Women Veteran Trailblazers

Date:

By DENIS MCDONOUGH

Lourdes, thank you for that kind introduction. More importantly, thank you for your distinguished career of service, which continues with your invaluable leadership of the Center for Women Veterans. Many of Lourdes’ team, our valued colleagues, are here in the audience. My thanks to each of you. You and your work is critical to VA’s ability to deliver outcomes for all the Vets we serve. I’d especially like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to Ana Claudio. Ana is a retired Navy Senior Chief and has been working tirelessly behind the scenes to manage this program from start to finish.

Monica Mohindra, thank you for your partnership, for your family’s legacy of service in uniform, and for all you do to collect, preserve, and share the stories of Veterans through the Veterans History Project. Your work is critical to ensuring future generations fully understand all that Veterans have done for our nation.

And last but certainly not least, to the 21 women Vets who’ve dedicated their lives to making a difference—thank you. Beyond the discipline and standards, the duty and sacrifice, what binds your stories together is an unyielding commitment to others—the strength to stand up and fight for our country, our communities, and our people—both in and out of uniform. I’m honored to pay tribute to all of you who blaze new trails for the next generation of women Vets to follow.

Women Vets have served and sacrificed in defense of freedom, liberty, and justice in every war and conflict in America’s history, going back to the Revolutionary War. But it wasn’t until June 12th, 1948—75 years ago, today—that President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law, allowing women the right to permanently serve in the armed forces. Two women Vets from World War II—members of The Greatest Generation—led the fight to pass this legislation.

The first was Lieutenant Colonel Charity Edna Adams, who commanded the Six Triple Eight—the only all-Black Women’s Army Corps unit deployed to Europe in World War II. Her unit faced racism, prejudice, and discrimination while deployed overseas. But when then-Major Adams boycotted her unit’s segregated living quarters and recreational facilities, a General threatened her with court-martial for insubordination. He told her, “I’m going to send a white first lieutenant down here to show you how to run this unit.” Major Adams responded, “Over my dead body, sir.” She continued in command, never backing down in the fight against injustice.

The second was Colonel Mary Louise Rasmuson, who was among the very first cohort of 400 women to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps at the start of World War II—a unit she would later command. During her time as director of the Corps, Colonel Rasmuson advocated for the integration of Black women into the military, opened 26 new military occupations to women, and significantly expanded the number of women who were allowed to serve. In her words, “I knew what war was. I knew I would have two brothers that would be going into the service and I saw no reason why women shouldn’t.”

These women helped this nation and our allies win World War II. But when the war ended, there were no parades to greet them and—for many decades—no recognition of their service. Still, they both became lifelong advocates for women in the armed forces, breaking down barriers and fighting for equal opportunities in the military. 75 years ago today, they led the fight to integrate women into the military. But they didn’t stop there. A month later, they succeeded in fully integrating the military, as President Truman emphatically stated, “without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” Think about that. They helped this country integrate the military and begin to overcome its terrible history of segregation. In the face of an unfair system and an unjust society—they catalyzed meaningful change that helped edge us closer to that more perfect union, a more perfect union to which we still aspire.

Lieutenant Colonel Adams and Colonel Rasmuson will especially be remembered by the many generations of women Veterans who follow in their footsteps. Women comprise the fastest growing population of Veterans in no small part because of their tireless dedication, with over two million women having bravely served our country in uniform to this day. And they’re finally getting the recognition they so rightly deserve.

A year ago, the Six Triple Eight were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, nearly eight decades after their service to our country. And a little over a month ago, an Army base in Virginia—which, among other notable units, is home to the Army Women’s Museum—was named in Lieutenant Colonel Edna Adams’ memory. Her service, and that of the Six Triple Eight, is featured in the lifelong work of one of today’s Trailblazers. Edna Cummings, thank you for honoring and sharing their stories. Meanwhile, earlier this year Colonel Mary Louise Rasmuson’s name became the newest to grace a VA facility—the Alaska VA Health Care System—one of just eight VA facilities named for women in the entire country, six of which have been named since 2021. Many, many more will follow.

With the eyes of the world upon them, these women did extraordinary things, and drove extraordinary change for decades to come. And there are thousands more stories of unnamed, courageous women Vets taking risks, facing down adversity, and fighting battles in and out of uniform, for a stronger America, for equality, for opportunity, for inclusion, and for a better and brighter future for all Americans. 

But crucially, as they were smashing ceilings and knocking down doors, they made sure to put a ladder down so the climb would be a little easier for the women who followed. It is in the tradition of those trailblazers that we are all here today. And that’s why we honor you today. You are all the product of the paths they chartered, the change they created, and the ceilings they shattered. Because of you, future generations of women will ask: Have I opened the door wider for others to follow? Their answers will be found in the stories of women Veterans like all of you.

God bless you all. And God bless our nation’s servicemembers, our Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. Thank you, and congratulations. Now, let’s hand out some awards!

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