Serving in Silence

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9780140231595: Serving in Silence

A nurse with a distinguished military career chronicles her life and discusses her decision to challenge the official position on homosexuality

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About the Author:

"There are times when change can be made only by individuals stepping forth to expose themselves and their vulnerability so that others become aware that there are differences in the world and that these differences are okay. They don't affect our ability to be part of an organization or to make a contribution." - Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, Ret. Born in Oslo, Norway in 1942 during the Nazi occupation, Cammermeyer lived across from Nazi headquarters. Her parents used her in their exploits as they supported the Norwegian underground in resisting the Nazis. At 17, Cammermeyer started college at the University of Maryland. By 1960, she was old enough to become an American citizen, which was a time when she felt that she belonged. In 1961, she heard about the Army Student Nurse Program and joined the military. She went on active duty after graduation in 1963. On a longer tour in Nuremberg, Germany, she met and married a fellow soldier. In 1967, she was sent to the 24th Evacuation Hospital at Long Binh, Vietnam for 14 months as head nurse of a medical unit and then eight months as head nurse of the neurosurgical intensive care unit. After Vietnam, she and her husband settled in Seattle, Washington. She was forced to leave the military when she became pregnant in 1968 because women were not permitted to have dependents. By 1972 that regulation was changed and she returned to the military in the Army Reserves, ultimately achieving the rank of Colonel in 1987. During her military career, she continued to challenge policies that discriminated against married women and married women who became pregnant. She and her husband divorced after 15 years and having four wonderful sons. There were problems that she didn't understand at the time but that turned out to be her own identity crisis as she came to understand that she was a lesbian. In 1989, as Chief Nurse of the Washington State National Guard, she told the military, "I am a lesbian" during a top-security clearance interview. Consequently, she was separated from the military 11 June 1992, despite an exemplary military and civilian professional record. Her attorneys filed suit in Federal District Court in Seattle challenging the existing ban on homosexuals in the military. Eventually, the policy was judged unconstitutional and based on prejudice. She was reinstated in the National Guard in June of 1994, resuming her previous position as Chief Nurse. In March 1997, after 31 years of dedicated service to America, she retired with full military privileges. In 1994, she published her book, Serving in Silence, named by the National Education Association as the "Outstanding Book on the subject of Human Rights in North America." In 1995, with Barbra Streisand as executive producer, her book was an NBC made-for-television movie "Serving in Silence"; Glenn Close portrayed Colonel Cammermeyer. The movie received three Emmy Awards and the prestigious Peabody Award. Using the book and the movie as a platform on which to continue speaking out, Col. Cammermeyer lobbied against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for the next 17 years until its repeal on December 22, 2010. Cammermeyer's many awards and honors include the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service (Vietnam), Nurse of the Year by the Department of Veterans Affairs (1985), Woman of Power by the National Organization of Women, the Honorary Human Rights Award by the American Nurses Association, the Hannah Solomon Award by the Jewish Women's League, and the 1995 Distinguished Alumna from the University of Washington School of Nursing. Dr. Cammnermeyer and Diane Divelbess, her partner since 1988, were married on the first day that same sex marriage was legal in Washington State. "Finally we are a legal family...We were the first in line in Island County to receive the license and then married in a wonderful setting at our home."

From Kirkus Reviews:

Jacob Marley's injunction that we all bear the chains we forge in life could be the lesson of Cammermeyer's life story. But like Scrooge, she shows that we all have the power to break those chains and find happiness. Cammermeyer, the Army reservist who challenged the military policy on homosexuality, was born in 1942 in Norway and spent her early childhood under the Nazi occupation while her parents participated in the Resistance. The daughter of a stern, undemonstrative father and a subservient mother, she spent her youth in a household where only the male children ``counted.'' After the family moved to America in the early 1950s, she decided to go to medical school, following in the footsteps of her father, a prominent neurological research scientist. When poor grades in college put an end to that dream, Cammermeyer, by then a naturalized citizen, enlisted in the Army, and became a nurse. During a tour of duty in Germany, she met and married her husband, another officer. Though their marriage was plagued from the beginning, she was determined to be a good wife. When her husband was sent to Vietnam, she volunteered as well. Upon returning, both of them, who believed in the US mission in Southeast Asia, were shocked by the na‹vet‚ of the American public. Though they raised a family and lived in a dream house, the couple finally divorced when she was 38. A few years later, Cammermeyer finally found fulfillment in a relationship with a woman. She also pursued her military career. During a routine interview for a higher security clearance, she admitted that she was a lesbian and was discharged. She set out to challenge the action in court and was eventually vindicated and ordered reinstated. Appeals continue, however, and she remains out of uniform. Her story is scheduled to appear as an NBC TV movie in February 1995. Cammermeyer tells her story with clarity and sincerity. Despite coauthor Fisher's somewhat repetitive style, the book has a power that brings readers along on this courageous soldier's journey. (16 pages of b&w photos) (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Margarethe Cammermeyer, Chris Fisher
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