WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - When Mary Claire Caine walked outside after finishing her routine grocery trip to Harris Teeter Friday, she couldn't believe what she found plastered to the front window of her car.
As a veteran of the Air Force who served in Kuwait and on the flight line of the F-117 Nighthawk, Caine felt proud to park in the reserved "Veteran Parking" spaces at the grocery store chain when she did her shopping. Her two kids were always excited whenever one of the spots was open, and no one had ever questioned her qualification for it, until now.
Just as she finished unloading the groceries from her cart, she noticed a note taped to the passenger window, written in sharpie.
It read, "Maybe [you] can't read the sign you parked in front of. This space is reserved for those who fought for America....not you. Thanks, Wounded Vet."
Caine's heart sank.
"The first thing I felt was confusion that there was a mistake, and that I had to talk to this person and ask them why they were so quick to assume I wasn't a veteran and that I was taking privileges that didn't belong to me," said Caine about the hurt she felt as she peeled the note off the window, tempted to crumple it up and throw it in the trash.
"For a split second I thought, 'Am I a worthy enough veteran to park in this spot?' And, then I got very angry at myself for even considering that," Caine recalled.
Caine said she waited by her car for a few minutes, hoping the note's author would emerge from the sliding doors of the grocery store to talk to her, but no one came.
Caine speculated that because she was a woman, whose car donned real estate agent information on the back instead of an armed services bumper sticker, the note's author drew a hurtful conclusion about her.
"I think they took one look at me when I got out of my car and saw that I was a woman and assumed I wasn't a veteran and assumed I hadn't served my country," Caine speculated. "They have this image of what today's American veteran is and honestly if you've served in the United States military, you know that veterans come in all shapes and sizes. I question whether the person who left the note was fully aware of that."
Caine knows the likelihood of ever finding out who it was who so quickly judged by appearance is slim to none, but she hopes her experience will teach a lesson to others who may have wondered the same thing about a female veteran or any veteran that didn't fit the stereotypical image they have in their head.
"I want them to know they owe me and every other female service member who's fighting now and who's fought in the past, an apology for jumping to conclusions," Caine said passionately. "It's true what the soldiers missing in action slogan is: 'All gave some and some gave all.' And, I think that's very important that sacrifice is sacrifice and I earned the title as a veteran and I'm proud of that."