Generations Unite to Honor Women in the Military
By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 21, 1997 Generations of women veterans, their families and friends gathered at several events spanning four days to honor the past, present and future of women in the military.
As symbolic as the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, the stories the women brought to the Oct. 18 dedication were of bravery, breaking barriers and paving the way for future women to serve their country.
Those barrier-breakers were women like Frieda Hardin who entered the U.S. Navy in 1918, and served almost two years during World War I. At 101, she vowed to participate in the dedication ceremony, and she did. Her message to present and future military women was "go for it."
"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," Hardin said.
Hardin recalled when she joined the Navy, women hadn't earned the right to vote. "Now," she said, "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."
Following Hardin's moving speech, Vice President Al Gore attested to the giant leaps military women have made in just the last decade. "We have seen the first women serve at three-star rank; the first woman service secretary; the first women fighter pilots in operational units; the first woman to command a flying wing; the first woman to pilot a space shuttle; the first woman to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier," he said. "Today, women are a vital element of every aspect of our mission around the world, 24 hours a day, at sea, on the ground, in the air and even in space."
A black-tie gala on Oct. 16 kicked off the four days of dedication events. On Oct. 17, each service held luncheons followed by a reunion reception that evening bringing all services together. The formal dedication was Oct. 18 followed by a candlelight march and service of remembrance. A morning ceremony, "A Time to Give Thanks," at the Arlington Cemetary Amphitheather wrapped up events on Oct. 19. The memorial opened to the public Oct. 20.
The women's memorial is at the gateway to Arlington Cemetery and includes an upper terrace, reflecting pool and education center featuring a theater, Hall of Honor, exhibit hall and gift shop. At the heart of the memorial is the computer register which tells the stories of the women who served.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, president, Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation, said, "Nothing can obscure the spirit of the women who are coming here. We're going to tell that story -- make it visible for the first time."
More than 250,000 women have registered or been registered by family or friends. The memorial is still trying to reach the almost 2 million women who served in all branches of the armed forces, so they can be included in the register. Be a part of women's history in the military. To register, call 1-800-4-SALUTE.
(NOTE TO EDITORS: The photos below can also be used with Release #97682 Throngs Witness Memorial Dedication.)