Roanoke Links mark six years of honoring women veterans


Since 2017, the Roanoke (VA) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, has paid tribute to women who are serving or have served in the United States military. After COVID-19 hampered plans for in-person tribute programs, chapter members decided in 2020 to continue this tradition of thanks and celebration through virtual means.

   On Sunday, March 19 – for the third consecutive year via Zoom – the chapter proudly recognized five servicewomen during a virtual “Celebration of Women Veterans.”

The honorees were nominated as part of a Links initiative that spotlights Black American women who served or are currently serving in branches of the U.S. armed forces. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women now make up an estimated 10% of the current veteran population. What often is overlooked is the role of Black Americans who have served, particularly Black American women.

This year’s honorees include: Dr. Rhoda Murray, of Roanoke, who served 10 years in the U.S. Army Reserves as a medic. As a veteran and military wife, she has worked across the United States in nursing leadership, nursing education, community health, primary care, geriatric medicine, and critical care, and currently, she is the Academic Director and Dean of the graduate master’s degree programs at Chamberlain University and is a nationally certified Family Nurse Practitioner; LaFonda Jernigan, of Roanoke, who served from 1989-2009 in the U.S. Army and was employed with the U.S. Department of the Army in civilian service from 2009 to 2022. Among the numerous military awards she has received including Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, and campaign badges for tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Desert Shield/Desert Storm; Diane Marks, of Atlanta, GA, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Air Force Reserve. The daughter of a decorated World War II U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient, Marks has received numerous military awards including Airman of the Month, Air Force Achievement Medal Ribbon, and Air Force Good Conduct Medal; Sheila Smith, of Charlotte, NC, a veteran of the U.S. Army. Smith, the daughter, sister, and niece of military veterans, has an extensive service record that includes active duty in support of Operation Desert Shield/Storm. Military awards she has received include the Army Service Ribbon; National Defense Service Medal; and NCO Professional Development Ribbon and Silverine James, of Roanoke, who had a distinguished career in the U.S. Army. When James, now 93, retired from the Army, she had served more than 22 years on active duty and attained the rank of Master Sergeant (E-8), often serving as the highest-ranking enlisted woman, in fully integrated Army units. In 2022, the Women’s Health Clinic at the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center was named in her honor, becoming the MSG Silverine Vinyard James Women’s Health Clinic. 

“Courage and determination of all women who have served provide a leading light to other women during their journey in the military and beyond,” said Diane Jones, a Roanoke chapter member who co-chaired the veteran honoree program with member Connie Steele. 

The Roanoke (VA) Chapter is one of 299 chapters of The Links, Incorporated, one of the oldest and largest volunteer service organizations of women who are committed to enriching, sustaining, and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other persons of African ancestry. The membership of The Links, Incorporated consists of more than 17,000 professional women of African descent in chapters located in 41 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, and the United Kingdom.

The President of the Roanoke chapter is Carolyn Patterson; the vice president is Rhonda Poindexter.