Can you think of a few elegant World War II memorials in Washington, D.C.? The haunting Vietnam War memorial or the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, might come to mind. However, you might not think of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial right off the bat.
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The Women in Military Service for America Memorial is a beautiful, elegant, poised, and dignified memorial that honors every woman service member. It’s also one of the lesser-known memorials in D.C. but one that merits a visit from everyone who travels to the nation’s capital.
Get to know more about this incredible memorial, and perhaps you’ll make it a priority to go see it the next time you’re in town.
What is the Women in Military Service for America Memorial?
The Women in Military Service for America Memorial is the only major memorial that honors the contribution of the nearly three million servicewomen who served or are currently serving in the U.S. armed forces. Starting with the American Revolution, the memorial highlights and honors the service of women in each branch of the military throughout American history.
1. It’s located at Arlington National Cemetery
If you’ve ever seen military funerals take place at Arlington National Cemetery, you probably passed right by the Women’s Memorial and didn’t even know it.
The memorial sits right at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery and encompasses an area of 4.2 acres in size. It showcases a Hemicycle wall and reflecting pool. Directly behind the hemicycle is an education center for visitors to enjoy. The center contains a Hall of Honor, theater, an exhibit gallery, and the Register — a computer database of servicewomen, including their stories, pictures, memorabilia, and artifacts. An upper terrace contains glass panes with quotes about and by servicewomen that shine into the education center.
2. You can visit nearly any day of the year
Except for Christmas, the memorial is open for visitors from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. nearly every day of the year.
Visiting this memorial is an excellent way to demonstrate your gratitude to the servicewomen who helped fight for America from its founding to today. Even if you don’t know a servicewoman personally, visiting and learning about those who paid the ultimate price is a way to show respect and honor and do more than simply say “thank you for your service.”
3. You can see 13 permanent exhibits
When you go, be sure to plan plenty of time to visit all the permanent exhibits. Thirteen of them cover the contribution of women in the armed forces, starting with the American Revolution. By spending time at each exhibit, you’ll gain a full history of women in the military from the perspective of the servicewomen themselves.
Serving with the Military: 18th and 19th Centuries
This first exhibit is a perfect place to start. You’ll get to know about the working conditions and lives of women who served in the military from the American Revolution to the Spanish-American War.
World War I Medical
You’ll see a full range of medical equipment, artifacts, and instruments used by women service members during World War I.
Serving in the Military: 1901 to 1945
This exhibit features stories about the servicewomen who served in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps from its creation through World War II.
Serving in the Military: Since 1946
If you’re interested in modern-day women warriors, you’ll want to spend extra time at this exhibit. Here, you’ll learn about women who serve in groundbreaking roles, from aviators to astronauts.
Women Go to War: World War II, 1941 to 1945
Women who served in World War II have their own special exhibit, starting with Women Go to War. At this station, you’ll learn about the recruitment process, training, and jobs given to our military women during World War II.
Overseas with the Military: World War II, 1941 to 1945
For a glimpse of what life was like for active-duty servicewomen who went overseas in their military roles, you’ll want to stop at this exhibit. This area features women who served around the world, those who came under enemy fire, those who were prisoners of war, and the types of roles women were given towards the war’s end.
Serving on the Home Front: World War II, 1941 to 1945
Women service members on the home front contributed greatly to the war effort. At this exhibit, you’ll learn about women pilots, civil defense workers, and those in the Cadet Nurse Corps.
Prior to 1948, women could serve in the military, but there was no legislation giving them the permanent legal right to do so. Then the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 was signed into law, and women were given a permanent place in the U.S. armed forces.
This exhibit features a copy of the Integration Act in addition to photographs and memorabilia that help highlight the arguments for and against the permanent integration of women in the military.
Called to Duty: Korean War, 1950 to 1953
This area features the stories of women who served in the Korean War and the Cold War. Highlights include caring for the wounded, serving around the world, and serving stateside by recruiting women to serve.
Era of Conflict: Vietnam War, 1964 to 1975
During the 11 years of uneasy conflict, nearly 200,000 women served in the armed forces. On display, you will find personal photographs, uniforms, military papers, and other features from the women who served during this era.
American Servicewomen in the Global War on Terror
If you’re looking for an exhibit dedicated to servicewomen who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, this is it. As the memorial’s new exhibit, it’s getting a lot of attention, and for a good reason. Here, you’ll glimpse into the lives of servicewomen who served during America’s response to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and the resulting War on Terror. Through oral histories, photographs, and memorabilia, you’ll gain insight into the daily lives and jobs of America’s dedicated women warriors who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Nearly 15 percent of America’s military was made up of women at the start of the War on Terror. As a result, they served in every branch of the armed forces and were among some of the first to deploy to the war front.
A New Generation of Warriors
This exhibit features wartimes experiences of women on the front lines during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
USNS Comfort Quilt
When the USNS Comfort headed out to sea for a 2003 deployment during Operation Iraqi Freedom, women aboard the ship started a quilt. The huge project was continued during the entire deployment and finally finished stateside when the USNS Comfort returned. The exhibit houses the finished quilt, a scrapbook, photographs, highlights about patients and crewmembers, details about experiences aboard the ship, and explanations about the meaning and significance of the quilt.
4. You can see an interactive register of servicewomen
Whether you’re visiting to honor a service member you know, share their story with the next generation, or you’re on a fact-finding mission, the interactive register of servicewomen is a must-see stop while at the memorial.
Here, you can pull up names and view information such as a person’s rank, theaters served in, and her branch of service. You can also view memorabilia that might have been linked to the person’s record you view. The register is an ongoing project, and new donations of memorabilia, photographs, and personal information of servicewomen get added to the database regularly.
5. You can add to the memorial’s register
Did your mom, grandmother, great-great-grandmother, or another relative serve in the armed forces? If so, you can submit her name, rank, active duty locations, photographs, and journal entries for submission into the memorial’s register. These names and stories will be included as part of the interactive database to preserve the stories of servicewomen for generations to come.
If you’re wondering how to honor veterans like your relatives, submitting their information to be added to the database is a perfect opportunity.
6. You can volunteer as a greeter or guide
Volunteering at the memorial is a perfect way to give back to the servicewomen who gave everything for their country. By educating others about the memorial and the women it honors, you pass along the opportunity to learn about and show respect to this often-overlooked population of the U.S. military.
If you’re looking for a way to thank a veteran on Veteran’s Day, consider sending a card to let her know that you’re volunteering at the memorial in her honor.
7. You can arrange for a personal tour
If you call the museum a minimum of two weeks before the date you want to visit, you may be able to arrange for a docent to give you and your family a personal tour. During the tour, you’ll be guided through the Exhibit Gallery, Register Room, Hall of Honor, and the Upper Terrace.
Honoring Women Who Served
Today, women make up nearly 14.5 percent of active duty and 18 percent of reserve and guard forces. Combined, that’s around 32.5 percent of all military members. From the American Revolution to today, women have served in every major conflict and every branch of the military. It’s only fitting that we respect and honor today’s military women and women warriors of the past in their place in America’s history.
- “Permanent and Special Exhibits.” Collections, Womensmemorial.org, 2020. www.womensmemorial.org/exhibits/detail/?s=permanent-and-special-exhibits
- “Military Service Member Data.” U.S. Military Demographics, Americaspromise.org, 2020. www.americaspromise.org/us-military-demographics