When generations of military women gather at Arlington National Cemetery today, their emotions -- and memories -- will be on full alert.
Elizabeth Kruger of Bel Air will be thinking about her days in Vietnam as a nurse-anesthetist treating young soldiers torn apart in battle -- and the scorn she received back home.
Kathryn "Kit" Sample of Parkville will recall the English hospital where she nursed soldiers maimed in Germany during World War II.
And Leokadya "Lil" Rosnack of Odenton will think back to her time with a MASH unit in Korea, where attacks by one enemy aircraft were so regular, the pilot was called "Bed-check Charlie."
Almost 30,000 people are expected at the noon dedication ceremony for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, the first major remembrance of the 1.8 million women who have served the nation since the Revolutionary War.
From Molly Pitcher, who, according to legend, followed her husband to battle in 1778 and kept his cannon firing after he was wounded, to the women who manned "bonnet brigades" or aid societies in the Civil War; from the Spanish-American War nurses who succumbed to yellow fever to the 350,000 women deployed around the world today.
"It is a major addition to monumental Washington," said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, president of the memorial's foundation. "It will be a living memorial to recognize those who served so far and those who serve today and who will serve in the future."
Vaught, 67, who joined the military because she wanted a job where she could "manage and supervise," has been involved with the $21.5 million memorial project since she retired in 1985.
"Women historically have felt they were not represented," she said. "Look at all the statues of military men on horses. I thought my next project would be a woman on a horse. I do not have to that now."
The memorial, on 4.2 acres at the gateway to the cemetery, was carved out of a hillside behind a 30-foot-tall, 226-foot-long semicircular granite retaining wall built in 1932. Ground was broken two years ago.
"There was pressure to get this finished," said Vaught, referring to concerns about aging veterans. "We have so many women whose health is fragile."
The memorial opens to the public Monday.
It features an arc of glass tablets inscribed with quotations by and about women who have served -- poignant words, such as those of World War I Navy Yeoman Mildred Pearl Lane: "I'm still so very proud of my naval service. I would do it again if I could."
The memorial, funded by donations and other sources, also has a reflecting pool, Education Center, 196-seat theater, Hall of Honor and computerized registry with photos, military history and memorable experiences of many women.
More than 250,000 women have told their stories -- including many Maryland women.
Rosnack, 71, is proud to have her name, photograph and biography in the memorial's archives. "At least I left my mark somewhere."
Army Master Sgt. Linda Strozier, 37, who handles personnel issues at Aberdeen Proving Ground, says it is time for a women's memorial. "When you think of other memorials you think of men," she said. "It's still pretty much a man's Army. You have to single us out eventually."
Recently, Sample, 82, and two other residents of the Oak Crest Village retirement community in Parkville, Helen Venables, 84, and Julia Hansen, 74, talked about their nursing days during World War II.
Sample, who recalls wrapping nuts in the "funny papers" as Christmas gifts to soldiers, said, "It's quite an honor to be recognized for the work we did."
The anti-Vietnam movement still is painful to Claire Starnes, 53, of Conowingo, a former Army journalist, and Kruger, 66, who served in the 85th evacuation hospital in Phu Bai. Kruger recalls traveling home to Maryland in 1970.
"We were advised not to wear uniforms in the civilian world, and that we were coming back to a different country than we had left," she said. Still, she wasn't prepared for the reaction of a woman who sat next to her on a plane.
"She asked where I had been, and I said, 'Vietnam.' She got up and moved from the seat," Kruger said. "I just faced the window. You think about what you have just left -- those young GIs fighting and being wounded -- and to have all this going on in your own country."
The new memorial will speed the healing process, she said.
Military women and their families started arriving in Washington this week to attend a gala dinner celebration, exhibits, seminars and reunion lunches.
But the main event is today with a procession of active-duty servicemen and women, and speakers including Vice President Al Gore, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and 101-year-old World War I veteran Freda Hardin of California.
Anita Cheswick, 73, of Brooklyn and fellow veterans of the Women's Army Corps, Detachment the Armored School, planned their biennial reunion around the dedication.