Until now, Maryland had about 400 monuments and memorials honoring veterans, but none of them focused specifically on women.
On Tuesday, military officials and other dignitaries will gather in Cecil County to dedicate the Maryland Women in Military Service Monument. Maryland is home to 463,000 military veterans, including 44,000 women, according to a 2007 report from a commission charged with establishing the monument.
"Oftentimes, the contributions that women have made in the military have been overlooked, because we typically think of men," said Jerry Boden, chief of staff for the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, who advised the commission. "It's a good idea to pay special tribute, so people know that women serve, too, and they've contributed a lot to the freedom of the country in a variety of ways."
Maryland lawmakers began the process in 2005 to create a monument to honor women who have served in the military. There was a task force, then a commission, then a re-established commission and a couple of reports.
But the monument never got built.
Nine years later, after a renewed push from lawmakers and a bit of good timing, the new monument is located at the recently rebuilt Chesapeake House Travel Plaza off Interstate 95.
The design is simple: A granite monolith, with triangular plaques at the base of several trees, each bearing an inspirational quote about women's service in the military. It was designed to be inclusive of all Maryland women who have served or are serving in the military, whether overseas or on American soil, whether in times of war or times of peace.
The monument ended up at the Chesapeake House after members of the commission suggested a travel plaza might be a good location because so many people visit them. Boden brought the idea to the Maryland Transportation Authority, which agreed.
"We didn't want to put up this monument in a place where no one sees it," he said.
Between Chesapeake House and Maryland House a few miles away, more than 5 million people visit the northern Maryland travel plazas annually, according to the transportation authority.
"The location is ideal for not only Marylanders, but also our state's visitors — offering a place for education and reflection on women's role in the military,' said Rebecca Freeberger, an MdTA spokeswoman.
At the time the plaza location was proposed, the transportation authority was working with architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore and builder-operator Areas USA of Miami on the Chesapeake House redesign project. Ayers Saint Gross agreed to design the monument and Areas USA built it at no cost.
"They didn't have to do this," Boden said. "They did it out of the goodness of their hearts and did not charge the state any extra money. They deserve a lot of credit."
The new Chesapeake House opened in August following its $56 million reconstruction project with a new gas station, convenience store, eateries, restrooms, welcome center and children's area.
The final touches on the monument were finished Monday.