Women have served in the United States Armed Forces since 1917, yet they did not receive a memorial – one that only honors women – until October of 1997, exactly 80 years later, according to the Washington Post. The Women in Military Service for America Memorial sits at the Ceremonial Entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, but it is actually part of the National Park Service, according to AP.
The WIMSA Memorial website states that the memorial recognizes all women who have served in the armed forces, shows how their contributions are equal men’s, and documents the experiences of women in the military.
“We are proud to recognize their devoted patriotism and bravery as an integral part of our National heritage,” the official Memorial website states.
A Washington Post article from 1997 reports that former Vice President Al Gore honored these women’s efforts with a dedication at the Memorial site. He thanked a gathering of approximately 30,000: “This memorial has been forged by the countless acts of bravery and sacrifice of generations of America’s servicewomen.” Gore continued, “by their centuries of patriotism and patience, their blood and valor, their pain and perseverance.”
The Memorial features various special, permanent, and online exhibits featuring artifacts and preserved personal stories, notes the President’s Message on the website. Additionally, the website contains stories of women in the armed forces on its Oral History page.
“The mission of the memorial is to tell the story of women in service and it’s also a place where we collect and put together the history of women in the military,” WIMSA CEO, General Wilma Vaught said. “Until we started this, that history wasn’t really being captured, and now we’re capturing it.”
The memorial draws about 200,000 visitors each year. An ABC News article explains how three million women have served in the U.S. military, yet only 269,000 women are registered. The Memorial seeks to include all three million in their official register.
Congress originally funded the Memorial, but WIMSA relied on donations after this funding ended. In 2016, AcademyWomen developed a fundraiser to keep the memorial open and sustained with enough funding. The campaign is still happening and has generated $113,673 of the $1.5M goal.
The Memorial’s 20th anniversary celebration lasted from October 20th to the 21st and featured the following events: an anniversary ceremony, tours of the National American Museum of History and the Notable Military Women’s Grave, a free performance of a World War I story, a celebration dinner, a honor walk, and a service of remembrance.
The Washington Post states that 1,000 servicewomen attended the event. The first female four-star general in the U.S. military, retired Gen. Ann Dunwoody, and retired Gen. Janet Wolfenbager were the keynote speakers. Wolfenbager currently serves as chair of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in Services. Both women serve as co-chairs for WIMSA.
Wolfenbager described how this year’s celebration differed from the Memorial’s dedication in 1997 and how she believes women can celebrate more “firsts,” such as the first woman to serve in a certain branch or job title, every year.
“There are so many firsts that the memorial represents,” Wolfenbarger said. “But, the real objective is that there are no more firsts.”
In addition, about 40 Oklahoma Air and Army National Guard women attended the celebration. The Oklahoma National Guard’s assistant adjutant general, Air Force Brig. Thomas Ryan, articulated how people should remember those who made sacrifices on behalf of the U.S. The event attendees and Oklahoma National Guard members held candles honoring the 167 women who perished since September 11, 2001.
The Oklahoma National Guard’s director of personnel, Col. Cynthia Tinkham, encouraged women to keep telling these heroes’ stories.
“These women represent a bridge to those that came before them,” Tinkham said. “To those of the new and current generation and to those still to join, I implore you to keep telling their stories. Be proud of them. Honor them … and tell your own stories.”
Although the Memorial still stands strong and continues honoring women to this day, it is important to note that after hundreds of years of women fighting in the armed forces, this year only marks the Memorial’s 20th anniversary. We must not forget about the thousands of women who fought before this memorial was made and the thousands that were unregistered in wars of the past.
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