It seems hard to believe that so much could happen to two women.
But an honest examination of intertwined lives, much spent in the military, proves uplifting in Lita & Jean: Memoirs of Two Generations of Military Women.
As part of KCLS’ Meet the Author series and the month of November’s salute to Veterans, the dynamic mother-daughter duo will speak at an online event Saturday November 12.
In Lita & Jean, both Lita McNamara Tomas and her daughter Jean Marie McNamara describe how they came to choose military careers, overcoming childhood obstacles long before they passed grueling basic training. Their battles are on the home front, not foreign soil. They experience abuse and discrimination; medical, economic and other hardships, and even natural disasters.
Yet both believe in helping others, holding to high standards of behavior and responding to life’s challenges and tragedies with perseverance. There were many times when they were down, but they kept working toward personal and professional goals, “finding a path through” to rise in military rank.
In 1977, it was early days for women in the military. Lita enlisted with the U.S. Army as a single mom of two girls, Jean Marie being the oldest. Scientifically inclined, Lita excelled as a mechanic, which she initially resisted but ultimately found rewarding. A highlight was a construction project on the Greek island of Crete, but that was hardly the norm. She pursued other opportunities, including joining the U.S. Air Force, the Illinois Army National Guard, and becoming a Major.
Jean Marie wanted to be a medic, and followed in her mother’s footsteps by joining the Army. A woman who “loves to be challenged,” she also worked as a Nuclear, Biological, Chemical and Radiological officer, and as Deputy Director of her local Emergency Services & Disaster Agency. A severe injury while training not only ended her military career (she retired as a First Lieutenant) but led to unceasing pain and the need to navigate a maze of medical bureaucracy.
Ultimately, their memoir is about service, sacrificial love and the unbreakable bond between mother and daughter.
“I think what helped us both was the knowledge that we will always have each other’s back no matter what,” Lita said via email.
She added, “Jean Marie and I both became officers in order to be in positions that could not only lead soldiers, but mentor them as well. We believe in leading through example... This mindset has helped in all aspects of civilian life, too.”
That mindset also led them to co-host Podcast DX, where they connect Veterans and civilians with health information.
Neither woman planned to write a book, but both grew up as avid readers, respecting the power of words.
“There’s a reason everyone says that writing your memoir can be cathartic,” Jean said. “I don’t think (we) were prepared for how painful and exhausting digging up our memories would be."
But, the book and podcasts offer help. As Lita put it, “Many veterans don’t have anyone to turn to...We all need support to get us through the rough patches.”
The author event is one of a number honoring the military service of local Veterans and their families. Veterans Day is November 11, and libraries will be closed in observance of the federal holiday.
Programs include a chance for children to create poppies and special displays and to thank Veterans at the Vashon Library. In partnership with Everyone for Veterans and other local organizations, the Covington Library will host a Veterans Town Hall, featuring open-mic sessions amid an atmosphere of respect and support. KCLS also is offering an online social security class for Veterans and their families.
For more information on KCLS Veterans programs and events, please see kcls.org/veterans/.