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Monument to honor Delaware's women veterans

By JEFF BROWN | Dover Post, Del. | Published: December 20, 2017

DOVER, Del. (Tribune News Service) — From Molly Pitcher in the Revolutionary War to the female soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen serving today, American women always have stood ready to fight for their country.

Many others worked behind the scenes in factories, hospitals, and homes to support the men on the front lines.

Delaware's women also have served on the fields of war and at home in the First State, and in 2018 their sacrifices will be recognized with a new memorial on the grounds of Legislative Hall.

"A lot of people have come together to make this happen," noted Richard Carter, chairman of the Delaware Heritage Commission. The commission, created in 1972 to organize the First State's observances of America's bicentennial, has solicited ideas for the memorial from veterans groups and advocates up and down the state, he said.

"It's designed to honor women who have served in the military or who have otherwise defended Delaware and America," Carter said.

The monument also will recognize those who call Delaware their home even though they weren't born here, Carter said.

"We're a small state," he said. "One of the most interesting things about Delaware is that we have benefitted greatly from people who have come here from other states."

The memorial's design will echo that of the state's World War I commemorative, erected Nov. 4 at the southwest corner of Legislative Hall. Also constructed of black South African granite, the monument will stand on the northwest corner of the capital building's grounds.

And like the Great War's monument, it will be highlighted with laser-etched imagery. However, instead of using a historic painting and patriotic poster, these images will be of real Delawareans.

Although the Heritage Commission, working with the Delaware Public Archives and several private citizens, already has gathered candidates for inclusion on the memorial, Carter is hoping others will be found in photo albums or among other family memorabilia.

"We want photos that will be representative of all Delaware women," he said. When the memorial dedication takes place, the Heritage Commission also will publish a commemorative booklet including many of the photos not used on the memorial itself.

Carter credits Delaware State Sen. Nicole Poore with the idea for the monument, while Poore herself cites her friend Cheryl Dennis as planting the project seed.

While other memorials have acknowledged women's roles in Delaware history, there are none specifically dedicated to women veterans, Poore said.

"While they're beautiful, they don't recognize and symbolize the many capacities in which women have served," she said. "We've recognized all the different folks who have served in our armed forces, but the women face many different challenges."

In her own experiences, Dennis has noticed people generally don't think of women as veterans.

A former member of the Marine Corps — she enlisted right after graduating high school — Dennis recalls getting some unexpected reactions when attending Veterans Day observances.

"They'd look at my husband instead of me," she said. "My husband didn't serve. People need to realize women sacrificed, too."

Delaware women, Poore said, have done some amazing things while in uniform.

"They're raising their children but are willing to sacrifice any time to make sure we stay safe," she said. "I really believe that and that's why I'm so passionate about it. Because someone is making that sacrifice, I'm willing to support those who support us.

"I feel we can't do enough," Poore added.

Between March 2003 and Dec. 15 of this year, the United States military has suffered 6,930 deaths in the Middle East. Of those, 207 have been women, including Air Force Senior Airman Elizabeth Loncki of New Castle. The 23-year-old explosives expert died Jan 7, 2007, in Iraq while she and two others were examining a car bomb.

The memorial also will recognize women who never wore the uniform, Carter said, including those who worked at New Castle's Bellanca Aircraft and the five women killed in a March 1943 blast at the Milford Ordinance Company.

To that end, Carter is hoping people will contribute photos and personal stories toward the monument project and what it stands for.

While it's relatively easy to find recent anecdotes and pictures, it gets harder when looking for older material. Memories fade and documents are lost or destroyed, he said.

"The challenge is finding those who have served earlier, in Korea, World War II or World War I," he said. "They're out there, but it's harder to get them all together."

Members of the Heritage Commission would be especially delighted if photographs from the Spanish-American War or even Civil War surfaced, he said.

"You never know," Carter said. "Someone may have something tucked away in an attic. That's what's exciting about this project. In the past, we've used symbols, paintings, but this time we're using real people.

"We want as much public input as possible."

Funding for the monument comes from the Department of State, the Veterans Commission, and the Heritage Commission, Carter said. Since the finished project will be similar to the World War I memorial, the cost is expected to be about the same: around $51,000.

Members of the 17-member Heritage Commission hope to have the design finalized by the end of January or early February, Carter said. That includes selecting the six to eight photographs that will represent all Delaware women on the memorial.

Tentative plans are to dedicate the monument around Mother's Day 2018, although that is not a hard-and-fast target.

The idea is to get it done correctly, even if that means the dedication date slips, he said.

"If we can do it right and have it ready to go, that's the objective," Carter said.

And it's placement is equally significant, he added. Not only is the building the seat of Delaware government, it's also a featured stop for tourists exploring Dover.

"In my opinion, the reason it's important to have this memorial on the grounds of Legislative Hall is that it's a central focus and gathering place for the people of Delaware," Carter said.

©2017 Dover Post, Del.
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