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January/February 2019

Bev Stewart

Bev Stewart joined the Army searching for opportunity. “My parents couldn’t afford to send their kids to college,” she said. “The Army offered possibilities for an education that I wouldn’t otherwise have a shot at.”

A Few Good WomenAfter training, she received orders for Vietnam, and was posted to the Central Finance and Accounting Office at Long Binh. “They didn’t know

what to do with me when I first arrived,” Stewart said. Her initial work assignment reflected the prevailing attitudes toward women that were typical of that era: She was relegated to sitting by a door and directing people to where they needed to go in the building.

“I was like a restaurant hostess,” she said. “Smile, greet people, and steer them somewhere. It was ridiculous. I finally complained and told the powers-that-be that I’d been trained to do a job, so let me do it.”

Bev StewartStewart was assigned a desk and allowed to do her job. “But it wasn’t an automatic thing,” she said. “As a woman, I had to raise some hell to get proper treatment.” Stewart ultimately served nearly six years in the Army.

When Stewart attended her first VVA State Council Presidents meeting in November 1993, “I was the only woman at a table of about thirty men. It was both overwhelming and frustrating. The men seemed to be constantly talking in circles. When I finally raised my hand, Leverett Hobbs, the chair at the time, said, ‘The woman wants to speak.’ ”

Stewart remembers her embarrassment, with the implication that whatever she offered would not be very valuable. “I said, ‘I don’t know what the hell you guys are talking about.’” Apparently it took a woman to slice through the long-winded reflections of the men and cut to the chase, because, Stewart said, “I think I was their friend for life after that.”

When Stewart’s husband, also a Vietnam War veteran, died of melanoma, she knew she needed a new focus for her life. She joined her VVA chapter and became Montana State Council President in 1996. “I was the only woman to serve as president for many years. More recently there have been two or three other women presidents.”

Stewart acknowledges that the most significant challenge for her in VVA has been acceptance by male veterans. “When I put my name in play for President of the Montana State Council, I had already served as Secretary and Treasurer. I was not unknown to the members, the position was open, and no one else wanted the job.”

And yet many male vets opposed her candidacy, those who still have what Stewart calls “male attitudes.” After she was elected, there were two different boycotts by a chapter at state council meetings “so I wouldn’t have a quorum and couldn’t move any business forward.”

But Stewart calmly persisted with her eyes on the prize: ongoing advocacy for Vietnam veterans across many areas of need.

Stewart has been a guest speaker several times, spreading the word about VVA and its programs. What she particularly enjoys, though, is talking to young people about the Vietnam Era. “My favorite talk was for the FFA high school group at Judith Gap, Montana, a town of about 125 people. They requested that I be the keynote speaker when they brought in the Moving Wall in 1999. I love encouraging young people in activities that build awareness of the history of the Vietnam War.”





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