BATON ROUGE, La. (WGNO) — Anna Sanders proudly recalls her role as an Air Force medic and hopes that when she dies, someone takes the time to honor that service. Now, as the president of Louisiana Women Veterans, she’s making sure other Louisiana women who served in the military are given a proper goodbye.
“I joined in 1969 out of Honolulu Hawaii,” she says, recalling a military flight where she was the only woman on board, alongside 60 men.
Years later, she’s traveling all over Louisiana to pay tribute to her military sisters when they die.
“When we started this, we were the only women veterans group that honored women at funerals across the nation,” says Sanders, adding that she’s gotten calls from women in other states requesting information on how she started the group.
“We’re all branches of the military, from Air Force, Army, Navy and Coast Guard, Marines. We have a brigadier general, all the way down to private,” says Sanders, who scans obituaries looking for Louisiana women who have served.
“I contact the funeral home, I do not contact the family directly. I ask the funeral directors to ask them.”
This trend-setting organization began in Baton Rouge in 2008. It reorganized in 2015 and has honored hundreds of women veterans at cemeteries across the state.
They pay tribute with music, poetry and military honors.
Member Deborah Valin read a poem, which includes this line, “She is a woman veteran whose service was true. She proudly served the red, white and blue.”
Other members showed WGNO how the casket flag is folded and presented to a family member to hold onto as a keepsake.
Member Joyce Blizzard explains, “Once we’re called to duty, we’re part of that flag.”
“We just want them to know that their family member, no matter what era she served in, she’s recognized for her service, and that she can be honored just like the men are honored at graveside,” says Sanders.
The group also educates the public with presentations at schools and libraries, using mannequins and photo boards.
Theresa Tarver played taps for our camera crew, and Louise “Gidget” McIntyre gave reporter Stephanie Oswald a mini tour of the photo boards, pointing out, “We have some people on here that you might recognize, for example, Margaret Harling was portrayed in the movie, ‘Steel Magnolias.'”
The Louisiana Women Veterans meet once a month. Membership dues pay for everything from traveling expenses to board displays. They ask families for photos of their loved ones to add to the boards, so they can continue to honor them.
Each photo represents a remarkable story of service, stories these women are working hard to preserve for posterity.
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