OHIO VALLEY — Sunday marks the anniversary of the enactment of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. Signed into law by President Harry Truman on June 12, 1948, it enabled women to serve as permanent, regular members of the armed forces in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the recently formed Air Force. Before the law was enacted, women served in the military only in times of war, with female nurses being the exception.
Women Veterans Day, also known as Women Veterans Appreciation Day, was established in 2018 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the law’s enactment, and meant to celebrate the inclusion of women in the military; it is not a separate day for women Veterans.
All veterans are recognized for their contributions on Veteran’s Day, which was originally known as Armistice Day. The day became a federal holiday in 1938, and the November 11 date was chosen because it marked the temporary cessation of hostilities, or armistice between the Allied nations and Germany in World War I. After World War II and the Korean War, it became known as Veterans Day, and is observed on November 11.
June 12 is currently only a state recognized commemoration of Women Veterans Day in California, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin, but resolutions have been introduced in Congress and the Senate to have the day recognized nationally.
Women have taken part in wars and conflicts throughout America’s history, and played vital roles and provided support for armies from the time of the American Revolution. They have served as soldiers, spies, medial workers, and provided much needed goods to the nation’s armies.
It is estimated that there were between 400 and 750 women soldiers in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Because many of them dressed as men, it is impossible to have an exact count.
Their numbers grew in World War I, when approximately 35,000 women officially served as nurses and support staff. The United States had established the Army Nurse Corps as a permanent part of the Army in 1901, and approximately 21,000 women served in that unit during World War I.
World War II saw an even larger increase: 350,000 women served in numerous capacities. The Army established the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WACS) and Women’s flying Training Detachment (WFTD) in 1942. The two groups merged in 1943, forming the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), who flew more than 60,000 miles in two years. The 6888th Battalion was also formed, and was the first and only all Black Female Women Army Corps (WAC) unit to be deployed overseas during WWII.
Until the enactment of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, women were not always given the recognition or benefits of their male counterparts. They were not able to serve officially except in time of war, and until recently were limited to non-combat roles. The Integration Act allowed women to serve permanently in the US military, but there was continuing debate on allowing women to serve in combat roles. The ban was lifted in 2015, and women began integrating combat arms billets in January 2016.
Today women include over 14 percent of active-duty service members and about 18 percent of the Reserve and National Guard. As of 2020, there were approximately 75,000 total women on active duty in the US Army alone, with around 17,000 serving as officers and 58,000 enlisted.
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