Monument to female veterans dedicated in New Mexico

By ANGELA KOCHERGA | Albuquerque Journal | Published: March 11, 2018

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Tribune News Service) -- Hundreds gathered for the dedication of a monument to women veterans who have served in the Armed Forces.

"I've been wanting one for a long time. Today is special day," said Betty Somppie. She's 102 years old and served during World War II as an original member of the first Women's Auxillary Army Corp.

She was among the special guests at the historic dedication ceremony in Veteran's  Memorial Park Saturday.

Shoshana Johnson, a  U.S. Army specialist and prisoner of war in Iraq in 2003 paid homage to the trailblazing women in uniform.

"It's amazing to realize how many women have served before me, that have gone the distance, gone to extremes of disguising themselves as men in order to serve their nation. And yet there are those who still question whether we can serve, whether we have the heart, the mind or the strength to serve. Well, we have been serving," Johnson said.

United Military Women of the SouthWest spearheaded the effort to create a monument to women veterans, the first in New Mexico and one of handful in the U.S.

"It makes people aware women are veterans too," said Karen Woods, president of United Military of the SouthWest. Woods served in the Navy for 22 years and in retirement has worked tirelessly for a memorial. She said women veterans are often the hidden heroes in their communities.

"You have to educate people," Woods said.

The city of Las Cruces donated space at Veterans' Memorial Park and the state legislature provided a grant of $406,500 for the project. Other funding came from donations from private citizens and  businesses.

The monument features six life size bronze sculptures of women in uniforms dating back to World War I through present day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The work pays tribute to their service in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Army National Guard.

The U.S. military opened all combat positions to women in 2016, but women have been serving their country in nearly every armed conflict, dating back to the Revolutionary War.

"You have your freedom because we have put on the uniform.  When you told us we didn't have the right. We did it anyway,"  Johnson said during the ceremony.

After the dedication Mikah Henry and Rosemary Montoya, both 23-year-old soldiers with the Army Reserve, proudly snapped photos in the front of the monument.

"I'm honored to be here with so many women who have sacrificed so much," Montoya said.

(c) 2018 the Albuquerque Journal. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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