's recruiting figures reveals that though the Army fell short during the month of May, they are still ahead of target for their annual goal:

Active duty recruiting. Three of the four services met or exceeded recruiting goals for May. Although the Army missed May’s recruiting goal it remains above the year-to-date mission by approximately 2,000 accessions ahead of their active-duty year-to-date goal.
The Army would not comment on Garvin's case. But Army spokesman Douglas Smith said that adults determined by military screeners to be mentally competent can enlist for whatever reason they want.

"If she's 18 or older, she gets to make her own decisions in life," Smith said.

Melissa's choice is not without precedent in American history. She joins a long line of American women - many of them war widows - who chose to serve their country by tending the fallen in battle. There was a time when this nation honored the devotion of these American heroes. Now we question their sanity:

Lorinda Anna Blair married James Etheridge in 1860 and followed him when he joined the 2nd Michigan Infantry Regiment. Although James quickly deserted the army, his young wife Annie Etheridge transferred to the the 3rd Michigan and later to the 5th Michigan where she remained for the duration of the war. She was on the battlefield nursing her wounded comrades at some of the bloodiest battles of the war including both engagements at Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania. Surviving letters from two different soldiers wrote of Annie "binding the wounds of a man when a shell exploded nearby, tearing him terribly and removing a large portion of the skirt of her dress" and "in the very frontof the battle dressing wounds and aiding the suffering where few surgeons dared show themselves". In September 1864 when General Grant ordered the removal of all women from Union army camps in Virginia a large number of officers including the corps commander signed a petition asking Grant to allow Annie to stay with her regiment. Grant refused and Annie spent a few months nursing in a Union army hospital and on board a hospital transport ship but was back with the 5th Michigan when the unit mustered out on July 17, 1865. After the war she worked as a clerk in the U.S. Pension Office. In 1886 the U.S. Senate granted her a pension of $25 per month for her wartime service. She died in 1913 and received a veteran's burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was appointed a contract surgeon to the Union army in 1863. She was captured and held as a prisoner of war. Because of her heroism on the battlefield and her work in caring for other prisoners she was the only woman ever awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Her medal was revoked in 1917 when a commission decided that the Medal of Honor could only be awarded for combat. The medal was restored to her posthumously in 1976. Dr. Walker was one of three women surgeons known to have been appointed to the Union Army.

Fredericksburg, Virginia erected a monument to Lucy Ann Cox who followed her husband into the 13th Virginia's Company A and remained in the field with the regiment until the surrender at Appomattox ... Rose Quinn Rooney served with the 15th Louisiana's Company K from June 1861 until the end of the war. There are reports of her on the field under fire at First Bull Run and Gettysburg. When some of the men in her regiment were briefly imprisoned after Appomattox she insisted on joining them. After the war she became the matron of a soldier's home in New Orleans ... Loretta Velasquez disguised herself as Lt. Harry Buford and fought at First Bull Run. According to her postwar memoir The Woman in Battle she also served as a Confederate spy and smuggler ... Mary Henry and Mary Wright were among several Confederate soldiers captured in the act of destroying bridges around Nashville ... Cousins Mary (Tom Parker) and Molly (Bob Martin) Bell served for more than two years under the command of General Jubal Early and were both promoted. When their gender was discovered they were briefly imprisoned at Castle Thunder in Richmond before being sent home to their family.

Amy (some sources call her Anna) Clark enlisted in her husband Walter’s Louisiana cavalry troop disguised as Richard Anderson. They fought together at Shiloh and when he was killed she left the cavalry and enlisted in an infantry unit, the 11th Tennessee. She was wounded and taken prisoner in a battle near Richmond Virginia and sent home when her captors discovered she was a woman.

Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty speaks eloquently in her defense:

Raja Mishra seems to agree that it is amazing that Melissa Garvin is joining the Army after her husband was killed in Iraq. Is her decision surprising and objectionable because she is female? Or because grief and loss supposedly overwhelm us? Or because some can't fathom why anyone would answer the call to duty during wartime?

Ms. Garvin gets it: "When people are dying, nobody wins." There are people dying in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and I have served in both countries -- but the organization giving its all to provide security, to stop the murder and destruction, is the US Army.

And far from raising "questions about military recruiting," Ms. Garvin's decision answers questions about who joins the Army: people who share values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and courage.

I am saddened by the loss of Lance Corporal Eddie Garvin, but I am comforted by the resolve of combat medic Melissa Garvin.

I, too, am comforted that a new generation of Americans understands that it is not life itself that is important, but what we do with our lives. I am comforted that a new generation of Americans understands that there are higher values than self preservation, that sometimes we find meaning by being of service to others. Perhaps Melissa Garvin will find healing by healing others on the battlefield that took her husband's life. And perhaps someday, another young woman's fairy tale will come true; her long awaited welcome home will finally arrive and a weary, wounded, but very happy soldier will rush into her arms.

All because Melissa Garvin made a crazy decision to do something meaningful with her grief. What on earth can she be thinking?


Entreat me not to leave thee,
or to return from following after thee:
for whither thou goest, I will go;
and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:
thy people shall be my people,
and thy God my God:

Where you die, I will die,
and there I will be buried.
Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse,
if anything but death parts you and me

- Book of Ruth

Posted by Cassandra at June 29, 2007 07:30 AM

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Comments

Lessee, she didn't camp outside the Odious Shrub's Texas White House for five months; she
hasn't mugged with Yugo Chavez or Amahdinejad.
Clearly, she is deranged.

I wish her well and Godspeed. I pray her hands and heart will heal. Above all, may gaurdian angels go before her, to bear her up and give her strength for the task at hand.

Thank you, Melissa. We love you.

Posted by: Cricket at June 29, 2007 09:27 AM

I would expect nothing more (or less) from the Boston Globe. Sad, to me, that one of the regions that was so instrumental in the birthing of this country has strayed so far from those roots.

Posted by: daveg at June 29, 2007 10:03 AM

What a fine young lady.

Posted by: Grim at June 29, 2007 10:41 AM

Marine wife :)

Posted by: Cassandra at June 29, 2007 10:46 AM

"People search their whole entire lifetime to find their true love, and some people never find it," she said. "At least I did. I had it the whole entire time that he was on this earth."

Thanks Melissa. You've given me the will to get through one more day. I hope you find what you seek. Most of us wander through life wondering just what it is we are supposed to be doing, or whether it makes any difference at all.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at June 29, 2007 11:10 AM

The people who question her decision probably find the loving the same man since childhood or remaining faithful to one person incredibly quaint too. It is nice to know the world hasn't changed so much as I sometimes fear it has.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 29, 2007 11:19 AM

Sounds to me that there is a severe lack of respect for her person by her family. And that there is sad.

Posted by: Kevin L at June 29, 2007 01:51 PM

"Marine wife"

That's what I was thinking.

Posted by: Sly2017 at June 29, 2007 06:04 PM

Thanks for sharing, Cassandra. I just wonder if she'd like to get some mail when she's deployed. Something tells me she might not be getting too much from "loved ones"...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at June 29, 2007 11:58 PM

If she wasn't going as a medic I would think she was going for "payback" ... which would have been my reasoning.

Good for her, though, whatever her reasoning.

Posted by: yak at June 30, 2007 12:06 AM

You've got to be kidding me. To make a decision like that so soon after you've lost someone.....I hate to say this to an entire group of people but wake the F____ up. Stop listening Dan Fogelberg lovesongs and use your head. Horrable things happen to people and they make decisions that only make things worse. This person needs support not encouragement to screw her life up.

Posted by: Roland at July 8, 2007 10:00 AM

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