Walk through any government building or peek at the calendar – there’s no question that the United States makes a show of honoring its veterans. Despite our best efforts, some veterans fly under the radar – especially women. Women have been serving during active war periods since the Revolutionary War, but their accomplishments may not always be recognized.
Of all the monuments and memorials dedicated to our service members, there is only one directly devoted to women in the service, and one female veteran is making sure its protected for all little girls and future soldiers to admire.
Major Wilma Vaught arrived in Vietnam in October 1968 without formal arms training and was charged with the task of auditing and finding cost savings for the US military. Several months later Vaught’s tour ended she turned in two illegally stashed weapons she never used – as women still weren’t allowed formal weapons training at the time.
Several years later Vaught retired in 1985 as one of the most highly-decorated women in US military history. Vaught’s military journey was not over though – it was now time for her to take on a new watch. For the past thirty years Vaught and a handful of volunteers like Britta Granrud monitor and keep track of nearly 6000 items in an office building in Arlington, Virginia. The items go with the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, the only formal collection of women-related military items and memorial in the country.
The collection includes several types of items and memorabilia, from black leather boots given to enlisted women to an improvised wedding dress sewn from parachute material. Vaught acted when she was afraid many items that exhibit women’s sacrifice to the country would be lost. “No one was keeping track of history, documents were being destroyed,” recalls Vaught.
The memorial, constructed from a previously existing memorial, now gives visiting women the ability to add their name to the registry of female veterans. Though approximately three million women have served, the registry has yet to reach 300,000 names.
Vaught urges all women to register their names at the memorial to support women in the armed forces and achieve the recognition they deserve. Vaught says of the women who do register, “Tears come because at last they’ve been recognized and there’s something there for their family to be proud of.”