Women Veterans Day is observed on Saturday, June 12 in the United States, a date chosen to mark the anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, passed in 1948. This act granted women the right to serve as permanent, regular members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the recently formed Air Force at that time. The date is not recognized nationally, but is recognized by a number of states, either through legislation or proclamation, and organizations. The State of Texas acknowledges and honors the work of women in the United States Armed Forces and recognizes the unique challenges that they have faced.
Women struggled to formally serve their country in the American Revolutionary War. They were forbidden to serve, but did so against the law. Women also served as spies during the Revolutionary War. Women took an active role in alerting American troops to enemy movement, carried messages, and even transported contraband.
Although females were forbidden to join the military at the time, more than 400 women still served as secret Soldiers in the Civil War. It was relatively easy for them to pass through the recruiter’s station, since few questions were asked – as long as one looked the part.
Upwards of 25,000 American women between the ages of 21 and 69 served overseas during World War I. They began going in August of 1914—at first singly or with a few companions, later with service organizations, and lastly at the request of the U.S. government. Although the largest number were nurses, women served in numerous other capacities – from administrators and secretaries to telephone operators and architects.
Although the idea of women in the Army other than the Army Nurse Corps was not completely abandoned following World War I, it was not until the threat of world war loomed again that renewed interest was given to this issue. With the rumblings of World War II on the horizon, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts states, “I was resolved that our women would not again serve with the Army without the same protection the men got.” Consequently, the creation of the Women’s Army Corps was one of the most dramatic gender-changing events in American history.
Women stepped up to perform an array of critical Army jobs in order “to free a man to fight.” They worked in hundreds of fields such as military intelligence, cryptography, parachute rigging, maintenance and supply, to name a few. Additionally, more than 60,000 Army Nurses served around the world and more than 1,000 women flew aircraft for the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.
Women in the Vietnam War served as soldiers, health workers, and in news-gathering capacities. Though relatively little official data exists about female Vietnam War veterans, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation estimates that approximately 11,000 military women were stationed in Vietnam during the conflict. Nearly all of them were volunteers, and 90 percent served as military nurses, though women also worked as physicians, air traffic controllers, intelligence officers, clerks and other positions in the U.S. Women’s Army Corps, U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marines and the Army Medical Specialist Corps.
The Vietnam War, the elimination of the draft, and the rise of the feminist movement had a major impact on both the Women’s Army Corps and Army Nurse Corps. There was a renewed emphasis on parity and increased opportunity for women in uniform.
In the largest call up of women since World War II, over 24,000 women served in the Persian Gulf War, beginning in 1990. During Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the focus was on the mission more than the gender of the troops. With the call up of Reserves, which was filled with women, the Army utilized women to their fullest potential. After the conflict, military leaders acknowledged that excluding women from the mission would have impacted combat readiness.
Coming on the heels of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the Department of Defense continued its effort to respond to challenges with changing missions and the use of women. In July 1994, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin rescinded the 1988 Risk Rule and issued a new “Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule,” directing that women were eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they qualified, except for units below brigade level whose primary mission is to engage the enemy in direct combat.
Between 1992 and 1999, the U.S. was called upon to respond to regional conflicts, natural disasters, and humanitarian crisis all over the world. In Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, women were trained to cope with food riots, terrorist attacks, ethnic and clan conflicts, and peacekeeping. Their roles continued to be tested during these operations, although there seemed to be few questions about what women could or could not do and the value they added to the Army’s mission.
American women are serving in the U.S. military today in ways and numbers unthinkable a few decades ago. They are now serving side-by-side with men and eligible to fill more than 80% of military jobs. Women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan where no clear frontlines exist. They drive Humvees and trucks, escort military convoys, serve as military police, even pilot helicopters and planes on the battlefield, all of it done under the very real and constant threat of attack. Like men, many women of the U.S. Armed Services have by now served several tours in the war zones.
The Texas Panhandle War Memorial center would like to honor and thank these brave American women for their service and sacrifice to our country. We salute you.