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Women Veterans, Including Those Who Served In World Wars I And II, Honored At Central Park Ceremony

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Ahead of Veterans Day, a group of women who serve our country were honored Tuesday at a special ceremony in Central Park.

The event took place at a flagpole and grove of trees near 69th Street and Fifth Avenue. The trees were planted 96 years ago as a tribute to American women who served during World War I, CBS2's Natalie Duddridge reported.

Kathy Hochul, New York's first female governor, accepted a "Women in Service" award, but said the real heroes are the brave military women like Loree Sutton, the former commissioner for the city's Department of Veterans Services who received a Bronze Star while deployed in Operation Desert Storm.

"You know, I was so blessed to serve for nearly 30 years in the United States Army," Sutton said. "We are all veterans of service. Some of us have served in military. Some have served in fire departments, police, EMT."

Dottie Brier, a 92-year-old retired social worker, also received an award for her service the last 30 years, which includes volunteering to help people cope with trauma after a disaster, like 9/11, Superstorm Sandy, and the Oklahoma City bombing.

"I think it's wonderful that women have accomplished so much. It's so different from my childhood. Although I must say, as a child in the second World War, I did work for Red Cross," Brier said.

Recipient Zeita Merchant is the deputy commander of the New York Coast Guard, with 19 military awards.

"We are leaders, we are teachers and guides through untold storms," Merchant said.

Women who served in World Wars I and II were remembered for their role in the war effort.

"Women are used to being the caretakers and the men were off fighting the war, and women were behind the scenes serving as nurses," Assembly member Rebecca Seawright said. "We now see a woman vice president and a woman governor of the state of New York. And so we want to continue to honor those forgotten women from the early 1920s that dedicated their lives to service."

Women currently make up approximately 15% of the active duty population, the fastest growing demographic, but military police member Yesenia Mata said it hasn't been without struggles.

"I remember when I would tell people that I wanted to join the military. I would either get, 'Are you sure you want to join? You're a woman. Are you sure you can make it? You're 5-foot-1,'" Mata said.

She's part of the city's recently formed Racial Justice Commission.

"Only 1% of the population served in the armed forces. Of the 1%, a few are women. It hasn't been long ago since women of color were allowed to join the military," Mata said.

These women said they have stood on the shoulders of those who came before them and hope they can be examples for young girls.

In 1925, a memorial grove of 26 trees and a flagstaff were conceptualized in Central Park as a tribute to American women who died overseas. The memorial had been forgotten about, until it was rediscovered three years ago.

The 102nd annual Veterans Day Parade begins at noon on Thursday at Madison Square Park and will march up Fifth Avenue to around 40th Street.

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