“What I wanted to be when I grew up was—in charge.”
— Brigadier General Wilma Vaught (ret.)
Born this day in 1930: Wilma Vaught (b. 1930), U.S. Air Force brigadier general
To pursue her ambition to lead, Vaught joined the Air Force. The military, however, wanted her to learn how to put on lipstick and how to sit like a lady. They refused even to teach her how to fire a gun. The pressures of the Vietnam War, however, eventually caused the government to lift many of the restrictions on military women. By the time she retired in 1985 she had achieved the rank of brigadier general.
Vaught earned a B.S. from the University of Illinois, Urbana, an M.B.A. from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and was a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.
In 1957 she was commissioned a second lieutenant and was assigned to the 908th Air Base Group as chief of the Data Services Branch. She also commanded the Women in the Air Force Squadron Section. Over her long career as a comptroller, served both at home and overseas, she rose through the ranks—as laws restricting women’s advancement in the military were lifted. In 1980 she reached the rank of brigadier general, becoming the first woman in the comptroller career field to reach that rank. She also earned numerous medals and other distinctions, including the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Ribbon with oak leaf cluster, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with four service stars, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with palm and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. She has also been honored many times as a key role model and trail blazer for women. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.
Postscript: Vaught was instrumental in establishing the Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation and serves as its president. You can read more about the Women’s Memorial—the 4.2-acre Ceremonial Entrance to Arlington National Cemetery—here. (Don’t bother looking for information on Arlington National Cemetery’s website: they don’t have any.)