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US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) listens to retired Brig. General Wilma L. Vaught as she visits Arlington National Cemetery's Women in Military Service for America Memorial Center in Washington on March 3, 2009. (YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)


This woman started America’s only memorial for female veterans

June 6, 2017

Women have been a major part of the U.S. military going all the way back to the Revolutionary War, even though they did not officially receive weapon training until the 1970s and were only allowed to assume combat roles in 2016. Twenty years ago, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial was officially established as a museum-style memorial just outside of Arlington National Cemetery, the only one of its kind in the world. Brigadier General Wilma Vaught, retired as one of the country’s’ most highly decorated military women ever in 1985, and two years later was asked to be on the board of the Women’s Memorial. Not long after, she became its president.

The foundation transformed an existing monument by the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery into a museum dedicated to telling the stories of female veterans. “No one was really keeping track of history,” Vaught, now 87 years old, recalls in an interview with National Geographic. “Documents were being destroyed.” A digital register now allows these vets to display a picture and record of their service — some 262,000 have been registered so far, even though Vaught estimates that 3 million women have served. When female vets visit, she says, “tears come because at last they’ve been recognized and there’s something there for their family to be proud of.” Nevertheless, the memorial has experienced its share of challenges. In 2010, it lost its Congressional grant and has since been forced to rely on private donations — including a crowdfunding campaign last year – to pay for the $2.5 million dollars in operating costs each year.

Read the full story at National Geographic


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