I don’t know what it is about the Fourth of July! My heart can sometimes even skip a beat when I begin to anticipate all the fun, excitement and togetherness this special holiday brings. As a young girl growing up in a tiny suburb of Philadelphia, I experienced this summertime celebration with gusto. One might wonder how much fun a little black girl, living in the projects, being raised by a single mom with five daughters could possibly have. Put it this way—we were poor (socio-economically under-privileged) yes; but my mom always managed to purchase a brand new outfit for my four sisters and me. She would press and curl our hair with a hot comb and curlers so we not only felt good but looked good too.
Later on that day, my cousins, aunts, uncles, grand parents, siblings, and mom would gather on my aunt’s huge lawn (it was gigantic to me at that early age) and we would celebrate with food, fun, and family. We had lots of love, laughter, and liveliness. What stands out the most now is the togetherness we all shared that still serves as a happy memory for a lifetime.
What do those “togetherness” and warm, cozy sensations have to do with being a Veteran, a spouse/family member of a Veteran, a Veteran employee, or perhaps some combination thereof? To me and many others, serving in the military, past or present, means never actually having to be alone, especially not on the Fourth.
I am proud to have had a 23-year military career (okay, you can add four for Junior Air Force ROTC during high school and three for Army ROTC at the then all-male Valley Forge Military Academy and College)—so I’ve had quite a bit of togetherness of which I can speak. When I was in Army Basic Training in 1982 at Fort Jackson, SC, as a private first class; completing Army Advanced Individual Training at Fort Benjamin Harris, Ind., as a corporal; Airborne School at Fort Bragg, NC, Military Police Officer Basic Course at Fort McClellan, Ala., serving as an MP platoon leader in Augsburg Germany , or as a brigade adjutant at Fort Dix, NJ, or as an Army nurse at Ramstein Army Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, and the list goes on. Never once had I ever not felt a sense of togetherness on this great day in our nation’s history.
As my life is coming full circle at almost half a century (next year, God willing, I will celebrate my 50th birthday), I still cherish all my pre-Veteran comradeships, partnerships, sense of belonging, and togetherness which was exchanged throughout those amazing years with the most incredible cadets, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and especially those who provide all the love, support, encouragement, motivation, and inspiration to ensure that we were mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually fit to successfully accomplish even the most challenging mission set before us.
There is no better feeling than knowing that someone’s got your back regardless of the situation or circumstances. Sometimes, being able to treasure those memories of togetherness can be as powerful as having new experiences, which is what we endeavor to do following the time we serve our country. When I started receiving care at Department of Veterans Affairs, attending groups, receiving individual therapy, making new acquaintances, getting to know the providers as well as the support personnel, and the wonderful individuals working in the canteens, it was the beginning of a new togetherness chapter in my life. What a powerful adventure it has become.
I would love to be able to share a part of my life, heart and soul as we journey side by side changing hope into reality, traveling on our new found path of togetherness! Grab your crutches, canes, wheel chairs, prosthetics, braces, guide dogs, service animals, therapy companions, and any other assistive devices you may need. Remember to also bring along your tool bag that will be loaded with newly learned coping skills, motivational methods, relaxation techniques, survival and suicide prevention information and help lines.
If you have not been provided this bag full of tools, not to worry. VA has a brand new changing-hope-into-reality tool bag just for your specific needs, situations, and seasons of life. Please don’t wait. Definitely don’t hesitate. Surely, not to worry because it will never be too late! Happy Fourth of July and may it be filled with love, laughter, and much togetherness.
Shanda Taylor-Boyd is affiliated with the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing and the National Association for Black Veterans, Inc. She volunteers with VA, Youth for Christ/USA, the March of Dimes Foundation, the Disabled American Veterans, and The Red Hat Society, Inc. She is a strong advocate for women who have undergone domestic violence or sexual trauma.