by Martha Lockwood
Air Force News Service
3/21/2013 – FORT MEADE, Md. (AFNS) —
“Let the generations know that women in uniform also guaranteed their freedom. That our resolve was just as great as the brave men who stood among us. And with victory, our hearts were just as full and beat just as fast–that the tears fell just as hard for those we left behind.”
Anne Sosh Brehm, 1LT, US Army Air Corps (nurse), WWII
“That,” said retired Brig. Gen, Wilma L. Vaught referring to the quote above, “is what the Women’s Memorial is all about,” using the more familiar term for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. For years, no one knew who had written that quote in the registration book for visitors to the museum. Finally, Anne Sosh Brehm, an Army Air Corps nurse, was found and recognized for her service and her writing.
Brehm had four brothers in the Navy during World War II, but she wanted to be “where the action was,” so she joined the Army Air Corps, ultimately ending up in China. Hers is just one of the many, many stories about women in service to their country.
Currently, there are over a quarter of a million women registered with the Women’s Memorial, and that’s “probably less than 10 percent” of those who could and should register, according to Vaught, who is president of the Women in Military Service Foundation, the organization that is the driving force behind the museum.
Vaught was first elected as president of the Women In Military Service Foundation–the driving force behind the museum–in 1987, and she embraced that position with the same gusto and exuberance that had become the hallmark of her career, always building on the opportunities that were presented to her, always seeking and respecting wise counsel and strong mentors.
A mid-century graduate of the University of Illinois, Vaught was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force when she realized that her corporate position wasn’t going to lead to a supervisory position, no matter how well-educated and well-prepared she was.
After completing the Officer’s Basic Military Training Course at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Vaught then spent three months as a student at the Statistical Services Officers’ Course at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.
After leadership positions at Barksdale AFB, La., and Zaragoza Air Base, Spain, Vaught returned to the United States, where at McCoy AFB, Fla., she was assigned to the 306th Combat Support Group, and subsequently became chief of the Management Analysis Division for the 306th Bombardment Wing. It was during this period that the general became the first woman to deploy with the Strategic Air Command operational unit at Andersen AFB, Guam.
During a stateside assignment from 1967 to ’68, Vaught pursued her master’s in business administration, and the next year was sent as a management analyst in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Comptroller, Military Assistance Command in Saigon, one of a very few women to serve in Vietnam. In 1972, the general became the first female Air Force officer to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
This was followed by a decade of increasingly more prominent assignments in Washington, starting with a four-year assignment to the Directorate of Management Analysis, Office of the Comptroller at Air Force Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and culminating in her becoming the command’s deputy chief of staff, comptroller, in March 1980.
Although her last posting as the commander of the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command, Great lakes, Ill., brought her full-circle to her home state, the general’s fondness for Washington found her “retiring” back in the nation’s capital. Her legacy of leadership continued, first as a board member and ultimately as president of the Women In Military Service to America Foundation.
She takes no credit for coming up with the idea for the memorial museum, and is quick to credit two World War II women veterans from Ohio for giving voice to the idea that women had been left out of every war memorial that had been erected since the Revolution, even though women had participated in every war.
“We had been forgotten,” she said. Typically, Vaught saw this as “an opportunity to do something that was good.” It was also an opportunity to do something well.
Not wanting to push ahead of those who were trying to get space to erect a memorial on the mall, but fully believing in the need to erect a women’s service memorial and museum as soon as possible, the foundation board delighted in the opportunity to use the abandoned Ceremonial Entrance of Arlington Cemetery as their focal point. It also became the façade of their museum, memorial and education center. Breaking ground on June 22, 1995, the 33,000-square-foot Education Center was dedicated.
The “heart” of the Memorial is a computerized database of information, a register that serves as a living history, an ever-expanding, dynamic resource. The foundation is actively seeking to register veterans, active duty, National Guard and Reserve servicewomen, women from service organizations who served overseas during the time of war, as well as cadet nurses.
If there is one message that Gen. Vaught could convey to every servicewoman, it is this: “Register. Please register. It is important to your family, other women servicemembers and your country. And it costs nothing.”
There are three ways a person can register in the memorial to maintain the legacy. One way is to go to the website and click on “membership.” From there one can select the form and either fill it out on line or download it and mail it in. A third way to register is to call 1-800-4SALUTE and a volunteer will take the information over the phone. Women’s history month seems an apt time to take advantage of such an easy registration opportunity.
And if there is a message that she could send young women entering the Air Force today? “It’s a great opportunity to learn and be part of history.”
That’s firsthand experience speaking!