Female soldiers share some of the same battlefields and challenges as their male counterparts but the contributions of women in the military have received faint recognition.
That will change Oct. 7 when 100 female veterans from Illinois will board the first all-woman Honor Flight in Chicago. Participants will visit the Women in Military Service for America Memorial and other war memorials in Washington, D.C.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Jill Henry, of Normal, serves as Illinois’ ambassador to the Women’s Memorial. She is also part of the effort to urge more women to sign-up for the free, daylong trips to Washington. Currently only 1% of the passengers on a typical Honor Flight are women, said Henry.
“We plan to change that with this Honor Flight. We’re making our own itinerary so we’re going to spend a little extra time at the Women’s Memorial,” said Henry.
The concept of a women’s memorial was developed by World War II female veterans who saw the project come to life in 1997.
About three million women with service records dating back to the Revolutionary War are eligible to register their stories with the memorial, said Henry. The Veterans Administration estimates Illinois is home to about 49,000 female veterans.
Known as Operation HerStory, the travel project is seeking veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and those who served between 1940 and 1975.
Henry, a former nurse anesthetist, credits a retired Air Force officer with the idea of an Honor Flight for women. Several organizations, including the Daughters of the American Revolution, Honor Flight Chicago, Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago are supporting the effort.
The camaraderie enjoyed by men during trips to the nation’s capital also will be experienced by women, said Henry.
“I’m thinking the exact same thing is going to happen. You start to talk with someone who can relate to life that you had when you were in the military and it’s just very different than civilian life. You make instant friends because of that,” said Henry.
Henry served 20 years, including a deployment during Desert Storm. The difficult times in a war zone was not something Henry was anxious to relive. A decade passed before she opened the diary she kept during her service in a remote medical facility caring for Americans, Iraqi civilians and prisoners of war.
Henry has never forgotten the stress of putting on protective gear during surgeries in case an incoming missile turned out to be a biological weapon.
“You never knew how long you were going to be there. You never knew what was going to happen,” said the retired Army officer.
Veterans may bring a guardian if they need assistance and volunteers are available to help with special needs.
Applications for the Honor Flight may be submitted at Operationherstory.org.
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