RUMFORD — Thirty-six female veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps were honored Saturday at the second annual Female Veterans Day Luncheon at American Legion Post 24 in Rumford.

They were recognized for their service and pampered on a first-come, first-served basis by River Valley professionals who donated manicures, hair styling and Reiki massage.

“This is very nice,” Army veteran Bettyann Sheats of Auburn said.

Sheats served from 1984 to 1991, flying Black Hawk and Huey helicopters while working as a maintenance test pilot in Stuttgart, Germany. She also served at Fort Drum, N.Y.

Seventeen-year-old vocalist Melanie Jordan of Canton performed a rousing rendition of the national anthem and many veterans joined her.

Following a luncheon of salad and lasagna, several speakers touted Maine and New England’s female veterans and their sacrifices.

Guest speaker Ruth Moore of Milbridge, a Navy veteran, drew two standing ovations: the first when she was introduced by Post 24 Commander Tricia Thurston, and when Moore finished her speech about the lack of respect nationwide for female veterans.

After joining the Navy at the age of 18, Moore was raped twice by her immediate supervisor while stationed at a base on the Azores. Then, after being incorrectly diagnosed with a mental health disorder and discharged from the Navy, Moore fought for 23 years to receive veterans benefits.

In June 2013, the U.S. House passed the Ruth Moore Act, a bill named for her that makes it easier for veterans who survive military sexual assault to get benefits.

“Some of you might recognize me as one of the veterans who stood up and fought a broken system to help our brothers and sisters who endured rape while serving on active duty,” Moore said. “I’m proud to be here with you today to celebrate who we are.”

“Each of us took the sacred oath and wore the uniform,” she said. “We are united in an eternal sisterhood as veterans of the United States Armed Forces and we have a special bond that less than one half percent of the nation shares.

“This bond is our willingness to stand up and defend our country against all enemies — foreign and domestic,” she said.

Speaking to that bond, Moore proceeded to share how female veterans are perceived across the nation. Watching with the veterans and Legion officials were Moore’s husband, Butch, and their 12-year-old daughter Samantha, who filmed her mom with her phone.

“Veterans Day is one of the hardest holidays for women veterans,” Ruth Moore said. “It seems that patriotism is alive and well in this country until we look a little deeper into what it means to be a female veteran.”

In the past three years, Moore said, she’s heard from more than 168,000 veterans nationwide. Many women, she said, weren’t aware of the opportunities and services available to them. She attributed that to the past 30 to 50 years that women in the military weren’t given equal billets and were treated as nothing more than support personnel.

“Because women were a minority, they fell under the long-held, general perception that unless they served in combat, they were not real veterans,” Moore said. “This sadly is perpetrated even now by parts of our society.”

She spoke to the need to educate the world that female veterans are just as valuable as male veterans.

Moore read several excerpts sent to her from female veterans about the public on seeing their veteran-designated license plates, telling them to thank their husbands for their service, even if they’re single. Those elicited groans and laughter from the crowd.

Female veterans don’t get any respect at Veterans Administration medical clinics either, she said. Officials often treat them as the spouses of male veterans, Moore said.

“That’s why in whatever circumstance, that we each speak up and let others know that we are women veterans who are proud of the fact that we served our country,” one veteran wrote to Moore.

She said she received 280 such letters from outside Maine. “And that’s only the tip of the iceberg,” Moore said before rattling off similar experiences she’s had in Maine.

“Being a female veteran is an honor for us, but it is hard to garner respect for many of us when sometimes we don’t even believe we deserve it ourselves,” she said.

To loud applause, Moore recognized and thanked the older female veterans who served in Vietnam, Korea, Panama and Kuwait. “Thank you for paving the way for us younger veterans and making it easier,” Moore said.

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