On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address to thousands of onlookers near the U.S. Capitol. It would be just over a month before Lincoln’s assassination and the end of the Civil War, and his speech focused on the arduous process of recovery after the most destructive conflict in American history: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds …”

The next 17 words would become the Department of Veterans Affairs motto almost a century later in 1959: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” …

However, Lincoln delivered his address more than a century and a half ago. When we read the words “him who shall have borne the battle,” “his widow” and “his orphan,” it’s clear that Lincoln wasn’t anticipating a day when 15 percent of active-duty and enlisted military personnel — and 17 percent of active-duty officers — are women. …

Although the full range of combat roles finally opened up to both sexes two years ago, women have long served their country in uniform. Topekans were reminded of this fact at an event featuring female veterans at a local VFW on Saturday.

For example, Sue Picard is a retired Air Force master sergeant who says her service was the best time of her life — even though it was difficult to be away from her two children. … Sherry Sunderman also served as a master sergeant in the Air Force who was deployed to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. She explains that the “three words ‘duty,’ ‘honor’ and ‘country’ have always meant everything to me, and they still do.”

… None of this is to diminish the sacrifices made by civilian men and women whose spouses serve in the military. … However, we should never refer to military service as an endeavor confined to a single gender. Doing so dishonors thousands of female veterans like Picard and Sunderman, as well as all of the women who continue to defend our country every day.

— The Topeka Capital-Journal