First Lady Marks Women's History Month at Arlington Women's Memorial
By DeNeen L. Brown
As part of her continued campaign to focus on military families, first lady Michelle Obama visited the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery today, where she thanked women for their years of service in the U.S. military and said she was honored and "deeply moved" by her meetings with military families in recent years.
"Military families have done their duty, and we as a grateful nation must do ours. We must do everything in our power to honor them by supporting, not just by word but by deed," said Obama, adding that her visit to the cemetery was her first event to help commemorate Women's History Month.
Military families, Obama said, "are mothers and fathers who have lost their beloved children to war. They are husbands and wives keeping the family on track while their wives and husbands are deployed on duty. They are grandparents, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers who are taking care of children while their moms and dads in uniform are away."
Outside the hall, the wind whipped over the snow-covered grounds. Inside, about 100 people, many in uniform, gathered. The audience sat quietly as Obama spoke. Some leaned in closer to hear the first lady on stage.
The audience sat quietly, as Obama spoke. Some leaned in closer to hear the first lady on stage.
People sat still in their seats as Obama recounted the heroics of women in service -- from volunteering for nighttime flights in Iraq in sand storms to rescue a wounded Marine to leading battalions in times of combat to servicewomen who teamed up to form an all-female search force in Iraq to calm Iraqi concerns that male soldiers might search Muslim women.
Obama cited Marine Corporal Ramona Valdez, who was part of that team and whose convoy was attacked.
"And she was killed four days before her 21st birthday," Obama said.
"Marine Major General Douglas O'Dell Jr. wept as he awarded Purple Hearts to the survivors from Corporal Valdez's force. He said he was moved, I quote, 'Not by special sympathy for the women,' but because of the display of equality born of that horrible day in Fallujah. The general went on to explain that while military leaders believed women Marines could perform as bravely as men under deadly attack, there had never been a trial like the one in Fallujah to prove it."
In the audience sat Alyce Dixon, who was born in 1907 and served as a company clerk in the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion during World War II. Dixon's task was to eliminate stacks and stacks of undelivered mail and packages addressed to U.S. military that were stored in warehouses in Britain and in France. Also sitting in the audience was Mary Ragland, who served as company clerk in the African American 6888th Central Postal Directory during World War II.
Before the event, Obama toured the museum, where she was greeted by Dixon in a wheelchair. Dixon said, "It's so nice to see you!" Then added: "I want to get rid of the Republicans!"
Obama laughed good-naturedly at that. "Thank you for your service," she told the small group of women who greeted her. She shook each one's hand.
On stage, Obama said that women's service in the military reaches back to the Revolutionary War when a woman named Deborah Samson disguised herself as a man and joined the 4th Massachusetts Regiment.
"Throughout our nation's history, women have played an important role in the military as well as in organizations supporting the military during times of conflict," Obama told the audience. "Our foremothers and our sisters today have joined our forefathers and our brothers today in securing our liberty and protecting our country. Women's military service goes back to America's early beginnings, and servicewomen have long navigated the twists and turns of the women's rights struggle to secure a more equal and fuller place in the United States military."
Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught introduced the first lady, thanking Obama for making servicewomen and their welfare a priority in the new administration.
Vaught said that Obama was "following in the footsteps of Eleanor Roosevelt of World War II fame." Vaught said that Eleanor Roosevelt had invited servicewomen to tea at the White House.
Vaught, who served in the Air Force for more than 28 years and was one of the few military women in the Vietnam War who was not a nurse, turned to the side where Obama stood. "During my time in the military and the years since," Vaught said, "I've never known of the first lady issuing such an invitation.'' Vaught then asked the audience whether anyone would like to have tea at the White House.
The audience laughed and cheered.
"All right," Obama said, smiling. "You're all invited. I think that's an excellent idea."
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