First all-women Veterans’ Honor Flight from Columbus visits D.C. war memorials



Honor Flights from across the country bring Veterans to Washington, D.C., several times a week.

But Sept. 10, the Honor Flight Columbus organization out of Ohio sent the group’s first all-women Veterans’ Honor Flight to the nation’s capital. While there, 81 women—Veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War—visited their respective monuments.

The trip to Washington kicked off with a hosted event at the Women in Military Service for America (WIMSA) Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, and included stops at a number of sites: the Iwo Jima Memorial, the U.S. Air Force Memorial and the memorials for World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught—one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history—was among those who greeted the group at the WIMSA Memorial; in 1966, she was also the first woman to deploy with an Air Force bomber wing.

“It means so much to see this group of women come in and see what the memorial means to them, because it does mean something to them,” said Vaught. “It is seeing their service to our country paid tribute to by the nation. And yet with it all, there comes laughter and joy, and that’s the way it ought to be about serving our country.”

As the pioneers of their times, these women blazed a path that until then was only traveled for men. And yet despite their contributions, they weren’t so readily accepted as equals.

“My career field was supposed to be aerospace jet mechanic,” said retired Air Force Veteran Phyllis Collins, who goes by the nickname “Sunshine.”

“And the guys didn’t like me there … I was supposed to be working on a dead battery. They hooked it up, and I got zapped,” she said. “So I changed my career field real fast. I became a military cop.”

Decades later, there are female Army Rangers, and the U.S. military continues the push to fully integrate women into front-line and infantry units.

“It’s a lot different, what they do now,” said retired Air Force Sgt. Deb Millerberg, an aeromedical evacuation technician during Vietnam. “When I was in, I was an enlisted female, so they didn’t have female crew quarters. I got put off base when my crew was on base, or I was in TDY (temporary duty) quarters. They’ve come a long way.”

Those who took that unconventional path did so because the opportunities were greater than the challenges.

“There were a lot of difficult times, but I don’t regret a minute. Joining the Air Force opened up the world,” said Millerberg, who served in a number of overseas locations during the war. “We flew throughout Southeast Asia, all the bases, into Tan Son Nhut and Saigon (Vietnam); Japan; Korea; Okinawa, [and] Thailand. I went to Jungle Survival School in the Philippines. Everything was really exciting.”

One of Millerberg’s greatest memories was working with the crew members who helped with Operation Babylift, the mass evacuation of hundreds of thousands of children from South Vietnam to the United States and other countries (including Australia, France and Canada) at the end of the Vietnam War.

The women were just as eager as the men to do their part for the nation, but there were only so many roles available to them.

“Most times, women were not wanted overseas unless you had a nurse’s degree, and you could take care [of] or nurture the men that were injured,” said Dorothy “Dottie” Wolfe, who served in the Marine Corps, Marine Corps Reserve and Air National Guard. “But I served, and I was proud to have served. I would have gone had they sent me, under any situation. That’s what you signed the contract for, and I knew it.”

Wolfe eventually got activated for and deployed to Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, as she was approaching 60 years old.

“I don’t know how many years I’ve got left, because I’m an old woman,” she mused, “but God has been good to me, and I love this nation. If we were in need of people today, I would go back.”

The Columbus Honor Flight was much more than a group of tourists looking to take in the sights.

So many had personal stories of loss for which the memorials could provide a measure of solace and connection to the past.

It was Barbara Murray’s first chance to visit the Vietnam Wall, and she wanted to look up the captain for whom she’d worn a POW bracelet back in high school, a memento she still keeps close to her heart. “About 10 years ago,” said Murray, once a cryptographer with the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, “they found his remains … I’m interested in looking up my MIA’s (missing in action) name on the wall to see that it’s been changed from MIA to KIA.”

“It’s going to be quite an impact,” said Millerberg, trying to hold back the tears. “I actually flew with two people who are on the wall; so yeah, I want to see it.”

It breaks my heart to think of so many thousands [who] died,” said Wolfe. “They had goals. They had things they wanted to do, and probably had plans that never took place because they were sent to Vietnam, because they signed that contract with the United States government, promising fidelity and whatever was required up to and including their life. But it just breaks my heart, because there were so many of them that were so young.”

VA estimates there are 21.9 million living Veterans in the United States, and about nine percent of them are women. Nationally, the majority of female Veterans served in the modern wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with only about 13.5 percent serving in Vietnam and three percent from both Korea and World War II.

For more on women Veterans, including a number of resources for women Vets, visit VA’s Center for Women Veterans.

You can also read more about the Columbus Honor Flight at the Columbus Dispatch:  Honor flight solely for female veterans a first for Columbus.


Video produced by Ben Pekkanen

Author

Jennifer Sardam

– Jennifer Sardam is a VA public affairs specialist and a U.S. Army Veteran who served as an Army journalist during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. She retired in 2014 from the Maryland Army National Guard’s 29th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, after 20 years in the Army.

Comments

  1. Lola Marie Gibson    

    I am so happy to see that females are finally getting to be seen as more than a nurse in all the wars and military. I would love to be a member of the flight. I served 20 years 6 months and 3 days in the United States Navy, from Jan 28, 1982 til July , 2012.

    1. Steven Heggebo    

      With all due respect and gratitude for the women of the armed services, both active and veterans, I think it to be rather sexist to set aside an entire, Honor Flight, designated for women only. If men were to do the same can you imagine the backlash? Shame on those responsible for this flight. Fighting for freedom means freedom for all and the last time I checked freedom and equality go hand in hand. Regardless, God bless and thank you, for those who will be on this Honor Flight.

      BTW, Lola, I don’t know where you hail from, but where I live women have been recognized for their contributions (as more than just nurses) to the military for decades. You should join or visit your local AMVETS or VFW. Where I live there are several female members and their pictures and awards hang on the walls alongside of the men’s. Thank you for your service!

      1. Joann Stevens    

        Men have already been traveling on Honor Flights since 2005. This is the FIRST one for women! See http://www.honorflight.org

      2. Felicia Ferguson-Cox    

        I am stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH and there have been several Honor Flights in Dayton and Columbus. Many of the previous flights have been male only because the female gave up their spots, because they felt their contributions were not as important as their counterparts. This particular flight was meant to show them that they DO matter and that contributions and sacrifices paved the way for many other women, myself included. The Dayton and Columbus Honor Flights are opened to both male and female veterans.

  2. Linda Bengtson    

    I signed up but will probably be dead by the time my name comes up. Lol.

  3. Phyllis Manley    

    I was on that first all female Honor Flight on Sept 10th. It was so amazing to see some of the women who served in WWII. We all were treated with so much care and respect. The oldest women there was getting ready to turn 100 yrs old. We all sang happy birthday to her! I was the youngest there at 59 yrs old. It was an honor to be on this first ever flight and I will cherish all my memories of these remarkable women I have met.

  4. Betty Cain    

    Jennifer,
    How do we organize a female vet flight to D.C. Memorials for female veterans in Colorado Springs? I am a Vietnam vet and there are many of us around the Springs. There is also a large number of female vets from Peterson AFB, Ft. Carson AB, Schriever AFB, Cheyenne Mountain NORAD and in the Denver area. Who do we contact to make this happen?
    Thanks,
    Nam Fe-Vet

    1. SGM Bob Speakman    

      Thank all of you ladies for your service you were an important part of History. Hope you enjoyed your Honor Flight.

  5. Leslie D. Norton-Dillard    

    I served in the United States Navy from the year 1977 (post Vietnam) to 1982 (pre Desert Storm). I joined at 17 years of age with the rank of E-1 and was Honorably Discharged as a E-5 with service metals .
    What I’d like to shed some light on is the lack of recognition for those women breaking new ground in the armed forces during this time period ! This was a time where we as women wanted the same job assignments as the men. We had a attitude of “We can do the same job at the same pay “. And because of this movement for women we started to see change. Women were breaking ground in the military, going either voluntarily or non-voluntarily on Naval vessels for 6 month Westpac deployments, becoming deep sea divers, etc. As a woman sailor on Westpac we got media coverage at every port !
    During this period the women got various positive and mainly negative attitudes from the military men concerning our presence in the military. Although it is considered by Washington DC. that nothing occurred during this time militarily, I was stationed onboard a ship for 2 1/2 months in the Indian Ocean at Diego Garcia at a time when the Iranian Hostage situation was in full effect ! As a matter of fact, I attempted to join the VFW some years ago and was denied because it is noted that nothing was going on at the time, REALLY !!
    I would really like to see an article addressing the women during this very turbulent time of the armed forces and why it’s not recognized militarily by Washington DC.

  6. Susan E. Marcum    

    This flight was very welcomed by all of us and we were proud to serve our County! The efforts by Bill and Bobbi Richards – hundreds of volunteers – Mayors to Senators – Military Organizations – the City of Westerville and Columbus was more than we ever expected. The memorials – stories – remembering sometimes dark memories – healing – sharing – was at times overwhelming but we were all grateful to be remembered. Thank you to all who put in so many hours and gave us a resounding welcome back to Columbus Airport!!! A shoutout to Southwest Airlines and their warm hospitality! I was a very proud and most grateful Veteran. Susan Marcum – YNl USNR(TAR) Retired

  7. Charles Shreves    

    My wife is a veteran she served as a switchboard operator At the underground pentagon, Ft Ritchie, MD. I am a retired
    army veteran of 22 years. We have seen A lot of counter and a lot of army bases. I would very much love to see her on
    a honor flight to visit Washington, DC as I was stationed at Ft Myer and Ft Belvoir, VA for 5 years Before retirement

  8. Peter Garland    

    Wow, Ms. Sardam, another great article. I feel like copying it for further use. These ladies can really express themselves. I’m going to go look up a bio on Gen. Vaught.

    Thanks and happy days to you and all veterans.

    Mr. G MA
    USnAye

  9. Dee Quaranta    

    It is awesome that this honor flight has been created! Women veterans have long been overlooked on so many levels and only in recent years, the VA has finally began to address the issues unique to women veteran. Our organization, Northeast Florida Women Veterans are pushing to get the nation to do an annual recognition “Women Veteran Recognition Week” the third week in March which lines up with Women History Month. I think it is the least the nation could do to help our communities not only recognize women veterans for their accomplishments, but also to heighten community awareness that women veterans do have unique needs. We attempted a petition to the White House but it requires 100,000 signatures to even be considered which we believe should not be a requirement for what we are asking. If you would like to unite with us to get our capital to hear us concerning this week of recognition, please email us at info@forwomenvets.org.

  10. Robert F Summers    

    I was a lifer 20yrs 4days. Korean war and Vietnam. I have contributed thousands of dollars to these Memorials, but have no desire to go and see them, especially after the way a lot of this country turned against us that went to Nam. Bless those who gave all Female and Male.

  11. Diana Dwan Poole    

    How wonderful to read of this great opportunity for so many military women !
    I’m just wondering why all the negativity connected to military nurses? I am a Vietnam Vet who volunteered for two tours of duty—as a nurse. I have been spurned by women vets who were not nurses. I have been “uninvited” to female military functions when the women found out I was a nurse. We should all be thankful for each other, as we each had our place in serving this great nation.

  12. liz    

    I was a Female Flight Surgeon PA and served 9 years in total in 4 different Branches-Marine Corps, Army, CA National Guard, and finally US Coast Guard. Even as a Civilian I served at MEPPS station clearing usually the Females, (always in short demand to do Entrance Physicals).
    I started in 1970 and ended my Career in 2006 due to SC injury, I haven’t heard of this honorary recognition Service. I belong to DAV??? I guess my contributions to the thousands of lives I touched will never be mentioned. My dark moments, treatment at VAHC-it is no wonder that females won’t come forward for health care, being assaulted in one of their Group Classes that I objected to, and was told that I was uncooperative; was glossed over and buried to protect those that should have protected me.
    HONOR-DISRESPECT-DENY

Comments are closed.