Military Women’s Memorial honors its groundbreaking founder on 25th anniversary

Wilma Vaught
Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught salutes after the Military Women’s Memorial 25th anniversary celebration, in Arlington National Cemetery. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Military Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery celebrated 25 years with a weekend of events and a new facility named after its founder.

On Sunday, the memorial dedicated the new Vaught Center, named after the memorial’s founding president, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught. Servicewomen and supporters alike lined up to pay tribute and take photos with the 92-year-old veteran.

Phyllis Wilson, president of the memorial, said that when it opened 25 years ago, 40,000 people came to celebrate. She said the memorial is significant because women who serve have a very different timeline.

“Men were generals in the Revolutionary War. We did not have a first gen (general) until 1970,” Wilson said. “Men went to West Point and to the Naval Academy. Women could not even walk through the doors as cadets until 1976. So, a very different timeline.”

Wilma Vaught,Cecile Cover
World War II veteran Cecile Cover, left, of McLean, Va., and retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught talk after the Military Women’s Memorial 25th anniversary celebration, in Arlington National Cemetery, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

She praised Gen. Vaught and spoke about her history in the service.

“She joined the Air Force at 27 years of age, and look out! After that, nothing stopped her,” Wilson said. “The military truly does give women many opportunities that maybe they don’t find in their civilian sectors. So she just kept going.”

Gen. Vaught retired in 1985 and became president of a foundation that helped raise money to build the memorial. She also served as the memorial’s president for nearly 30 years.

(Photo: Military Women’s Memorial)

Retired Maj. Gen. Jan Edmunds, board chair for the memorial, said there would be no memorial without Gen. Vaught.

“In order to do something like this in Washington, D.C. — to raise the money to get the permissions — you need somebody who can’t take the word ‘no,’ and she’s a bulldog,” Edmunds said.

She said Vaught wanted to create the memorial so other military women would know that their stories are essential: “She wanted to do this to make military women understand that they are important and will continue to be important.”

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