On the 18th of October 1997 the Women's Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C.
Thousands of women veterans from all over the country attended this historic event.
U.S. Army veteran Connie Reeves, shared her participation on the very popular Minerva List.
With her permission this wonderfully descriptive picture of the events is painted for you here.
Sharon Sartor, Air Force veteran, wrote a meaningful article that
touches the heart of those of us who pioneered.
With her permission that article is featured here as well.
"I just wanted to say a bit about the WIMSA Dedication activities, especially for those who couldn't attend. I attended every single event, except for the reception that followed the dedication. The Gala dinner was absolutely wonderful. Everything was done first-class. Five hundred tables of ten persons each were filled. Every table had a beautiful bouquet of roses and lilies, etc., with some bouquets standing at least two feet tall (and maybe more). The flowers were so gorgeous they didn't look real but they were! The meal was steaks (au poivre, probably) and about 1.5 inches thick, served off a platter with mixed, buttery vegetables and a potato "tart" filled with mashed sweet potatoes. Oh, first we had a crab salad served in a shell. The dessert was stupendous. Five hundred waiters each carried in a cake and a lit sparkler, walking in two by two up the center and then spreading out. The cake was a lemony chiffon-type cake with raspberries and blueberries on top, capped with a wedge of white chocolate, imprinted with the WIMSA logo in red/white/blue on each wedge. It was a gorgeous production.Connie Reeves
Tipper Gore gave a wonderful speech, particularly in praising Wilma Vaught.
Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught at the dedication.
Kathy Mattea was the first entertainer. I left before the second one. The D.C. Armory was filled to capacity. I rode a WIMSA shuttle from a hotel and, unfortunately, the shuttles didn't operate as often as predicted, so we waited an hour. I mostly drove thereafter, or walked, or took the Metro.
Each WIMSA event had an excellent mix of choral music, bands, speakers, interesting moments, keynote addresses, etc. The food was always good, although it seemed sparse at the Informal Reunion on Friday night.
The Army Luncheon had to be moved from the Ellipse in D.C. to a hangar at Andrews AFB because so many people wanted to attend. Three thousand attended the Army Luncheon and 1,800 the Air Force Luncheon. In spite of the fact that the Army Luncheon took place in a hangar (with no kitchen facilities whatsoever), the catering was excellently done. It was cold food to begin with, so could be placed on tables and no one had to wait for waiters to deliver the food. The hangar did have acoustical problems so it was difficult to hear the speakers. LTG Claudia Kennedy, highest-ranked woman in the Army, emceed the Army Luncheon and did a very nice job.
Lt General Kennedy
Wilma Vaught made an appearance at this one, as she must have done at all of them (as if she didn't have enough things to do!). The tables were arranged by era--World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Honduras, Bosnia, Somalia, etc. For someone like me who never went to any of those places but spanned a bunch of eras, it was hard trying to decide where to sit.
I was delighted because I got to meet LTG Kennedy (who, several iterations before me, held the same job I did a number of years ago in DCSOPS), Carol Barkalow (who wrote "In The Men's House"), retired Brigadier General Connie Slewitzke and retired Brigadier General Hazel Johnson-Brown, both former directors of the Army Nurse Corps (since I'm interested in military nursing history, this was particularly gratifying). I also ran into people I hadn't seen in several years, as well as arranged to meet with and be with other friends.
At the Informal Reunion, I saw Linda Grant De Pauw, as usual promoting The Minerva Center. She has some wonderful large buttons that say "Ask me about The Minerva Center" as well as the new brochures, which I don't think I'd seen before. The WIMSA Gift Shop was bombarded with purchasers. I was delighted and thrilled to see a new book, published in 1996, that I had not heard of at l until I saw it sitting on a bookshelf for sale that night. "In and Out of Harm's Way: A History of the Navy Nurse Corps" by Captain Doris M. Sterner, USN, Ret. This is the first and only compilation of US Navy Nursing Corps history that I have seen and that, to my knowledge, exists.
About ten women in flight suits and leather jackets were up on the stage being cheered. I found out they were to fly over the dedication on Saturday in aircraft crewed only by women. I was particularly pleased to hear that one of the aircraft would be an Army UH-1 helicopter, which I used to fly.
All Female Fly-Over Team
At the reunion, I also had the opportunity to chat with some WASPS, the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Afterwards, I joined some of them and other members of Women Military Aviators at a WMA reception, where I met Wally Funk, one of the Mercury 13, thirteen women selected by NASA for astronaut training from 1961-63. Although the program was ultimately canceled, a movie is being made about them, so be on the lookout.
The Dedication was totally awesome (and I don't normally speak like that!). Thirty thousand participants, mostly women. At all of these events, many women came in their uniforms (and it was amazing how many WWII vets can still wear their uniforms). If they couldn't wear their uniforms, they wore parts of them, or at least their hats, or medals on their clothes, or their insignia, or other things. By the end, I was wearing my aviator wings and other pins on my WIMSA hat!
The number of official participants at the Dedication was fantastic. We had the newest recruits in the Army take their oath from LTG Kennedy. We had cadets from the three academies and from VMI all march in. We had honor guards from all the states. Marines and other active duty personnel manned all the booths at all the events, acting as ushers, escorts, checking table assignments, etc. I cannot even remember everything that happened.
Some of the major speakers we had included Bob Dole on Sunday morning, Al Gore at the Dedication on Saturday, Connie Stevens, Loretta Swit sang at the Gala, Gen. Shalikashvili spent his last day in uniform with us after the Candlelight March on Saturday night. Janet Reno spoke that same night--two of her aunts were in the military, one was a WASP. Sandra Day O'Connor spoke as well, I think at the Dedication. Two World War I veterans were present--one was 101 years old and gave a magnificent speech at the Dedication.
Sunday's Ceremony -A Time To Give Thanks
The Candlelight March was particularly moving. I got there right at 6:30 pm, at the end of the "staging" of the march and no candles were left (battery-operated candles), but it didn't matter. Sections were called zones and women (plus men and children) filled the zones facing each other across an empty aisle. Then, when the march began, the empty aisle was filled as Zone 1, then 2, etc., began marcng through it from behind the Lincoln Memorial to the WIMSA memorial. It was beautiful once we were in the midst of hundreds and thousands of candlepower.
The ceremony at the WIMSA memorial included a very moving "Rose Petal Ceremony." Rose petals were tossed into the reflecting pool to honor the memory of those women who served in every category you can imagine, with usually a female general officer and an enlisted woman tossing in the petals. The idea came from someone who had saved rose petals from a friend's funeral and wanted to toss them in the pool and suggested it to Wilma Vaught. I see a new tradition here! This seemed to be a uniquely female idea (sexist remark, I know!) as did the inclusion of women in the USO, American Red Cross, and other agencies who served the military in war and peace, at home and abroad, in all of these memorial activities.
On Sunday, the service in the Amphitheather of Arlington National Cemetery was beautiful, as was the placing of wreaths on the "Spirit of Nursing" statue in the cemetery itself. The line to see the memorial itself was two-and-a-half hours long so I and my friends walked around it and went up top, reading the inscriptions which have been well-chosen, and plan to tour the memorial another day. The memorial itself is far more beautiful and practical than I had imagined. The Washington Post critiqued it very positively, saying that it has incorporated the old and the new extraordinarily well.
This couldn't have been done without Wilma Vaught and I can't wait to see what new project she takes up in the next few years when this one ceases to require all of her attention!
This message is incredibly long, I know, but I have still left out far too much to give a real appreciation for the import of all those events. I'm sure there will be anniversary celebrations and I intend to attend as many of those as I can."
"A friend invited me to the Dedication of the Women in Military Service for America. I went because I felt I should go, even though at the time, I didn't know why. After all, why have a memorial to military women? We are all just GIs, right?
After attending the dedication, I realize that I just didn't understand. I met quite a few women who had served their country in the 1940s and 1950s. Women who had served despite career field restrictions, assignment restrictions, rank restrictions and benefit restrictions. I realize now that the military I served in and the one they served in were far different. And for that difference, I owe these women a debt of gratitude.
I never considered myself a "woman in the military". I always thought of myself as just another GI. The Air Force I joined in 1975 encouraged that fact. I enlisted in a maintenance career field, but there were plenty of other women in my shop and in my squadron. Within a year or two, there were co-ed dorms and maternity uniforms. Eventually, I got married and spent another 15 years on active duty, just like any other GI. But it wasn't always that way.
I wish I could have talked to them all, but it was just not possible, not in a crowd of 30,000. There were so many. There was the WAC nurse who tended the wounded at the Battle of the Bulge and was Chief Nurse of the unit at Corriigidor that liberated the Japanese held female POWs. Her name was Dottie and she called me daughter. There was the lady in the pale blue colors of the UN who served in the Korean Conflict. There was the Army E-8 who wore her rank was so pronimentently on her Vietnam Veteran hat so people would know she was not a nurse. She was enlisted. Yes, there were enlisted women in Vietnam.
They served when difficult choices had to be made. A married women could not continue to serve in the military. A pregnant military member was unheard-of. Female commissioned officers could advance to the rank of O-6 but no further. Not until late 1967 did Congress grant the rank of General for women. They did not qualify for veterans benefits or compansations. They were not even recognized as veterans. Despite the restrictions, there were many who stayed. There were many more who left.
The memorial foundation encouraged all veterans attending the dedication to wear their uniforms. This brought about a sight I will never forget. Women who, 50 years ago, lovingly stored away their uniforms. Women who, on October 18, 1997, donned them once again, for the last time. Silver haired women in their 70s and 80s, wearing uniforms from the past, standing at attention and proudly saluting the colors.
WWI Yeoman(F) Hardin telling the crowd to "Go For It!"
The dedication was a political event, but the evening ceremony, after the candlelight march from the Lincoln Memorial, was more touching. Among the speakers was Lt. Col. Rhonda Cornum. She was an Iraqi POW during Desert Storm. She spoke of her capture and of her husband and daughter. Lt. Col. Cornum broke down as she thanked the assembled women for the privilege of having both a family and a military career. She stood alone as she placed rose pedals into the memorial reflecting pool in remembrance of American Women POWs.
Lt Col Rhonda Cornum
Every American should, once in their life, walk through Arlington National Cemetery. The unending rows of small white markers tell the price we paid for the freedoms we take for granted. The Women in Military Service for America Memorial is the gate to Arlington National Cemetery. An active duty women visiting the cemetery owes it to herself to stop at the gate and pay tribute to those who gave you a privilege you may take for granted. The privilege to serve your country, as just another GI. "
The Women's Memorial has been formally dedicated and is officially open, but that is not the end of the story - it's the beginning - the beginning of over two hundred years of forgotten history finally on public display.
But much more is needed.
Your support in getting each and every woman veteran registered is paramount.
Your support in getting donations and contributions is essential.
Most of all your support in letting the world know that the Women's Memorial exists, and that this long overdue tribute to America's Military Women is a reality, is the single most important thing that you can do.