June 22, 1995 in City

Wall Will Finally, Properly Honor Military Women

Patricia Campbell Kowal Special To Roundtable
 

It was Veterans Day, 1993. In the nation’s capital, I first faced the Wall.

With bent knee, I placed my flower by her name: Mary Klinker. I’ll always remember Mary, my friend and fellow flight nurse, killed in Vietnam as she airlifted babies from that war-torn country.

Moments later, I turned from the Wall to stand at attention, privileged to take part in the dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. Tears of pride and humility, sadness and joy ran down my cheeks as I remembered my own involvement in Vietnam.

This week, I have again taken my Air Force uniform from the closet to ready it for another venture. I have returned to Washington, D.C., for another momentous occasion. This time, for today’s groundbreaking ceremony for the first national Women’s Memorial.

I’m glad I can be here to celebrate the fact that we’re finally giving tribute to all women who served the United States, from the American Revolution through the present day.

My husband comments on the medals hanging on my uniform that speak of the service I performed during the Gulf and Vietnam wars. In my heart, I am glad I served. In my gut, I know the price I paid and the price my family paid. I thank them quietly for their support.

As a country, we have a newly resurrected intrigue with women in the military. Perhaps it has been women’s own battles that now make these stories newsworthy. Or perhaps it is just finally time! Whatever the reason, I’m happy we are speaking up and being heard!

Recently, I followed newspaper articles about women who lost their lives piloting aircraft. I read my 14-year-old old daughter’s research report on the history of women in combat. Hollywood’s productions of the Margarethe Cammermeyer and the Paula Coughlin stories document painful issues for women as they fight within the service to serve honorably.

Watching “M*A*S*H*” or “China Beach” on TV, or seeing “Private Benjamin” in the theater, once again points to the fact that servicewomen exist. After 27-plus years of military service myself, I am grateful that my contribution is recognized. And I haven’t had to do it in secret! This is not the case for all women who served their country.

For instance, there is Deborah Samson, who served in the American Revolution. Dressed as a man, she enlisted as Robert Shurtliff in May 1782 and joined a Massachusetts regiment. In October 1783, when a doctor found out that “he” was a woman, Samson was forced to leave the regiment. In the same war, many women raised their muskets next to men. Best remembered are the women dubbed “Molly Pitchers,” who carried water and helped the soldiers. Finally, they will be honored.

And what about the Civil War? Some women, though disguised as men, were recognized for distinguished service and promoted to higher ranks. But most were discharged when their gender was discovered. Melinda Black, in disguise, joined a unit in North Carolina to fight by her husband’s side. Amy Clark enlisted as Richard Anderson and fought in the Battle of Shiloh. Thousands of women served without pay and worked as nurses for both the North and the South.

During both world wars, hundreds of thousands of women joined the ranks of men in the military. Though they did not serve incognito, they received less than favorable nicknames, such as the “Petticoat Army.” And not until passage of the Women Armed Services Integration Act in 1948 did our country offer military privileges, including veteran’s rights, to women.

Another 10,000 women served during the Vietnam conflict, as did 35,000 more during the Gulf War. Today, thousands continue to serve and die in this service.

“Sure,” we might say, “Let’s honor them. Let’s tell their stories.”

Well, it’s not that easy.

The Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation is compiling names and information from veterans and their descendants. The group is looking for stories and photos that will tell of the 1.8 million women who deserve to be in the register. Only about 125,000 are filed now. Unfortunately, historical records are not available on most servicewomen, let alone their present whereabouts or changed surnames.

The Women’s Memorial will provide a legacy to future generations by capturing the undocumented history of our American servicewomen. This memorial will feature a Hall of Honor where a computerized register will list names, records of service, photos and memorable military experiences of each woman registered. It will become a permanent tribute to the more than 200 years of contributions by women in the military.

I have carried with me to the nation’s capital a secret. I wonder what my children, and someday their children, will feel when they type my name in the register and read: “Patricia Campbell Kowal, Colonel, United Sates Air Force Reserve. She served her country for nearly three decades. Her most memorable experience was coming home to her family with great joy in hope her contribution made her children’s homeland a better place to be.”

A Spokane resident and professional counselor in her civilian life, Patricia Kowal is consultant to the USAF Reserve Command Surgeon at the Pentagon. xxxx BUILDING THE LIST To register yourself or friend or family member in the Women’s Memorial register call (800) I-SALUTE.


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