Why It's Important to Celebrate Female Veterans

During the Revolutionary War, Deborah Sampson, a mother of three, disguised herself as a man named Robert Shurtleff. She joined the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. At West Point, N.Y., she served two years in a combat role, long before Congress authorized women to do so.Camilla Zimbal, a U.S. Army veteran from the 1970s, told Sampson's story earlier this month to a rapt crowd of 40 or so people in the rotunda of the library at Texas Woman's University in Denton. Zimbal is commander of Texas Women Veterans, Chapter 48. She spoke in recognition of Women Veterans Day, June 12, the date in 1948 that President Harry Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act. That law enabled women to serve as permanent regular members of the armed forces."Women served for years without recognition, benefits or the honor they deserved," Zimbal said. "Texas Women Veterans Day reminds us of our deep commitment and solemn responsibility to endure and preserve the past for the future."Eva Fulton, who founded North Texas Women Veterans three years ago in Fort Worth, reckons that North Texas likely has the largest population of women veterans in the U.S. In 2014 the Texas government estimated there were 153,824 female veterans in the state and a total of 1.6 million veterans.After Zimbal's speech, Charity Wright, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "I Served Like a Girl," talked about some of her experiences in the Army for 10 years. Currently a reservist, Wright told the gathering that she was a survivor of trauma and post-traumatic stress. "There were years of my life that I thought I wouldn't survive," she said, "but I'm here to tell you today that trials produce perseverance."The mother of two said she had met hundreds of women veterans over the years. "They all share something in common," she said, "the supernatural ability to survive and thrive beyond hardship."Then the crowd watched an inspiring documentary about a once-forgotten chapter of American military history called Silver Wings, Flying Dreams. It tells the story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. They nicknamed themselves Fifinellas, after a character created by children's author Roald Dahl and turned into a Disney cartoon about female gremlins. The WASPs were created in 1943, and some 25,000 women applied for positions as military pilots. Only 1,830 were accepted.Most of their intense training was done at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. After four months of military flight training, 1,074 qualified. During the two years of ferrying personnel and supplies, flight-testing many airplanes and other missions in the U.S. and Europe, 38 of them were killed. The WASPs flew a total of 6 million miles.But as more male pilots started to return from the European theater, there was a clamor to end the program so the men could take over. Critics claimed the cost of training women as pilots was too much. On Dec. 20, 1944, Congress disbanded the WASPs. When the women found out, "there wasn't a dry eye," one woman said in the documentary. "There were no honors, no veterans benefits" because they were classified as civilian employees.Then began a 33-year campaign by the WASPs to gain the recognition they deserved. After decades of grassroots lobbying Congress, aerospace companies and others, their efforts paid off. In 1977, the House and Senate passed legislation recognizing the WASPs' contributions to America's World War II effort. In 2009 President Barack Obama awarded all the surviving WASPs the Congressional Gold Medal.Texas Woman's University was the right place to hold the women veterans' event. Some 300 students there are veterans — 2% of the student body, the highest percentage of any university in Texas, said Sarah Matteson, a case manager at TWU. There are also 400 dependents of the veterans.Zimbal's closing words generated wide applause: "Each time a veteran woman stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope for the veterans of the future."Mike Tharp is a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal. He served in the Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star. He writes about veterans' affairs and other issues for The Dallas Morning News. Email: miketharp33@gmail.com  Continue reading...

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