One hundred and fifty years ago, when the struggle for women's rightsbegan, it was often said that a woman's chief job in life was to raisevirtuous sons who would then go out into the world and fight the battles,win the wars, and do the right things.
Just as in battle, the fight often comes down to one decisive moment. Forwomen's rights, that took place seventy-five years later, when thesuffragists faced losing ratification on women's voting rights by one vote.
Then Harry Burn, a 24-year-old legislator from my home state ofTennessee, changed his NO vote to YES. Why? Because he had gotten aletter from his mother saying, "Be a good boy Harry, and do the rightthing!"
Well, he did the right thing, and the rest is history. Throughout themonth of March, as we celebrate Women's History Month, this and otherstories of women's struggle for equality will be told in our schools andclassrooms.
But one story that is rarely told in our history books is the story ofwomen in the military. Their struggle for the right to defend our nationdates back to the beginning of our nation, when women often disguisedthemselves as men to fight.
Throughout the conflicts and wars fought to keep our nation free, the names of our military heroes ring familiar -- Paul Revere, Ulysses S. Grant,Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, Norman Schwarzkopf.
But what of our heroines. How many history books and grade school children mark the names of Clara Maas, Mary Walker, Agnes Mangerich or Marie Rossi.
Clara Maas was a nurse during the Spanish-American War who helped Dr.Walter Reed discover the cause of yellow fever. She died as a result ofthe experiment.
Dr. Mary Walker was a prisoner of war during the Civil War and the firstand only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for her military service.
Agnes Mangerich was a flight nurse who crash-landed in German-occupiedAlbania during World War II. She hiked to safety -- a journey that tookher and her comrades nearly two months through the mountains of Europeduring winter.
And Marie Rossi was an Army helicopter pilot during the Gulf War who madethe ultimate sacrifice. In a CNN interview just days before her death, she responded to the question about how it was to be a woman facing suchdanger and her answer was that it was her job...there was nothing peculiarabout her being a woman -- she was just the person called upon to do it.
Rhonda Cornum, another heroine from the Gulf War who suffered at the handsof the Iraqis as a prisoner of war, once commented: "The qualities that are most important in all military jobs -- things like integrity, moralcourage, and determination -- have nothing to do with gender."
Yet gender has proven to be a barrier for women in so many ways for so very long. In the U.S. Armed Services, necessity has often led to opportunityfor women. And when our country needed them, they answered the call.
Isn't it ironic that women served in military roles before they even earned the right to vote. And too often, after the conflict had ended or the war was won, they were told to go home again. Even as we celebrate 150 yearssince women first won the right to vote -- we also celebrate 50 years since women won the right to serve as permanent members of our nation'smilitary.
As is the case throughout the history of the woman's movement, women in the military have not sought special treatment or status. Rather, they havesought equal and fair treatment -- the ability to defend our freedom, tochoose our leaders and to participate equally in the acts and decisionsthat determine our collective destiny. Beatrice Hood Stroup, a WAC duringWorld War II captured that feeling when she said, "It wasn't just mybrother's country or my husband's country, it was my country as well. Andso this war wasn't just their war, it was my war, and I needed to serve init."
These words and the words of Rhonda Cornum can be found enscribed in glassand reflected on the walls of the Women In Military Service for AmericaMemorial. Last October, I joined my husband, Secretary Cohen, BrigadierGeneral Wilma Vott, and nearly 36,000 military women, past and present, tocelebrate women's service in the military and dedicate the memorial. As Itoured the incredible facility, located at the gateway to ArlingtonNational Cemetery -- our nation's most honored military resting place, Irealized one important thing -- this Memorial and the historic service ofour nation's military women is a legacy of our past -- yes -- but it isalso a promise of our future -- a future in which young girls can bewhatever they can dream -- and where those dreams just as often may include visions of becoming pilots, soldiers, sailors, generals, and yes, even,Presidents.
In the last five years, the barriers to women's service have fallen at anincredible pace. Some of the firsts include:
And doors of opportunity are opening across the spectrum. Women play avital role not only in shaping our nation's military, but also ourworkforce and our economy. For example, did you know that:
Before I conclude today, I do want to offer a special message for the menand women who serve in the armed forces. The work you are doing, in timesof crisis and in times of peace, is so very important. And I remember sowell the relationships and friendships that Al and I shared with militaryfamilies during his service in the Army. I even remember with greatfondness our first home after we got married -- on base at Fort Rucker,Alabama! Please know that our thoughts are with you as you serve ournation and we are forever grateful for your duty and service.
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