On Oct 17, the first monument in the nation’s capital honoring all women of the military will be unveiled at the Women in Military Service for America (WIMSA) Memorial, located at Arlington National Cemetery.
“The Pledge,” created by sculptor Susan Bahary, was selected to represent the 3 million women – past and present – who have served the nation in peace and war.
The sculpture was commissioned by the U.S. War Dogs Association National Headquarters, and will become a permanent part of WIMSA’s collection related to women’s service.
The Sun Gazette recently checked in with Bahary, as well as Women’s Memorial president Phyllis Wilson, about the sculpture and broader topics related to the memorial.
What do you hope the monument adds to the overall experience of visitors to the WIMSA Memorial?
Bahary: “I hope ‘The Pledge’ monument will be a source of pride, honor and healing for all our great women of the military and bring in more widespread appreciation for their service and sacrifice.
“I’d also like ‘The Pledge’ to be viewed as a celebration of all our women of the military and a source of inspiration to all women for generations to come, to find their strength and greatness.”
Wilson: “It is our hope that this art piece adds to our already amazing collection of stories about women who have served in and with the Armed Forces of our nation. Dog handlers play a very important role in protecting our country from possible threats, especially in war settings.
“Too often, these stories are mostly captured from a man’s perspective. We are honored that Bahary and the War Dogs Association helped capture the women who play a vital role in that protection, as well.”
As a standalone piece of art, what do you hope visitors get out of the monument?
Bahary: “I hope visitors are emotionally moved by the scene portrayed – the bond and shared mission of the military working-dog handler and her dog about to perform a dangerous mission. It is their pledge to protect and defend our country, as well as their pledge to each other to be safe and complete their mission.
“I hope visitors will be inspired by their determination, ability and courage, as well as their sense of duty combined with compassion; so emblematic of our military women who serve in all the jobs they do.”
Wilson: “For our visitors, we hope that this statue is an introduction to the many roles that women serve in the military. We want visitors to use the information from all our exhibits and this art piece to start researching the amazing legacy and bravery of military women. Even further, we hope to inspire little girls to reach for new heights and not feel limited in career goals.”
Were there any particular challenges in this work compared to other pieces you have done, and from where did you draw your inspiration?
Bahary: “I enjoyed the creation of this technically challenging work, and drew my inspiration from the many stories I read and from photographs of the diverse women who serve in our military in so many capacities. I am also moved by the critical work of our service animals and the human/animal bond.”
The COVID situation has impacted historic sites and museums across the nation. What is the “recovery plan” post-COVID for the WIMSA Memorial?
Wilson: “Our Memorial takes the safety of our visitors very seriously. We plan to reopen to the public in an open-house event on our 23rd anniversary – Sunday, Oct. 18. We have asked that visitors reserve free tickets via Eventbrite in order to control crowd size and adhere to Virginia guidelines in regards to COVID-19 safety. We are also requiring that all visitors wear a mask and practice social-distancing when inside the Memorial.
“There will be signs posted throughout the Memorial encouraging social distancing, wearing masks and frequent handwashing along with hand-sanitizer stations. Additionally, we are implementing more ‘virtual’ programming to minimize large crowd sizes.
“On the day of the statue unveiling, all Memorial events and programs will be live-streamed through our social-media platforms and available for continued viewing through our YouTube channel. We will also stream interviews with servicewomen, book and film screenings from inside our theater room, and visitors to our Website will be able to take a virtual “360” tour of the Memorial.”
[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]