Sue Miller served in the Army for 22 years in four different jobs. She might have held more if the Army had let her.
"We all know what we went through to get where we are," said Miller, whose service included two tours between 1955 and 1996. "I'm older than a lot of the girls, and what we did helped them get their foot in the door. When I went in, we only had three MOSs open to women. Now we have two women Army Rangers. And I'm looking for some female SEALs any day."
Miller, 78, was one of 140 female veterans gathered in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday for the first women-only "honor flight," a program that brings thousands of veterans across the country to the nation's capital each year to tour the memorials and monuments to their military service, providing many aging heroes a once-in-a-lifetime thank-you tour.
But organizers say getting women veterans on those trips can be problematic because of stereotypes about their service and contributions, often from the women themselves.
Tuesday's event, bringing in a group of Ohio-area women, refocused the established tour on several sites specific to their service, including a special presentation at the Women in Military Service Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
Rosa Moore, WAC during World War II, talks to VA Secretary Bob McDonald, who addressed the all-female honor flight on Tuesday.
Photo Credit: Bob Lennox/Staff
For Linda Dobb, a specialist in the Women's Army Corps from 1957 to 1962, the trip was her first chance to tour the memorial and bond with her fellow service members.
"This is just a such good tribute," she said, surveying the portraits of women service members inside the memorial. "It's just wonderful."
Veteran Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald, keynote speaker for the event, praised the generations of women veterans as trailblazers for the military, even if they didn't realize it at the time.
"You didn't sign up to shatter glass ceilings," he said. "You came to serve, and you did so with distinction. What (your service) teaches is that courage is courage, excellence is excellence and sacrifice is sacrifice."
Honor flight organizers say they hope to hold similar events in the future, encouraging more women veterans to celebrate their service in ways to better inform the public.
Dobb, 77, said that before Tuesday's event, she never really knew any veterans like her in the Cincinnati neighborhood where she lives.
"I go to VA, but I've never really known any of the other women veterans," she said. "So this is a chance to get to know some new friends, maybe become more active in the VA."
For Miller, the trip allowed her to pay tribute to her fellow service members in ways that never presented themselves to her before, so that she could feel more connected than ever to the military.
"Today I got to lay a wreath at the Tomb (of the Unknown Soldier)," she said. "It made my whole life."
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.