They are 15 percent of the armed forces, in every branch of the service and 201,000 strong.
At their gathering in Washington, D.C., this weekend, military women of all ages, and from different wars, came together to remember, reconnect and remind people of their service to the country, reports CBS News correspondent Maggie Rodriguez.
"We just don't know anything about the history of women in the military," said Ret. Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, "and we just felt it was time to tell their stories."
Vaught is a celebrity among military women, not least because of her crucial role in the building of the Women's War memorial, dedicated 10 years ago.
The memorial, at the entrance to Arlington Cemetery, details the contributions of servicewomen in U.S. wars and provides a way for family members to find a connection to the past.
"It's a fantastic thing for families," said Vaught. "I don't know how many times I have been there and some family member comes in, pulls up a mother and a grandmother, a sister and tears come to their eyes."
Norma Groff's two children brought her to the memorial yesterday, to see herself as part of history.
"It brings back a lot of memories," said Groff, who served in the Women's Army Corps from 1950 to 1953. "It means a lot for my children to be able to see what I did."
Military women now are doing a lot more than in Groff's day, she said, and if she could, she'd reenlist.
"I wish I were that young again," she said. "They just do everything. They fly. They fight. I say go for it."
Sona Babani is a young Marine who assumes she's going to be deployed to Iraq one day soon, and she has a surprising connection there.
Born in Iraq, her parents were Christian missionaries in the 1990s and seen as a threat to Saddam's regime. So the U.S. got her family out. The first stop en route to America was Guam, and that was the turning point.
"When I landed in Guam and I was 10 years old, I got off this little plane, stepped off the steps and all I saw in front of me were servicemen and women on the left and right of me," she said. "And I was like: 'Wow I want to be that. When I grow up that is what I want to do,' to give back to what America has given me, to all the freedom I was given then."
Babani is very conscious of the service of women who came before her, who were represented at the 10th anniversary ceremony this afternoon.
"If it weren't for these women, I wouldn't be here today," she said. "It would still be: women cannot fight, women cannot be on the front lines, women cannot carry weapons, you are stuck behind a tent."
Babani introduced Secretary Gates today, taking her place on stage, and in the long history of women in uniform.
And perhaps inspiring the generation to come.
By Maggie Rodriguez