For the next installment of our Women in Service series, American Veteran has chosen to highlight retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, one of the most-decorated female service members in American history and the visionary behind the Women In Military Service For America Memorial at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery.
Raised in Scottland, Ill., Vaught decided to join the Air Force, seeking opportunities to lead. Her distinguished career took her around the world in a variety of command roles. In 1966, Vaught was the first woman to deploy with an operational unit as part of the Strategic Air Command bombardment wing to Guam, and later became one of the only non-nurses deployed to Vietnam.
After President Lyndon Johnson signed a law permitting women to serve at the flag and general officer level, Vaught was the first woman in the military's comptroller field to receive the distinction.
Prior to her retirement from the Air Force in 1985, Vaught commanded the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command in North Chicago, Ill., where her unit was the first commanded by a female officer to receive the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the nation's highest peacetime award for a military unit.
Through the course of her distinguished military career Vaught received such notable awards as the Defense and Air Force Distinguished Service medals, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
However, Vaught continued to serve her fellow veterans and her country once she left the military. Throughout the 1990s, Vaught campaigned for a national memorial honoring America's female service members, a vision that came to fruition with the opening of the Women's Memorial, the only national memorial honoring all of our nation's military women, on Oct. 18, 1997.
Today, Vaught is recognized as one of the chief advocates and leaders for America's female service members through her work as president of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation, the organization responsible for building and now maintaining and operating the memorial.
Today, the memorial stands as a testament to the contributions more than 2.5 million American military women have made to our nation's storied military history. The memorial and its expansive education facilities house a gallery dedicated to the service of America's military women dating back to the American Revolution, as well as a Hall of Honor and registry chronicling the experiences of thousands of individual female veterans, past and present. Artifacts, photos and exhibits are maintained by the foundation to preserve the legacy of our female veterans and inspire generations to come.
Thousands of veterans and their loved ones visit the memorial each year. In 2007, the memorial celebrated its 10th anniversary with a series of events around the nation's Capitol, including a gala, reunion, an anniversary ceremony, and memorial services. An all-female color guard from AMVETS Post 1912 in Farmington, N.M., presented the nation's colors for the candlelight march from the Lincoln Memorial, across the Potomac River, to the Service of Remembrance on the memorial's plaza. To view a DoD photo essay from the 10th anniversary, Click Here.
Vaught continues to muster public support for the Women's Memorial, honoring the sacrifices and valor of America's female service members. She continues to speak nationally on her work and the work of American military women, bringing female veterans' contributions and their unique needs and concerns to the forefront of the national discourse.
(Photos: Top: In March 2009, retired Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught takes First Lady Michelle Obama on a tour of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial during an event honoring Women's History Month and military families. White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian. Middle: in 1968, then-Air Force Maj. Wilma L. Vaught poses for a photo while serving with Military Assistance Command in Saigon, Vietnam. Photo courtesy of retired Brig. Gen. Vaught. Bottom: Gen. Vaught greets her fellow female veterans at the dedication of the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery on Oct. 18, 1997. Department of Defense photo by Staff Sgt. Renee L. Sitler. All photos are property of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation and have been furnished solely for use on the American Veteran Online blog.)