DOVER — Delaware’s Battlin’ Betties have had to take on several heavyweight challenges since starting their organization almost two years ago — none the least which has been the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, it appears as if the Battlin’ Betties are in a fight for their lives.
Lia Mendoza, the original Battlin’ Bettie of the Delaware platoon, admitted it has been difficult interacting with several older veterans while coronavirus restrictions remain in place at many events.
At the same time, the group is also trying to support one of its own members, a Battlin’ Bettie who is an active Air Force member who is battling breast cancer.
Mrs. Mendoza formed the group in February 2020 and she and the 12 other “Betties” – most of whom are military spouses, active duty or a combination of both – have attended several events to support veterans and honor them for their service.
They entertain crowds and veterans alike with their 1940s and ’50s-era attire, bright red lipstick and throwback hairstyles, looking as if they just popped off a sticker on a World War II airplane.
When they visit veterans and first responders or appear at community events, they like to take the people back to a different time, one when many of the veterans were still young, just starting their military careers or heading off to war. The accompanying swing-style music that plays when they are around just adds to the ambiance for the pinup girl throwback encounters.
“Our group came to a consensus to take a break for the upcoming holiday season and will look into possibly restarting our community service efforts in 2022,” Mrs. Mendoza said. “As of right now, we have three more events for the year. We have the Breast Cancer Walk (today at Bellevue State Park in Wilmington) that we are participating in, in honor of our friend/Bettie/active Air Force member’s name.
“She is currently fighting the fight. We are working with Operation Gratitude on getting care packages to veterans for Veterans Day and are still in the process of working on our Military Giving Tuesday event on November 30. We remain enthusiastic for the remainder of our events.”
As for today’s Breast Cancer Walk, the Betties have already raised $260 for one of their own members. Their goal is $500. Anyone interested in donating can go to Facebook.com/donate/996616191159315/ — the link for donations.
“We haven’t been able to attend as many events as we would like but have enjoyed what we have been able to go to and the people we have been able to talk with,” Mrs. Mendoza said. “We have continued to make ourselves available if someone wants to reach out to us via Facebook and email email@example.com.
“We don’t know what 2022 will hold, but the Betties remain hopeful.”
Brittany Metcalfe, one of the Betties, said meeting veterans and spending just a little bit of time with them has a lasting effect.
“While I can’t officially speak for all Betties, I think it is safe to say that it is a more personal feeling when it comes to meeting veterans face to face,” said Ms. Metcalfe. “A lot of Betties are spouses, active-duty military, veteran or are family members of a veteran. There are plenty of members though who are patriots and enjoy showing their support.
“As an active-duty Air Force member with family who served in World War II and Korea, I feel we owe those who served before us to take care of them and show our support. Seeing pictures and writing ‘Thank You’ online does not equivocate to looking someone in the eye, showing your genuine appreciation, and even giving a hug.”
Six members of the Battlin’ Betties group worked a booth at Vet Fest on Sept. 25 in Middletown. Vet Fest is a way for the military and civilian community to come together and raise money to combat the epidemic of veteran suicide.
“The most memorable thing I experienced was seeing just how many veterans showed,” Ms. Metcalfe said. “It seems a lot of older veterans tend to close off because of the stigma associated with mental health. I’m grateful for the societal shift regarding how mental health is viewed, but it is still an ongoing issue for today’s veterans regardless of status.
“It always breaks my heart when I read or hear about how terribly Vietnam veterans were treated, so to see and be able to thank that many in person was emotional, but also encouraging because of their presence. Many Desert Storm/Iraq/Afghanistan veterans probably experienced many of the same traumas Vietnam veterans did and I think these two generations can lean on one another.”
Mrs. Mendoza said it was the Battlin’ Betties’ second appearance at Vet Fest.
“We met a lot of amazing people there,” she said. “We met Bob, a charming and funny WWII veteran. We also met an amazing young man named Michael Ferrara, who has an amazing heart. He runs marathons for amazing causes and recently raised $12,000 towards group homes for homeless veterans.
“Vet Fest brings so many people together. We made 300 yellow ribbons for runners to wear. (Vet Fest co-founder) Brian DiSabatino and his team asked us to hand out beaded key chains to the Vietnam veterans along with some stars that were cut from retired U.S. flags to veterans.”
At the Battlin’ Betties booth, the group did what it called “Battle of the Branches.”
“We had canisters with the branches’ logos on them that people could place a donation in,” said Mrs. Mendoza. “Army won with $68 and Air Force came in second with $37. We were able to raise $145 and donated it to stop soldier suicide.
“I was personally lucky to have my children come out and show support. They got to go to the Wreaths Across America education trailer and other cool educational booths. They got to see lots of people come together for an amazing cause and learn more about veteran suicide.”
It remains unclear if the Military Giving Tuesday event on Nov. 30 will be the last one for Delaware’s Battlin’ Betties, among 25 Betties’ platoons across the United States.
Mrs. Mendoza said it will be a shame if Delaware’s Battlin’ Betties are forced to disband.
“I feel like we get more confident the more events that we do,” she said. “We are passionate about what we are doing and what we stand for, so that makes it easy as well.
“People always seem very receptive to us and what we are doing, which is validation that we are making a difference, even if it is just to put a smile on someone’s face.”
Ms. Metcalfe said she has enjoyed her time with the Battlin’ Betties because it gives her and the other members a unique opportunity to give back to the community.
“I enjoy being a part of the group because it’s another way to volunteer outside of Dover Air Force Base,” said Ms. Metcalfe. “The opportunities afforded to me on base to help the community are wonderful, but sometimes I want to be associated with being ‘Brittany’ and not ‘Master Sgt. Metcalfe’ when helping.
“Now, that’s not to say that my active-duty service doesn’t help open a conversation with a veteran, because it does, and I can find myself very quickly joking with someone about whatever stories we may have, regardless of age.
“It’s a unique bond we all share across the services. I’m not a trained mental health professional, my degree is far from any type of physical or mental care, but I can be empathetic/sympathetic and listen. But the coolest part? Meeting so many people.”
She hopes to get the chance to meet many more.