By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
May 26, 2008 - A group of past and present military women gathered at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery here today to commemorate fallen comrades and celebrate women's contributions to the nation's defense. WIMSA's annual Memorial Day observance highlights the selfless duty and sacrifice provided by all of America's servicemembers, said retired Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. Sue Anne Pierce, the event's keynote speaker.
"As I stand here with you today, I think of our soldiers, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard members, who willingly serve this country – women and men – ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for this nation, because they love this country, and they are compelled to keep us free," Pierce said.
"As we continue to celebrate Memorial Day please help me and my foundation keep their memory alive; and let's not forget their families, who serve as well," added Pierce, who serves as the president of the U.S. Army Women's Foundation.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, WIMSA foundation president, said that during the women's memorial groundbreaking ceremony in June 1995, "we began a tradition of having a servicewoman or veteran from each of the five services speak at our ceremonies, because Memorial Day pays tribute – individually or collectively – to all the women who have ever served or served today."
"Who better to speak for them, than one of them?" Vaught noted. Two years later, she said, the memorial started an annual Memorial Day tribute to comrades who had died over the past year by dropping rose petals into the memorial's reflecting pool.
The guest service speakers at this year's Memorial Day ceremony were Army Col. Carolyn Jones, Marine Sgt. Danielle Holladay, retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Anna Der-Vartanian, Air National Guard Master Sgt. Karen Marshall, and Coast Guard Lt. Aja Kirksey.
Der-Vartanian joined the Navy in 1943. About 16 years later she became the Navy's first master chief petty officer, the highest enlisted grade.
"I'm here to represent and remember all of the women and men of the Navy who have served our wonderful country so proudly and so well," Der-Vartanianian said. "I place these rose petals in tribute and in memory to all of them."
Marshall spoke of her desire to "reflect and remember our past and present servicemembers and their legacy of sacrificial service, for they truly understand this statement: Freedom is not free."
Navy Capt. Elizabeth S. Niemyer, who has been selected for promotion to rear admiral lower half, noted that May 13 marked the 100th anniversary of the Navy Nurse Corps.
"Today, the (Navy) Nurse Corps, totaling 4,100 strong, knows first-hand the injuries and illnesses borne from war," Niemyer said. "We serve around the globe, in Iraq and Afghanistan, on the front lines of the war and on the home front of America.
"Thanks to the generations of Navy nurses who have moved us forward through other wars, we have a solid formation in which to meet the challenges of tomorrow," Niemyer said.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeanne Holm, the author of the 1982 book, "Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution," was on hand to meet with other military women veterans and those serving in the present-day.
"The revolution is over," Holm said at the conclusion of the ceremony. America's military women, she pointed out, "It's over; the women are now totally integrated into the armed forces. There are hardly any restrictions of any kind, anymore."
Today's military women "are able to do their part and serve their country in a way that they can best serve it," Holm said.