Behind the brooch: After today,
you’ll never see women veterans the same way again
When you think of a veteran, what comes to mind? Is it an older gentleman in a baseball cap with yellow stitching that reads “Vietnam Vet?” Or maybe it’s someone who is younger, who displays their proud service on their car with a bumper sticker or a veteran license plate. Do you still have a picture of a man in your mind? Many people do, even if they see a woman in the driver’s seat.
The fact is, many women are not readily seen as veterans. They roll up to their local grocery or hardware store, utilize the parking space designated for veterans, and are immediately questioned by those nearby.
“I’ve been in a parking lot and was called on by someone saying, ‘Hey, that’s veterans’ parking,’” said Phyllis Wilson, President of the Military Women’s Memorial.
Phyllis seems like any other American woman. She is blonde, with a happy demeanor and is a mother of eight. Simply stated, she just doesn’t fit the mold of what many Americans think a veteran looks like.
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command, Command Sgt. Maj. James Lambert and Command Chief Warrant Officer Phyllis Wilson pause for a photo during their visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, on April 26, 2013. The Army Reserve, founded in 1908 as a reserve corps of medical personnel, includes 148 different military occupation specialties and accounts for almost 20 percent of the Army’s total force. Photo by Maj. Meritt Phillips.
(Left to right) The Honorable Coral Wong Pietsch, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Cindy Pritchett, retired Brig. Gen. Anne MacDonald, and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Phyllis Wilson pose for pictures at the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame Induction ceremony in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2017. Pietsch and Wilson represented the Army Reserve at the ceremony. Photo by Maj. Addie Leonhardt.
Little do they know that Phyllis is a retired chief warrant officer 5, the highest chief warrant officer rank in the military, and a combat veteran who devoted 37 years of her life to the country she loves. She is an accomplished military servicewoman who was inducted into the U.S. Army Women’s Hall of Fame and who serves on the board of the Association of the United States Army. Though her accomplishments are extraordinary, to some, she just doesn’t look the part.
Retired Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, former U.S. Army Surgeon General, has a similar story. She was in San Antonio during a military convention when an older gentleman and his wife stepped into the elevator.
“He said they were having a reunion and talked to me about his unit,” said Horoho. “But, something in me said to ask his wife if she served.”
Horoho recalls how the woman’s face immediately lit up. “She told me, ‘No one ever asks me if I’ve served.’ She got to tell me her story and I was able to look at her and say, ‘thank you so much for serving.’ I was able to thank both of them,” said Horoho.
Horoho said that moment reminded her of her father, a WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War veteran.
Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, Army surgeon general and U.S. Army Medical Command commander, speaks to soldiers and Department of Defense civilians on the way ahead for Army medicine Feb. 24, 2014, at the Tripler Army Medical Center located in Honolulu, Hawaii. Horoho talked about four priorities including combat casualty care, readiness and health of the force, ready and deployable medical force and the health of families. Horoho discussed army medicine to service members and DoD civilians at locations in Hawaii, Japan, Guam and Thailand during a two weeklong tour. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal/RELEASED)
In this photo provided by ISAF Regional Command South, Army Maj. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, U.S. Army deputy surgeon general and 23rd chief of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, held a Women’s Military Leadership Discussion and Dinner with female noncommissioned officers here at Kandahar Airfield Aug. 16, 2011. Conversations ranged from improvements to female medical programs, advances in uniform requirements and an emphasis on the mentorship of junior soldiers. Photo by Spc. Amanda Hils.
“When we’d go out, people would see his hat and come up to him and say thank you,” she said. “He would sit up a little higher in his wheelchair and I could see the soldier in him.”
“It was at that moment that I thought the power of a thank you is worth so much. And I noticed that we just don’t take that opportunity with our female veterans.”
“I wanted to create some type of a brooch that people could look at, a symbol that starts a conversation with: Did you serve?”
This past June 12th, the 73rd anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, Phyllis Wilson and Patricia Horoho unveiled a special brooch designed by “The Nation’s Jeweler” Ann Hand. The brooch is intended to be worn by military women, past and present, as a symbol of their selfless service.
The brooch was designed in the shape of a forget-me-not flower. Its petals are purple to represent all the services. There is a “V” on each leaf that represents the valor of our women servicemembers, and a pearl in the center that represents the purity of their mission.
Horoho says the beauty of the flower itself represents the beauty of each servicewoman, her story, and her legacy.
“There’s a pridefulness in every woman who’s served,” said Wilson. “This is one of those special ways we can let people know we are proud.”
Jewelry designer Ann Hand (bottom right) sits with military women gifted with her newly-released brooch at the Military Women’s Memorial, June 12, 2021. This date coincides with the 73rd anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which enabled military women to join the active duty component of each branch of service. It is also recognized as Women Veterans Day by some U.S. states. Women veterans representing the enlisted and commissioned ranks of each military service were given the brooch to wear as a symbol of their selfless service. The brooch is designed in the shape of a forget-me-not flower, colored purple to represent all the services. The “V” on each leaf represents the valor of America’s servicewomen and the pearl in the center represents the purity of their mission.
About the Military Women’s Memorial
The Military Women’s Memorial, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, is the only historical repository documenting all women’s service.
Located at the ceremonial entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, the memorial features an education center; interactive exhibitions; a world-class collection of artifacts, memorabilia, and military women’s stories; and engaging programs and events for all generations.