A Maine Ambassador For the Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.
From the American Revolution to the present, more than 3 million women have served in the military in some form. Sadly, these women often feel like their service was not important, or did not matter, because they were not in combat situations.
Joy Asuncion’s mission is to change that attitude.
“The challenge with women that have served is a lot of times they don’t talk about their service,” Joy says. “They don’t feel like they did enough to warrant any type of recognition.”
Joy is a Maine ambassador for the Women’s Memorial and a member of the board of directors for Honor Flight Maine. Part of her role as an ambassador is to help these women veterans see the bigger picture of their service. “We all signed up to serve our country,” she insists. “Not everybody went to war, but you did what the military needed you to do at the time. So, you served your country.” She adds, “I try to make them feel proud to have done what they did.”
The Women’s Memorial is the national memorial dedicated to all women who have served in the military, from the Revolutionary War to today. It is located in Washington, D.C., at the ceremonial entrance to Arlington Cemetery.
Honor Flight Maine is the Maine branch of the nonprofit Honor Flight, which facilitates trips to D.C. for veterans to visit the memorials, including the Women’s Memorial.
Joy is short and soft-spoken. She has shoulder-length brown hair. She wears a black cloth mask with a United States flag decorating the front, and a fleece jacket with the Women’s Memorial logo on the lapel.
Joy grew up in Belfast, where she lives currently in a brown Cape Cod-style house with a big front lawn and large American flag flying by the front door.
Joy’s father had served in the military during World War II, but Joy says she never really knew his story. He did not like to talk about his service, though Joy describes their family as being very patriotic. Joy says she always wondered about his service, and she wanted to follow in his footsteps. “I wanted to give back to my country as well,” she says.
At the age of 18 Joy enlisted in the Navy. She went on to serve in the military for 20 years, from 1974 to 1994. Her last duty station was at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, where she worked at the Pacific Fleet Command Center. “I managed 125 sailors,” she says. “We monitored the whole Pacific Fleet region.” Joy says her role there was to ensure the sailors were ready for anything that might happen.
Her retirement ceremony took place on the USS Arizona Memorial, which marks the resting place of those killed on the ship during the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941.
After retiring from the Navy, Joy returned to Maine in 1995. She was recently divorced and had a son, so she got a job working fulltime at Bank of America. She worked there for 23 years before retiring.
Joy did not feel satisfied with that kind of life, though. “I just always felt like something was missing,” she says. She started a veteran’s ministry at her church during that time. This is when Joy felt she had found her calling. She thought about her father and his service while working with these veterans. “I know God placed it on my heart to do that,” she says, “and it just kind of blossomed into so much more.”
During her time working with the veterans at the church, Joy found a lot of the older veterans had questions about benefits. Joy didn’t have all the answers, but she started making connections with people across the country who could assist her in helping these people. “It just got bigger and bigger,” she says. “I kept thinking I want to do something more. I felt like ‘there’s something bigger out there I’m supposed to be doing. I just don’t know what it is yet.’”
Once she retired from the bank, Joy contacted the Women’s Memorial and asked how she could help. That was how she discovered Honor Flight Maine.
In 2014, Joy went on her first Honor Flight trip as a guardian. She accompanied a World War II veteran she had never met. “That really changed my life,” Joy says. Through these World War II veterans, she could understand her father’s experience more. After that trip Joy knew she had to be more involved.
She joined the board of directors for Honor Flight Maine. In 2017 she became an ambassador for the Women’s Memorial.
One thing Joy does as an ambassador is to increase the number of women registered with the memorial.
“I try to connect with women veterans and family members of women that may have passed away,” she says. “Because we want to get their legacy of their military history registered as well.”
She created the Facebook group Maine Women Veterans. Currently there are more than 1,200 women in this group. “That was one of my ways to figure out how I am going to connect with these women,” Joy says. “You’re not going to get a list from anybody.”
She puts up fliers to get women veterans to join the Facebook group and then encourages them to register with the memorial. She also does presentations at organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution and Historical Societies. “I try to get out in the community as much as possible,” she adds.
Often Joy finds she will be talking to men and they will mention that their mother or grandmother served. Joy helps these family members register their loved ones with the memorial. Joy says these family members are so excited to get their loved ones registered with the memorial. “It’s a lasting legacy.”
Joy’s son and grandchildren, who live in New York, were able to go to the Women’s Memorial with her on one trip. “My younger grandchildren got to see my registration on the Women’s Memorial in Washington,” Joy says. “And you can’t put a price on that kind of stuff, you know?”
Often Joy accompanies women veterans on the Honor Flight trips. Prior to the trip, she works with their families to register them with the memorial. When they arrive at the Women’s Memorial during an Honor Flight trip, Joy has already coordinated with the memorial to have their profiles on display on the big screen when they arrive. “You should see these women cry,” says Joy. “It’s just an incredible moment. For them to see—here’s a national memorial, and there’s their picture with their information on it. You can’t put it into words. It’s priceless.”
“We want them to know that what they did counted, and they should be proud of it,” Joy says. She wants to preserve the legacy of these many women who blazed the trail for modern women serving in the military.