Written by Brig Gen Wilma L. Vaught
I’ve been associated with the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation in some capacity since 1987: first as a board member and then, starting in March of 1987, as the president. We started with a dream: to build a Memorial in the Nation’s capital to honor the contributions of the 2.5 million women who have served in the nation’s defense. In 1997, we changed the face of monumental Washington with the dedication of the Women’s Memorial and its 33,000 square foot education center at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery.
Today, the service of some 252,000 women, past and present, has been registered with the Memorial, preserving their stories of patriotism, valor, and service for future generations of Americans to see. We add more stories every day, and will continue this effort until every possible woman who has served takes her rightful place in history at the Women’s Memorial. Some 150,000 visitors annually have accessed these stories, paying tribute to a mother, daughter, sister, aunt or friend, and learned about the contributions of individual women. It is especially gratifying to know that we have created a place (to our knowledge, the only place) for women’s stories to be told and for people to learn about these extraordinary women who live and work amongst us.
The Memorial’s exhibit gallery is the place where we tell the collective story of women’s service. A variety of permanent and temporary exhibits chronicle the history, beginning with the American Revolution through to today’s women serving in Afghanistan and around the world. In early March, a new special exhibit was added celebrating 40 years of women in the Chaplains’ Corps, an amazing story of ministry to our military members and their families and spiritual guidance to the nation’s military leaders. I’m so proud of these efforts! Where else would the average citizen and our young people learn about these women and what they have accomplished? How would they know about our women prisoners of war, or female military astronauts and code breakers, and the courage of young African-American women soldiers during World War II? The list goes on and on, and extends well beyond the Memorial and Foundation. Our collaboration with journalists, authors, film makers, researchers, and artists has resulted in scores of books, documentaries, magazine and newspaper articles, and a variety of art exhibitions across the country. I think we have played a significant role in shaping and building the rich legacy of women’s service to the nation.
Our education efforts are another source of enormous pride. The Foundation is the home to a world-class collection of artifacts and memorabilia related to women’s service, likely the largest in the world. Our Oral History collection continues to grow and includes the oral histories of women from World War I to the present. Scholars, researchers, and journalists consistently use both of these collections, along with our small research library. We established a small publishing firm, Military Women’s Press, which publishes an annual calendar, posters and to date, three books, one of which is the only publication to focus on the service of women during the Korean War era. Our gift shop specializes in books by and about military women and memorabilia related to women’s service. We host a variety of seminars and activities that speak to women’s service, including our annual Memorial and Veterans Day programs. Students have used our educational materials across the nation and we have hosted education programs for young girls at the Memorial. The availability of resources is the only limitation.
Looking back, I can say with confidence that we have made a place for military women in our history books, adding a new chapter to America’s military history. We have not only changed the face of monumental Washington, but also added a new face to the image of America’s servicemembers and veterans. The Women In Military Service For America Memorial and Foundation have truly been Champions for Change.
The Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation is always looking for eligible women, so if anyone reading this knows of a servicewoman, living or deceased, help her take her rightful place in history. Visit our website at www.womensmemorial.org to access a registration form or contact us at 800-222-2294/703-533-1155 or firstname.lastname@example.org to find out if a woman is registered.
Wilma Vaught is president of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation. This post originally appeared on the White House Champions of Change blog. Wilma was honored as a “V-WISE First” during the inaugural V-WISE conference in San Antonio in May 2011.