In October 2017, there was a grand event at Arlington National Cemetery. Over 1,000 participants, gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
At the dedication in 1997, thousands of women who served or currently serve in the U.S. military, together with their families and supporters, watched as dignitaries spoke to the courage, service, dedication, and commitment of women who previously or currently served, and cut the ribbon to open the only memorial in the entire United States dedicated to honor women who served in the U.S. military.
The roles in which they apply their intellect, skills, passion, and loyalty are constantly evolving for military women so that now almost all positions are open to them. Over 2.3 million women veterans from the Revolutionary War, to WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Shield/ Desert Storm, Global War on Terror, and all times in between, in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard have one thing in common – they all volunteered. The Women’s Memorial is dedicated to honoring and preserving military veteran women’s histories one story at a time.
One of those stories is about Gen. Anna May Hayes, the first woman in the U.S. Armed Forces to be promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
Another story is of Sharon Lane, an Army Nurse, and the only U.S. military woman to die from enemy fire in Vietnam.
Gen. Wilma Vaught, Air Force Reserve, is a retired American military leader. She was the first woman to deploy with an Air Force bomber unit, and the first woman to reach the rank of brigadier general from the comptroller field. Following her service (1957-1985), she was instrumental in creating and promoting the Women’s Memorial and served as its first president/director.
The current President of the Foundation, Ret. Maj. Gen. Dee Ann McWilliams, lost many staff in her department at the Pentagon on 09/11.
Locally, Col. Aggie Lewis, an Army nurse who served in Europe during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam has shared her memories at a 2016 presentation on Pearl Harbor Day.
During a seminar I presented at NIACC, “Voices: Women in the U.S. Military” at last November’s Veteran’s Day program, two women graciously shared their stories. One veteran said that on the day the A-bomb was dropped on Japan, she was stationed at a laboratory in Washington that was part of the Manhattan Project that produced that bomb. Another veteran told about being stationed in Germany, and about how she met her future husband there.
These stories and more are part of preserving the legacy of women in the military at the memorial.
The memorial almost had to close its doors last year because early supporters from the WWII generation are nearly all gone, and corporate sponsored donations after 9/11 were redirected to wounded warrior foundations and organizations. Of those 2.3 million who served, there are only about 260,000 who are registered at the memorial. We would love to know and honor more stories. I was at the opening, 15-year celebration, and last year’s celebration. I am proud of my service, my colleagues, and this memorial.
On this Veteran’s Day, we honor all veterans, men and women, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Marines. Today I do want to call special attention to the women who selflessly and honorably served this country, during war and peace times. If you are a woman veteran, please register. If you know or share your life in some way with a woman veteran, please tell her about the Women’s Memorial. Women Veterans who are no longer alive can also be registered.
Honor those who served with your thanks and gratitude. To all my women veteran colleagues, I am humbled by your life and grateful for your service.
Charlene Gooch is a Vietnam veteran and ambassador for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation in Iowa. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.