National Gathering Celebrates 2.5 million Women Who Have Served Our Nation’s Military
On October 20th, hundreds of active-duty women and veterans gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to celebrate the legacy of more than 2.5 million women who have served in the nation’s military.
Former WACs, WAVEs, WMs, WAFs and SPARS shared with their active-duty counterparts in the contributions women have made to the U.S. military that are enshrined at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA), dedicated by President Bill Clinton on Oct. 18, 1997.
The afternoon ceremony included memories from active duty or retired speakers from each service branch who told the stories of why they served and the challenges they faced at the point in history in which they joined.
Speakers included Allison A. Hickey, undersecretary of veterans affairs for benefits and a retired brigadier general, whose military career started when she graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1980 — the first class to include women. Too many women veterans just fade away, she said, not thinking too much about their service after they leave the military.
Keynote speaker Jessica L. Wright, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, was the Army National Guard’s first woman CH-47 Chinook aviator. She enlisted in the Army in 1975 and retired as a major general in 2010 after commanding the Pennsylvania National Guard.
“This monument honors the legacy and the proud and distinguished service of women. With every passing day, there is a new and enthusiastic group of young women who join the list of forbearers that we honor here today. They have the same determination and courage that runs through our current serving women that was in our predecessors,” said Wright.
Wilma L. Vaught, president of the Women’s Memorial Foundation, said she considers the memorial more than a museum even though the contains a gift store and features numerous artifacts and photographic exhibits.
“This is more than a memorial; it’s an educational center meant to tell the story of women in the military from the American Revolution through Iraq,” said Vaught. “Many of today’s military women go through the memorial and realize for the first time what women in the military did before them.”
Vaught enlisted in the Air Force in 1957 and went on to retire as a brigadier general in 1985. She was one of only seven women serving as general or flag officers in all of the services at the time.
WIMSA was created because many women going back to World War II felt they never received recognition for all they did, Vaught explained, while adding that WIMSA honors all women who served overseas during conflicts including those who served with the Red Cross, USO and Special Services.
The Women in Military Service for America Memorial has an average of about 150,000 visitors per year. WIMSA Foundation officials say they need $3 million annually to meet payroll and maintenance costs for the 33,000 square foot educational center. The Foundation also hopes to have 250,000 women veterans in the memorial’s historical record by the end of the year. Today they are just 301 shy of that figure.