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Celebrating Idaho’s women veterans with new medallion

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Julie Ellsworth

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the blood stream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset telling our children and our children’s children what is was like in the United States where men were free.” These true words were spoken by President Ronald Reagan to honor and support the legacy of our veterans.

This Veteran’s Day, the new Idaho Women Veterans Medallion celebrates the legacy and service the women of this state have given to the military over the years. By telling the stories of our homegrown heroes and commemorating their service and sacrifice in support of our military, Idahoans have a new and incredibly special way to honor our veterans.

Fittingly, 2020 is also the 100th anniversary of national women’s suffrage. That’s national suffrage, of course.  Even before that, Idaho was among the leaders in 1896 as the fourth state to grant women the right to vote. And to this day, Idaho remains the only state whose state seal was designed by a woman, Emma Edwards Green.

The medallion was designed by a committee that put a lot of thought into its elements.  The 2020 Medallion Committee included State Senators Patti Anne Lodge and Michelle Stennett, State Representatives Christy Zito and Elaine Smith and myself.  Our goal from the outset was to make sure we fully captured the spirit of commitment, patriotism and sacrifice of the women who chose the military as a way to serve our nation. I know I speak for all of the members when I say it was a privilege to be entrusted with such a meaningful task.

Together, and with the help of a number of advisors, we focused on elements that clearly reflect our appreciation for Idaho’s women veterans:

  • The motto “Courageous Past Unlimited Future” supports the Idaho Women 100 campaign, organized to celebrate the national anniversary of the 19th amendment to the U.S Constitution giving women the right to vote.
  • The four stars symbolize Idaho’s status as the fourth state to give women the right to vote, and the first to do so by amending the state’s constitution.
  • The phrase “Support Idaho’s Heroes” reminds us that this is the third medallion in a series recognizing the sacrifices made by the many Idahoans who have served in the military

The five women represent all veterans, including the women we chose to honor as we released the medallion:

Judith Blake Eighmy enlisted and was commissioned as an ensign in the US Navy Nurse Corps where she cared for soldiers following medevac from Vietnam. In 1968 she served in Vietnam as an RN aboard the USS Repose. She cared for burn victims, the wounded and patients with tropical diseases.  She lives in Meridian.

Carrie L. French, 19, is from Caldwell. Carrie served as an ammunition specialist with the 116th Brigade Combat Team’s 145th Battalion.  On June 5, 2005, while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Carrie was killed when an improvised explosive device hit the front of her convoy vehicle.  She is the first woman from Idaho to be killed in combat.

In 1942 (during WWII), Kay Gott Chaffey volunteered to be part of the Women’s Air Service Pilots (WASPs) aircraft ferrying group. She flew 17 types of military aircraft, including her favorite, the P-51 Mustang.  Kay was from Nampa, and she is interred at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Wanda Pollard joined the Navy in 1953 at the age of 21.  She was assigned as the hostess on the personal aircraft of the Commander in Chief, US Atlantic Fleet.   While serving, she met many high-ranking civilians, foreign dignitaries and service officials.  Wanda served for over four years and saw all parts of the world. Wanda was from Parma.

At age 21, Carmelita Pope served as a USO officer during the last months of World War II. She appeared in “Kiss and Tell” and other productions performed for American troops in Italy. She was also a big screen actress (appearing in “Miracle on 34th Street”) and was the first lady of Chicago Television.  Carmelita was from Boise.

Listening to the stories of these women, I felt real admiration and gratitude for them and for other women who, like these five, put service to their nation above all else and who were willing to go in harm’s way to ensure our nation’s freedoms.

It’s fitting that proceeds from the sale of this medallion and the earlier ones will support the veterans cemeteries in Idaho. These funds are used to ensure color guards, volunteers and facility care takers have the materials, uniforms and tools needed to provide professional, safe, and meaningful ceremonies for the families and friends of veterans interned. Ensuring comfortable visitor areas, and continuously updated kiosks with information about the cemetery services and locations of those veterans who are now at rest, are important services delivered to Idahoans through the use of these funds. The Idaho Division of Veterans Services operates two State Veterans Cemeteries, one in Boise and one currently under construction in Blackfoot.

Veterans Day takes on new meaning when we think of it not as a holiday, but rather as a time to find, and thank, the men — and women — who are veterans of the military and its enormous responsibilities.  The commemorative medallions are the least we can do for them.

Julie Ellsworth is state treasurer. 

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