Most of us probably think of Memorial Day as a day to honor the memories of men — those young, and sometimes not terribly young, men who answered their country’s call to arms and paid the ultimate price. If we picture women on Memorial Day, most of us probably call to mind the grieving wives, daughters, or mothers of the dead — like the women Mary Simmerson Cunningham Logan observed decorating the graves of Civil War dead in 1868, which ultimately led to the proclamation of the national observance.
As it happens, however, women are also among the dead being remembered, whether by loved ones, or by history. One comprehensive source for those women’s names, and some of their stories, is this roll, compiled by Capt. Barbara A. Wilson, USAF (Ret). While many of these women served in “supporting roles,” their deaths indicate something people sometimes forget: in an enterprise as intentionally lethal as war, there really are no safe places or safe jobs.
It takes a long time to register, and some effort to remember, that women are among America’s — and presumably, not just America’s — war dead. Maybe this is because this reality confounds the powerful symbolism of our culture’s imagination of war, in which men are away, bravely facing the danger, and women at home, protected and waiting. This may be why the Women’s Memorial at Arlington Cemetery, a project of the group Women In Military Service to America, was such a late (1997) addition to the Washington area’s collection of memorials.
Lists of military casualties by war are typically not broken out by gender, reflecting and reinforcing the perception that women are always the survivors of war.
So, mindful of the many ways in which women as well as men, civilians as well as uniformed personnel, become the casualties of war, we remember those women and men who have died in wars, and continue to pray and hope for the time foreseen by the prophet Isaiah, when “they shall study war no more.”