National memorial seeks stories from women veterans

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The Women in Military Service to America (WIMSA) Memorial in Arlington, Va.

Nearly 46,000 women veterans live in South Carolina, and Ann Shippy wants their stories.

The retired U.S. Air Force colonel and Hilton Head Island resident is the South Carolina ambassador for the Women In Military Service to America (WIMSA) Memorial Foundation, the support branch for the only national memorial dedicated to women veterans.

The memorial, seated at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., is preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary Oct. 20-22.

"Only a small fraction of these (service) women are registered at the memorial," Shippy said. "I will spend the next few months talking to state and local government, VA and military organizations so that we can be sure our female veterans are telling and documenting their stories at the memorial."

When she retired from service in 2008, she registered with WIMSA.

"WIMSA is the only major national memorial honoring all servicewomen - past, present and future," Shippy said. "The collections at the memorial support researchers, scholars, media and documentary productions as a unique resource on the history of women in the United States military. It makes me proud!"

Other local women veterans who have registered at the memorial joined to tell their stories.

Rita Baker of Bluffton, a retired U.S. Navy senior chief petty officer, operated communications equipment during her career. She enlisted in 1968 with a sense of patriotism during the Vietnam War.

"I wanted to make a difference," Baker said. "I worked on Wall Street in New York City and wanted to do something more exciting than ride the subway to work and home every day."

After meeting a group of World War II woman vets and joining the HI-Desert WAVES Unit 122, Baker registered with WIMSA in 1996.

"By joining them, I gained insight into the World War II woman veterans' experiences and was able to share mine as a Vietnam vet," said Baker.

Shippy, who joined the military following the examples set by her father, a World War II waist gunner, and her brother, an Air Force pilot, grew up in a small town.

"I knew the service would provide me with limitless opportunities to see the world and learn about people and cultures that were different than me," Shippy said. "Although the duty was sometimes tough, it allowed me to live in places I only dreamed about."

Lauren Evans of Bluffton received a direct commission into the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1989 while completing her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. Older than the average junior officer and with a growing family, Evans was inspired by one of her university instructors who had also served in the Reserves.

"I believe that the ideals and values instilled, reevaluated and lived for 40 years led me to consider and then decide to serve," Evans said. "I loved working in military hospitals, on medical missions, field training and training others to care for our fellow servicemen and women and their families. The camaraderie within the military is unique."

All three had unique experiences - from serving in Vietnam to serving as Officer-in-Charge of a medical mission to Honduras to evacuating safely from the Pentagon on 9/11. It is these stories and others - the everyday events and life in uniform - that WIMSA seeks to preserve.

Relatives of deceased women veterans may also register their loved ones. Complete details are listed on the website.

Perhaps the most telling reason for women veterans to share their stories is a comment Evans made.

"If our names are not recorded, if our stories are not told, women's place in history will be forgotten," Evans said. "I was able to find my aunt's name and story in the register. It wasn't until her death that I heard the story of her service in World War II."

To contact Shippy, email WIMSA. amb.sc@gmail.com or call 719-651-1268. To register directly with the Women In Service to America Memorial, visit www.womensmemorial.org.

Reporter Gwyneth Saunders is a retired U.S. Navy senior chief petty officer with 26 years service. She is also a Charter Member of the WIMSA Memorial and is currently Commander of the Sun City Veterans Association.

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