SCHUYLKILL TWP. — In conjunction with Women’s History Month, the community recently united to remember the only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor.
The Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove hosted a ceremony on March 14 at Freedoms Foundation to honor Dr. Mary E. Walker, who treated the wounded during the Civil War. A plaque, unveiled by Master Sgt. Juanita Milligan, was added to the Medal of Honor Grove in the Kentucky Obelisk because that is where she entered the service. The Medal of Honor Grove is a memorial on the grounds of Freedoms Foundation that recognizes the sacrifices of Americans who received the highest military honor.
Event organizer and Friends of the Grove member Melissa “Missy” Farkouh said the group wants every recipient of the medal to be represented in the grove.
“During our audit last year, we discovered that Dr. Walker was not in the Grove,” she said.“We wanted to do something special for her because she is the only woman.”
Walker’s story is one of dedication and self sacrifice. According to the history of Walker printed in the program, she had a difficult time getting a commission as a medical officer because of her gender even though she had graduated medical school at age 23. She served as a volunteer and finally in 1864 she was appointed a civilian contract surgeon. In addition, she served as a spy during the war. Walker ended up becoming a prisoner of war in a Confederate prison which caused vision problems later in life that left her unable to work in the medical field.
Walker received the Medal of Honor for her service, but it was revoked because Congress changed the standards for the award for people that only served in combat. The award was restored in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter.
While greeting the audience, Farkouh recognized the service members and veterans in the crowd.
Farkouh pointed out how Walker was a unique woman in her day.
“We are all gathered here today because of an extraordinary hero,” said Missy Farkouh. “Dr. Mary E. Walker was so many things during her lifetime. At the time of receiving the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, she was so many things that her community rejected. She was a renegade, an activist, a surgeon, but most of all, a soldier. Being here today continues the legacy of an extraordinary hero who still teaches us the most important lesson: to remain true to our hearts.”
In the spirit of recognizing a past woman leader, the event featured a panel of women in leadership positions. The panel included Milligan, a veteran who suffered injuries from an IED explosion and who is an advocate for veterans and their families; Dr. Amy J. Goldberg, medical director of the trauma program and General Residency Program at Temple University Hospital; U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Cathy Moore and Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Carol Aichele.
Chairperson of the Dr. Mary E. Walker Committee Liz Murphy moderated the panel.
The panel of women were asked “Who or what played a major role in your leadership?”
Goldberg said playing team sports in high school had prepared her to be a leader.
“I think working as a team, having a common goal and keeping an eye on that goal was important,” she said. “It was not only the physical stamina, but also the mental stamina which I thought played a crucial role. In times, you have questions and doubt. I think I could share that with others that it’s OK to have some doubt, but if we stick together and have a common goal, (we can achieve that goal.)”
Moore said the Coast Guard was very careful about who was placed into leadership positions. The people she worked for had a lasting effect on her with their “refined leadership.”
Milligan was asked to take over leadership for a unit in 1984.
“I got a taste of being a leader at a young age,” she said.
Aichele said she didn’t always plan on being a leader. Getting involved with the community was something that came natural for her.
“I’ve been passionate about children learning and working on making our schools good,” she said. “I was just a housewife from Paoli that got off the couch.”
Aichele served as the president of the Tredyffrin/Eastown School Board and was the first female county controller.
Noting that Walker encountered adversity with wanting to work in an environment only for men, Murphy asked the women challenges they experienced during their time as leaders.
Goldberg said Walker was “scrappy and tenacious” and those characteristics are needed if you want to be a leader.
She said she didn’t serve in the military, but believes there is a type of war going on in North Philadelphia with all of the violence. She is the director of the Cradle to Grave program at Temple that gives students a look at the consequences of violence by sharing real life scenarios the hospital has seen with victims of crime.
Goldberg said she is trying hard to stop the violence.
Moore shared how she was helping to provide relief after a train crash. Being in a leadership position, she had all of the information she needed and felt confident about the decisions she made.
Aichele said when running for office, she learned “the way public figures are discredited.” Critics went after her husband and her children. When she was on the school board, a teacher was concerned about possible budget cuts in the district and told her son he needed to talk to her about it.
Aichele said her son’s reply was “I fear my mother. I think you should tell her.” The crowd laughed at the story.
Milligan said she made sacrifices when she decided to join the military. When she was injured in Iraq, her teenage daughter sacrificed as her caretaker while she cleaned, cooked and handled other responsibilities a parent should have done.
In addition to the panel, the audience watched a video, “Women in the Military” from the Pennsylvania Veterans Museum. Attendees were invited to tour the Grove.
Women from Drexel and Villanova University Navy and Army ROTC served as the color guard for the event.
Also in attendance was Phoenixville Area High School Assistant Principal Stephanie Sturdivant along with two students, Rachel Boone and Charisse Hunt.
The event was sponsored by PECO, Aqua, Citi, Cozen O’Connor, Independence Blue Cross, Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau and PNC.