Throngs Witness Memorial Dedication
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va, Oct. 21, 1997 Ruth E. Randolph thought financial woes would prevent her from being here among throngs of people witnessing the dedication of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
"Everything fell into place at the 11th hour," said the former Army private first class truck driver who served from 1974 to 1976. She spent four days on a train from San Francisco to Washington to claim a spot among an estimated crowd of 30,000.
The memorial, dedicated Oct. 18, is at the main entrance of Arlington National Cemetery. It recognizes the service and sacrifices of 1.8 million American women who have served in the military since the Revolutionary War.
"I'm a part of this great memorial to women who have served and are serving in the military," Randolph said. "This is an opportunity I didn't want to miss. Sure, I can come back later and see the memorial, but being a part of the actual dedication is special."
Randolph was among thousands of active duty women from privates to three-star flag officers. And there were veterans like Frieda Mae Hardin, 101, and Anne Pedersen Freeman, 97, who were yeomen first class during World War I. Thousands of other trailblazers from World War II to today were also there.
They gathered at the cemetery to honor women's contributions to the defense of the nation.
"Above all, this memorial had been forged by the countless acts of bravery and sacrifice of generations of America's servicewomen; by their centuries of patriotism and patience; their pain and perseverance, and all too often, their blood and sacrifice," said Vice President Al Gore during the keynote dedication speech.
"Today, as we honor our servicewomen, let us also salute the families, the husbands and fathers, the mothers and sisters and brothers who loved them, and whom they loved in return," Gore said. "Let us salute the children -- especially the children, those whose mothers have never returned. They also are American heroes. To them we also dedicate this special place."
Gore said Americans must dedicate themselves to the idea that opportunity is not the province of any one race or faith or gender, but is the birthright of all Americans.
Citing achievements by military women during the past five years, Gore said more can be done to ensure that all who serve in the armed forces are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. "Sexism in any form, in any guise, has no place in our military. It has no place in our nation," he said.
"Let us rise to the vision our servicewomen have proclaimed in their own lives and their own deeds: to build a world governed by just laws, respectful of human rights, accepting the obligation each one of us has to neighbors and to all people everywhere who are bound to us by the common ties of the human condition and the decency and dignity of freedom and equality."
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said Sigmund Freud, after 30 years of research into the feminine soul, was still unable to answer the great question: "What do women want?" He said Freud would have known had he talked to retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation.
"Women want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; the right to serve our country, to bear arms in the nation's defense, respect, the red badge of courage that they too have displayed," Cohen said. "They want recognition for their dedication and sacrifice. In short, they want what men always wanted, have been given and have received."
Cohen said the women's memorial is recognition of women's contributions that was too long deferred. "From this day forward," the secretary said, "with the opening of this living memorial, the nation expresses its gratitude for what it has for more than two centuries taken for granted.
"Women are part of the national security of the United States," Cohen said. "It's not a modern nicety, it's a military necessity. Our military would not be what it is today without women.
"This memorial is also a challenge for all of us, not just women, to break through the barriers of injustice," he said.
"Recognizing that the reason America's military is the best in the world is that we call to duty the best that America has to offer. And we call forth from within, the better angels of our nation." Cohen said.
Gore said there are nearly 2 million special stories to tell about American women who have served, each as noble as the next.
"Women like Frieda Hardin, 101 years young, whose service during World War I was as heroic as her words here today," Gore said.
"It's my hope that you feel the pride and pleasure that's mine today," Hardin said in a voice weathered by age. "I hope this will be a lasting tribute to women who have served their country in the armed forces.
"In my 101 years of living, I have observed many wonderful achievements, but none as important or as beautiful as the progress of women taking their rightful place in society," said the centenarian.
"When I joined the Navy, women were not even allowed to vote," Hardin said. "Now, women occupy important offices and are in leadership positions not only in the military, but also in business, education, government and almost every form of human activity."
She said the women trailblazers served with honor and distinction. "To those women now in military service, I say, go for it," Hardin exclaimed. "To those young women who may be thinking of a career in military service, I say, go for it. You'll find a world of opportunities waiting for you.
"For my part, I've always been very fond of my Navy service," Hardin said. "It's not likely that I will be meeting with you again. So I bid each of you a fond farewell. God bless the Navy and God bless America ... and good-bye."
(NOTE TO EDITORS: Photos from Release #97683 "Generations Unite to Honor Women in the Military" can be used with this story.)