“The Importance of Capturing the Stories of Women Veterans” is the second of three collaborative blog posts featuring authors from the VA’s Center for Women Veterans, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP) and a sailor whose story is preserved among the permanent collections of the Library of Congress. The following is a post by Kayla Williams, director of VA’s Center for Women Veterans. The first post, “Making a Difference,” is available here.
When my twin nephews were young, they went through a phase of fascination with all things military, idolizing soldiers and wanting to play war. “I was in the Army,” I offered, excited to be able to share some of my experiences with them.
“No way!” they exclaimed in unison, “You’re a girl!”
If it were an isolated incident from two young children, I could easily have dismissed it. Sadly, however, the presence of women in today’s military and as Veterans remains unrecognized by many adults as well. “This parking is for Veterans, lady,” read the note someone left on the windshield of a woman who served in the U.S. Navy when she parked in a spot designated for Veterans.
Kayla Williams getting promoted to Sergeant in Tal Afar, Iraq, December, 2003
When many of these small incidents combine over the years, their collective weight can make women Veterans feel invisible and unrecognized, their service unappreciated. That may make them less likely to take advantage of the VA care and benefits they have earned.
Women have always constituted a minority presence in the military. Many may not know that the law limited our participation to 2 percent for decades. It increased to roughly 15 percent of the total force by the early 1990s, and has hovered there since. Today, we make up just under 10 percent of the total population of Veterans. Unfortunately, our presence in military histories is even smaller; we are largely omitted from many narratives.
Capturing and sharing the tales of women who have served our nation ensures that they are not erased from history and do not become invisible. The Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress, where women’s stories are also underrepresented, offers a wonderful opportunity for us to partner to tackle this problem. Women Veterans and their supporters can learn how to participate and contribute an oral history and/or other items for their collection. Anyone interested in hearing our stories — students, scholars, family members, history buffs, advocates and more — can search the archives or browse through the project’s Experiencing War web features, which include themed collections of digitized stories, such as Women at War, Women of Four Wars and WASP: First in Flight.
I urge you to answer the first lady’s call for women Veterans to tell our stories. The Veterans History Project allows us to do just that—to share our stories and shape our place in the narratives of American history. Tell your own story. Encourage the women in your life to share their military experiences and to declare, “I’m One – I am a Proud Veteran;” then record and submit their stories. Peruse the stories shared by others. Together, we can raise awareness and transform our culture to appreciate women’s proud tradition of service and sacrifice.