ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Nov. 12, 2008) -- The Women in Military Service for America Memorial was the site of a joint-services, Veterans Day celebration that featured women from all branches of the military, along with 11 female Navajo veterans.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, Women's Memorial Foundation president, opened the ceremony with a tribute to the Native American women who have served the United States, in recognition of Native American Heritage Month.
Eleven Navajo women, who served in conflicts from Korea to the Persian Gulf, took the stage to briefly speak to the audience about their experiences in the military.
Some told stories about facing difficulty as a Native American woman serving in the armed forced, and some paid tribute to relatives or mentors who helped inspire them to serve their country.
Christine Bates, a Marine Corps veteran, told an amusing anecdote about being stationed in a "foreign" country.
"I was to be deployed to Hawaii in late summer of 1959, which was then considered to be a foreign country," Bates said. "However, by the time I got there, it was a state, and it was considered an in-country assignment."
After the Navajo women paid tribute to fellow veterans that had passed away recently, Vaught took the stage again to introduce the speakers, one woman for each of the five branches.
Sgt.1st Class Patricia D. Ruth spoke on behalf of the Army, and she spoke about a conversation she had with a Soldier who inspired her to join the Army in August 1985.
"When I tell people I've been in the Army for 23 years, they always ask me, 'When are you going to retire'' I figure I'll give it another 20 years or so," Ruth said.
The event's keynote speaker was retired Air Force Maj. Linda S. Schwartz with the Commissioner for Veterans Affair in Connecticut.
She spoke about the addition of the military service question on the 1980 census, and how it changed the perception of who a veteran was.
"Like magic, 1.2 million American women popped up on the radar screen and announced that they had served in the military," Schwartz said. "These women did not think of themselves as veterans ... veterans were the very essence of the bastion of all things 'guy.'"
Audience members seemed to find the ceremony educational and moving, as the personal narratives of the speakers added to the history of women veterans.
"The stories that the women told really added depth to the ceremony," said Rhonda Wegert of Winchester, Va. "I came to hear the history of women in the military, but I didn't expect such a personal experience."
Schwartz left all guests with the message that women are an important part of Veteran's Day, just as they have been an important part of the military for much of its history.
"Women veterans have a very impressive and unique history of service and support in the defense of our nation," Schwartz said.
(Alex McVeigh writes for the Pentagram newspaper at Fort Myer, Va.)