Women in the U.S. armed forces will be honored Monday with a formal military honors ceremony at the nation's only memorial honoring women who have fought for their country.
The 12th annual ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial will include wreath-layings and the memorial's signature event - the scattering of rose petals in tribute to women service members who are deceased.
The ceremony at the memorial, located at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery, is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
Women "have come a long way," said retired Army Lt. Col. Marilla Cushman, director of public relations and development of the memorial's foundation. "We now have women who are privates to a four-star general."
In November, Ann E. Dunwoody became the first woman in U.S. military history to achieve the rank of four-star general.
About 15 percent of today's active-duty military members are women, with about 356,000 serving on active duty, in the National Guard and in Reserve forces. About 2.5 million women have served in the U.S. military in its history, Col. Cushman said.
Among the women to be honored Monday are the more than 120 who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Among those scheduled to speak are retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation; Rep. Susan A. Davis, California Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services' subcommittee on military personnel as well as co-chairwoman of the congressional caucus' Women in the Military/Veterans Task Force; and Cheryl Beversdorf, president and chief executive officer of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
"The Memorial Day program here at the Women's Memorial is particularly meaningful because service members, in our case servicewomen, speak about what Memorial Day means to them," Gen. Vaught said. "It is a powerful testimony to this national day of remembrance, made even more powerful by those who have stood shoulder to shoulder with their fellow comrades in arms."
The women's memorial was dedicated in October 1997, and includes an upper terrace, a reflecting pool, a Court of Valor and an education center that houses a Hall of Honor, a theater, an exhibit hall and a gift shop.
At the heart of the memorial is its register, a computerized database of information about the servicewomen who are registered. Visitors can access the photographs, military histories and individual stories of registrants by typing names into a computer terminal. So far, more than 230,000 women have registered.