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Military Women’s Memorial Celebrates 25th Anniversary

The site honors more than 3 million veterans

spinner image 2J2CW0R ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, USA - The Women in Military Service for America Memorial, also known as The Military Women's Memorial, in Arlington National Cemetery.
Rob Crandall / Alamy Stock Photo

The Military Women’s Memorial is celebrating its 25th year in 2022 with special events honoring the more than 3 million women who have served the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War. 

Women from across the country plan to convene Oct. 14–16 for a series of events including luncheons for the military branches, a candlelight honor walk and a ceremony honoring the memorial’s founder, retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, 92, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this year.

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Military Women’s Memorial President Phyllis Wilson hopes thousands convene for this year’s anniversary ceremony. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough are scheduled to speak about the work, purpose and value of women in the military.

“We’re part of America’s history. Women have defended this country since the Revolutionary War and many Americans don’t know that,” said Wilson. “It’s important for women who have served to stop diminishing the value of their service to this country.”

History of the memorial

The memorial’s structure, a white stone building with inset arches, was built in 1932 at Arlington National Cemetery, where it was originally meant to be a ceremonial entrance to the cemetery’s grounds. However, it was never put to use.

In the 1980s, while the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was being built, women who served during World War II and Korea began to seek a memorial for female veterans. This led Congress to pass legislation to authorize the creation of the women’s memorial, which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Over 10 years of fundraising, site selection and construction would follow until the memorial was officially dedicated Oct. 18, 1997.

The memorial today

While Arlington National Cemetery welcomes over 3 million visitors each year, the women’s memorial only receives about 200,000 people annually. “Certainly, most of America does not even know there is such a thing,” said Wilson.

In addition to its reflecting pool, 200-jet fountain and stunning views of Washington, the memorial also has an education center that documents stories and more than 8,000 artifacts from women soldiers.

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Visitors can access a database of names, service data, experiences and photographs of over 300,000 women who have registered with the memorial. But that number represents only about 10 percent of women who have served since 1775, something the memorial hopes to change.

“If you know of a woman that has served or is serving, encourage them to register,” said Wilson. “If there’s somebody that is no longer living, please check our database to see if their story is in there. If it isn’t, we encourage any American, man or woman, to take the time to put in that person’s story.”

To register yourself or someone you know, visit the memorial’s website.

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Collective impact

Wilson said that during her 37 years in the Army before retiring as a chief warrant officer five in 2018, she had a front-row seat to the changing roles and opportunities for women in the military. 

“From when I first joined, there were a number of career fields in the military that women were not legally permitted to serve in,” she said. “On the day I retired, every career field, every job, every opportunity was wide open. So, in those 37 years, a lot happened.”

She said she would like both men and women to recognize their worth, regardless of what role they served in the military.

“Too often, people that do those behind-the-scenes jobs, they’ll tell you, ‘I was just a cook.’ That’s not the point. It’s that every one of us raised our right hand and swore an oath to defend this Constitution,” said Wilson. “I want to see women in the military be proud of every one of their individual roles and know that collectively we have made an incredible impact on this nation.”