June 12 Is Women Veterans Day

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A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircrew walk to their aircraft on March Air Reserve Base
A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircrew from the 336th Air Refueling Squadron walk to their aircraft on March Air Reserve Base, Calif. on Dec. 18, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Eric Harris / Released)

Did you know that June 12 is designated as Women Veterans Day?

The first Women Veterans Day was held June 12, 2018, marking the 70th anniversary of the groundbreaking Women's Armed Services Integration Act, signed into law by President Harry S. Truman on June 12, 1948. That law enabled women to serve as permanent, regular members of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and the recently formed Air Force.

See: Seven Famous Women Veterans

While the holiday has not been nationally recognized, state governors, including those in Kentucky and South Carolina, have signed proclamations marking its observance and other states are planning events. Texas has had the official holiday as part of its law since 2017.

While women have served in the American military since before we became a nation, they were not officially recognized as military members or veterans until 1948. Women were originally relegated to serving in the civilian fields of nursing, laundering, mending clothing and cooking. Despite this segregation, many served in war zones alongside their male compatriots, and some even dressed as men during the Civil War and fought on the front lines.

The first woman to enlist in the military was Loretta Walsh, who enlisted in the Navy in 1917. She served as a "Yeomanette," a female version of a yeoman or ship's secretary.

During World War II, approximately 400,000 U.S. women served in support positions with the military, and nearly 500 were killed by enemy fire.

After the end of the war, and in reaction to the rising strength of Russia, the military sought a peacetime draft to increase the size of its branches, which had shrunk in size after the war ended. Knowing that enacting a draft so soon after the entire nation had lived through a war would be unpopular, politicians realized that half of the population was willing but unable to serve. For this reason, the Women's Armed Services Integration Act was enacted, effectively giving women the right to serve as military members and making them deserving of full recognition as veterans.

Throughout the years, women's roles have continued to grow in all branches and phases of military operations. Now, they serve freely alongside men in any branch or role they desire. Today, women make up 20% of new recruits, 16% of personnel serving on active duty, and 19% of the National Guard and reserve forces.

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