When she first joined the military in the mid-1960s, Irene Trowell-Harris never imagined the creation of a national memorial to honor the hard-won service achievements of so many servicewomen like herself.

The now retired Air National Guard Maj. Gen. Trowell-Harris was the first female African-American to be promoted to general officer in the National Guard.

But even after 38 years of military service, Trowell-Harris is deeply humbled whenever she enters the Women In Military Service For America (WIMSA) Memorial.

“To me, personally, words cannot adequately explain or describe what it feels like walking in this memorial,” said Trowell-Harris, who is now director of VA’s Center for Women Veterans. “This memorial recognizes (and) honors me for my service to this country and all the women Veterans out there…the 1.9 million…they put their [lives] on the line to serve their country…now they are getting just and fair recognition and honor for their service to this nation.”

The memorial, situated at the ceremonial entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, is the only one of its kind.

“What is really unique about this memorial is that it is for all women, all services, and all eras,” said Trowell-Harris.

WIMSA, often called the Women’s Memorial, marked its 15th anniversary October 20.

But the journey to get there wasn’t easy.

Just as it took time for women to progress through the ranks, so did the efforts to establish the memorial for women Veterans.

“It took about 15 years to really look at the planning process, the fundraising, and getting support from everybody,” said Trowell-Harris. “The women Veterans, the professional members, the White House, the Veterans Service Organizations, [and] everybody really worked together.”

The memorial now spans 4.2 acres, but the weight and depth of its stories cover so much more ground.

The heart of WIMSA is a computerized database of information known as the Register, which houses approximately 250,000 women Veterans’ stories, an ever-changing tribute to sacrifice.

“I am so touched as they tell some of the experiences that happened to them, and you see the kind of barriers and obstacles they were confronted with and overcame,” said Wilma L. Vaught, president of the Women’s Memorial Foundation, “or you see those moments which just challenged them so much. You read those stories, and it gives you strength to go on.”

Vaught hopes that the memorial will continue to educate and inspire generations to come.

“I think it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done for women, because it tells a total story,” she said. “It tells the history. It speaks to the accomplishments. It speaks to the future. It speaks of what’s going on now…those who come here leave with a sense of pride.”

Vaught invites women Veterans to help her continue to build the memorial with their own unique stories.

“We achieved half of my goal for dedication, which was to have 500,000 people registered,” she said. “We’re within about 200 of being at 250,000.”

For more information about the Women’s Memorial, visit their website, or register online or download a registration form here.

Jennifer Sardam is a VA public affairs specialist and a U.S. Army Veteran who served as an Army journalist during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. She serves with the 29th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment based out of Baltimore, Maryland.

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Published on Nov. 9, 2012

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5 Comments

  1. Shanda Taylor-Boyd November 19, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    I strongly believe just as the bible says, “There’s a season for everything. I thanks all those who made this significant contribution possible. I once again, and every opportunity I have, especially since Thanksgiving 2012 is upon us, extend my sin ere appreciation to the VA for showing me a whole new way to live and to love life. The DAV has has as well been a leading force in my daily will to thrive as a female Veteran Hero. I am blessed beyond words. God bless you all and Happy Thanksgiving 20!2.

  2. Jo Ann Littles-KIlguss November 11, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Well hello, Wish you would have put up some pictures or at least one of a black woman. I hope there are some on the memorial.

  3. david glick sr November 11, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Women are as the future is to the service important they serve and protect this country like all

  4. Karen Thompson Meter November 9, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    I was also in the military from 1965-1973 as a hospital corpsman. The memorial is special to me and I am a charter member–I am pictured in my light blue Navy uniform.

  5. Debra Gannaway November 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    First Thank you for your service. I was very happy to hear about this honor to all military woman. I served during the Vietnam era in the Navy. I will come see this some day. Thank You. Debra Gannaway

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