By Dana M. Clark
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosted a ceremony at their headquarters, Mar. 26, to celebrate Women's History Month. Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught served as the keynote speaker.
Vaught is one of the most highly decorated women in U.S. history. She served in the Air Force for more than 28 years, and is one of only a handful of women in the world who have been promoted to the rank of general. Vaught has paved the way for women in the military, but her most lasting contribution is her effort and driving force to build the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, located at Arlington National Cemetery, which honors women who have served in the U.S. military.
"Without education it's very difficult to be empowered," Vaught told the audience, speaking of the theme of this year's Women's History Month: "Women's Education -- Women's Empowerment." Vaught gave a thorough history of significant women in the military -- dating back to the Revolutionary War where Sybil Ludington, who was only 16 years old, had traveled 40 miles at night, during a rain storm to warn countrymen and the militia of a possible British attack. Although the British destroyed food and munitions and burned down the town of Danbury, Conn., the militia was able to stop the British advance and push them back to their boats in the Battle of Rigdefield. Sybil Ludington was later recognized by Gen. George Washington for her contribution to the war.
Vaught then spoke of the roles that women played in all of the wars in U.S. History. "When you think about D-Day in the War -- there were women in England. Did you ever think about what those women did on D-Day?" Vaught asked the audience. She then went on to read a letter that a woman who had been there had written her, "The women before D-Day were waiting and praying," Vaught concluded.
Vaught, who joined the Air Force in 1957, told the audience that she could never aspire to become a general because the law, at that time, stated that women couldn't become generals or admirals. "But look at where we are today … Combat sees no gender difference. Women have been doing this since the very beginning and there are many things, from a cultural standpoint, that women have had to deal with, but as you look at the history of women in the military, we have come so far."
Vaughn, who is president of the Women's Memorial foundation, quoted an inscription that is etched in the ceiling of the memorial from an Army nurse, who served during World War II: Let the generations know that women in uniform also guaranteed their freedom. That our resolve was just as great as the brave men who stood among us … that the tears fell just as hard for those we left behind us.
The first celebration, recognizing the contributions that women have made to our nation was on March 7, 1982, when Women's History was celebrated only for one week. In 1987, after being petitioned by the National Women's History Project, Congress passed resolutions requesting and authorizing the president to issue annual proclamations and designate the entire month of March to honoring all of the prominent roles and incredible sacrifices that women have made. Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama have issued annual proclamations, declaring March as Women's History Month.