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Release No: 555-97
October 21, 1997

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen Dedication of Women in Military Service for America Memorial October 18, 1997

Vice President Gore, distinguished guests, honored veterans:

Behind me, etched in glass, are the words of Clara Barton, the "Angel of the Battlefield" in the American Civil War: "From the storm lashed decks of the Mayflower to the present hour," she said, "Women have stood like a rock for the welfare and glory of the history of our country ... and one might well add: unwritten, unrewarded and almost unrecognized."

Today at last we honor and recognize women who have stood like a rock. Their story -- your story -- is one of courage and commitment, of honor and duty, of service and sacrifice.

It is a story that has not been fully acknowledged in our hearts, in our history books or in the monuments that fill this City. But in fact, your story is part of every monument to American heroism, for your service was part of every moment.

Your story is part of Constitution Gardens -- in Molly Pitcher manning the cannons to help free our nation. It is part of the monument to General Pershing -- in the battlefield nurses -- the angels of mercy -- in World War I. It is written in the wall representing World War II at the FDR memorial -- in the WACs, the WAVEs, the WASPs and the women Marines who joined our "rendezvous with destiny." It is etched in the granite of the memorial to Korean veterans, and in the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial whose gleaming surface reflects the statue of the brave nurses who served there.

Now we can tell the untold story of women in military service. These heroines have written their names into the story of American liberty. Now their heroism is chiseled in the stone of our national memory. For this we thank the long crusade of General Wilma Vaught -- a monument in her own right to women in uniform -- and the support of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and all those who helped to break this ground and build this memorial.

The story of these women is told in the very substance of this structure: the stone and steel honor their unbending will; the granite and glass celebrate their resolve to shatter stereotypes and ceilings.

But this memorial is more than a remembrance. It is also a reminder that women in military service to America are not new and should never be allowed to go unnoticed. That we do not recruit women as a special favor. That we do not train women in the name of a noble social experiment. Today, women in uniform are a part of the national security of the United States. This is not a modern nicety -- it is a military necessity. As Abigail Adams wrote during the American Revolution -- "Great necessities call out great virtues."

In my travels to visit the troops I have seen the great necessity of our women in uniform and their great virtues on display. I have seen their comrades -- men and women -- who depend on them. The platoons, the wings and the quarterdecks that could not function without them. And a military that would not be what it is today without them: The best trained, best equipped, best prepared, best led military in history -- the pride of our nation and the envy of the world.

This memorial is thus also a challenge: For all of us -- not just women -- to break through the barriers of injustice, be they in our policies, our preconceptions, or our prejudices. To treat everyone in uniform with dignity and respect. To measure up to our high ideals and standards of conduct. To hold accountable those who violate those standards through abuse of power or position, harassment, exploitation or discrimination, 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 them the better angels of our nature.

Sigmund Freud is quoted as having said, "Despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, I have not been able to answerthe great question that has never been answered: What does a woman want?"

He might have found an answer to his question had he talked to General Vaught, or to my friend Marion Hutchisson who served as a WAVE in WWII, or to all of you who are here today. Women want Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The right to serve our country, to bear arms in our nation's defense.

They want respect for the red badge of courage that they too have displayed. And finally, they want recognition for their dedication and sacrifice.

In short, they want what men have wanted, been given and received.

Today, we finally give form to the dreams that have been too long deferred. From this day forward, with the opening of this living memorial, the nation expresses its gratitude for what it has for more than two centuries taken for granted.

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