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Mount Soledad memorial hosts inaugural brunch to honor women in the military

People attending the first Women's History Brunch were asked to raise their hands if they are veterans.
People attending the Mount Soledad Memorial Association’s first Women’s History Brunch were asked to raise their hands if they are veterans, to the applause of everyone else.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Nearly 100 women representing all branches, ages and stages of military service gathered at the Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial in La Jolla for the inaugural Women’s History Brunch on March 23.

The nonprofit Mount Soledad Memorial Association presented the brunch to honor veterans, reservists and active-duty personnel with the intent to make it an annual event during Women’s History Month, recognized in March.

“Women have served in every major war in American history,” said Memorial Association program manager Jennifer Givens, a Navy veteran and the granddaughter of a World War II and Korean War veteran. “In the Revolutionary War, you had women that dressed as men to serve, you had women that served as nurses, women that followed their husbands into combat and picked up arms when need be. So before women could vote or have any rights as citizens, they served this nation. We have always served, whether we had the right to or not.”

Today, she said, “women are advancing and able to fill almost every role in the military. … Women are just as important as their male counterparts.”

Jennifer Givens, program manager for the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, speaks at the inaugural Women's History Brunch.
Jennifer Givens, a Navy veteran and program manager for the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, speaks at the inaugural Women’s History Brunch at the Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial in La Jolla on March 23.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

People attending the invitation-only event represented several military branches, but the speakers represented the Navy.

The keynote speaker was retired Capt. Sue Young, who served in the Navy from 1953 to 1973. During her time in the service, Young was, among other things, an aide in the secretary of the Navy’s office, a company officer and instructor at the Women Officer School, commanding officer of Naval Education and Training Support Activity — Pacific, and appointed by then-President Richard Nixon to serve on the U.S. Defense Advisory Committee on Women in Service.

Other speakers included retired Rear Adm. Sandy Adams and Lt. Cmdr. Amy Forsythe.

Adams served 34 years in the Navy and Navy Reserve. She served aboard the USS Puget Sound and USS Bolster just four years after women were authorized to serve aboard ships.

Forsythe served eight years in the Marine Corps as a combat correspondent and has served five combat tours. She currently is in the Navy Reserve as a public affairs officer.

“Women have been serving silently, patiently and courageously, but their stories go unnoticed or unrecognized,” Forsythe told the La Jolla Light. “Women’s History Month is a time I learn a lot because more stories are shared, so this is the time to recognize the women who have served.”

Noting that her career is “almost finished,” she said she wants “to open doors for other people and help the next generation of young women” by speaking at events such as the Women’s History Brunch.

Looking around at the tables full of military women, retired Rear Adm. Ronne Froman Blue, one of the morning’s guests of honor, said it filled her heart with pride.

“A lot of the ladies here are the pioneers that paved the way for women in the Navy,” she said. “It’s about time these ladies are thanked for what they did. It’s an honor that I was asked to be here. ... It takes me back to my days in the service, and I am proud to have served and be part of our history.”

Memorial Association President and Chief Executive Neil O’Connell, who served 32 years in the Marine Corps, said he had the “pleasure and honor” to serve with women on international deployments.

“For us to be able to pause and reflect on the great strides that have been made in getting women to key assignments, opening up doors to have them be on the same par as men, to fly airplanes, to command, to be skippers of ships … is significant to us,” he said. “We’re going to honor those that literally busted down barriers to have that recognition bestowed upon them.”

During O’Connell’s talk, he highlighted the accomplishments of some of the veterans whose plaques grace the walls of the local landmark. Though it was originally dedicated in 1954 to honor those who fought in the Korean and World Wars, the site now has 11 curved walls featuring black granite plaques etched with the pictures and stories of more than 5,000 men and women from all of America’s military branches and battlefields, according to the association.

The first six walls were erected to focus on the five branches of the military that fought in World War II — Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Air Force — as well as the Merchant Marines. In 2012, five more walls were added to include all wars and branches of service.

Learn more at soledadmemorial.org.