Memorial Tells Obscure Facts About Women's Military Service
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 25, 1999 Stories about women who masqueraded as men on the battlefield, survived prisoner of war camps, died in combat and other pieces of obscure history come to light at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
More than 170,000 people visited the women's memorial in the first year since its dedication Oct. 18, 1997, at Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery. Those who took guided tours learned of Molly Pitcher, Sarah Osborne and Deborah Sampson in the Revolutionary War; Dr. Mary Walker, Susie King Taylor and Sally Thompkins in the Civil War; and nurses in the Spanish-American War and World War I and II. They also learned about women's service in the Korean War, Vietnam War and Desert Storm and women's role in today's military services.
The stories of hundreds of individual service women are at the public's fingertips in the memorial's interactive computerized register. Visitors can use a dozen computer terminals to find information about the service of their mothers, grandmothers, sisters and other relatives and friends, said memorial curator Judy Bellafaire.
"If the woman is registered, all the information given to us, including a photograph, will appear on the computer monitor," she said. About 300,000 of an estimated 2 million eligible women have registered or were enrolled by their families or friends. The register grows daily as word spreads of the memorial's search for the 1.7 million women whose stories of service are yet to be recorded, Bellafaire noted.
The memorial gallery is filled with exhibits showcasing artifacts, text and images depicting the roles women have played in the defense of the nation, she said. So far, the only
permanent exhibits are three dealing with World War II. Temporary exhibits include "The Making of a Memorial" and several pictorial displays tracing more than two centuries of women's service to the nation.
The first World War II exhibit deals with recruiting and training of women. "They're the women who served in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps, the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), WACs (Women's Army Corps), Coast Guard SPARs (Semper Paratus-Always Ready) and Marine Corps Women," Bellafaire said.
The second showcase highlights civilian women who "also served" during World War II, she said. These include groups on the home front with the military, such as the WASPs (Women's Airforce Service Pilots) and cadet nurses, and the American Women Volunteer Service Group, which drove ambulances, conducted blood drives and ran care centers for the children of women working in defense plants.
The third World War II exhibit deals with service women overseas. "The only women who went overseas during World War II were Army and Navy nurses and members of the Women's Army Corps," Bellafaire noted. "Some of the stories of nurses who were captured by the Japanese are told in detail."
"Voices of women throughout the ages" are engraved on glass tablets on the second floor terrace, Bellafaire said. "Twelve quotations of famous military women and American leaders speaking about military women, like President Kennedy, are engraved on 12 glass tablets visitors can view as they walk along the terrace," she said.
She said the memorial staff is striving to erect an exhibit of women's service during the Korean War for the 50th anniversary in June 2000.
One panel exhibit honors women who served from the American Revolution through the Spanish-American War. When the memorial's Hall of Honor is finished, it will feature women who served with distinction and achievement and highlight those who died in service and were prisoners of war.
"Eventually, we hope to have an elegant notebook that will list all the women who were casualties of war from the Revolution up to the present day," Bellafaire said. She already has more than 300 names of women who died as a result of service in World War I and more than 300 who died during World War II, the two largest groups of casualties.
The memorial sits at the front gate of Arlington Cemetery. Visitors get a panoramic view of Washington -- in a beeline, the memorial overlooks the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol across the Potomac River. "It's an absolutely gorgeous view," Bellafaire said.
The memorial is open daily except Christmas. The hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 1-March 31; and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.April 1- Sept. 30.
For more information, call 1-800-222-2294 or send e-mail to the memorial foundation at WIMSA@aol.com. The memorial Web site is www.womensmemorial.org.