They came from different places and circumstances in life and they followed different life paths.
But the five women World War II veterans who took part in the latest Upper Peninsula Honor Flight were all amazing ladies. For those unfamiliar, the U.P. Honor Flight takes a contingent of WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004, and other landmarks. The trip is free to the veterans and each veteran is assigned a guardian during the flight to make sure the experience is wonderful for every single veteran, this time numbering more than 80.
Blessed with the privilege of accompanying the Honor Flight group again, I was able to interview these women during the trip for stories that appeared in The Mining Journal Monday and Tuesday.
Stephanie "Stevie" Luchay Severson sat next to me on the plane during the trip. She was accompanied by her son, Rich, who is a veteran himself. Stevie grew up in Perronville, in Menominee County, and was anxious to join the military, choosing the Marine Corps at age 20 as the other branches made a woman wait until they were 21.
Stevie will be 90 in November but has the same sense of humor as women a quarter of her age as she told me stories of her Marine Corps days, then of raising her family in "military" mode, meaning they all moved when her husband, Steve's career required it.
"Yes, we were Stevie and Steve," she laughed. "We were married for 65 years before Steve passed. My father said it wouldn't last. I guess we showed him."
Dorothy Schoen Percifield and I spoke as we waited for the tour bus to pick us up at the WWII Memorial after the group toured that dazzling site. Dorothy grew up in Wilson and joined the service because she was unable to attend college due to her mother's death. She and two of her brothers all served in the Second World War and all three made it home safe.
Dorothy enjoyed her two years in the service, calling that time the best years of her life. She and her husband, Lester, toured eight European countries in 21 days a few years back, but seeing the WWII Memorial still amazed this veteran.
Elizabeth McQuade Carpenter better known as Betty sat with me and her daughter, Jean, on a bench near the Reflecting Pool at the Lincoln Memorial to share her life story. Born in Bay City, Betty moved to Marquette as a child. She was a meteorologist during her time in the military and later earned a pilot's license - then a commercial pilot's license - in the post-war years.
Plus she was the mother of eight. What an interesting, intelligent woman. What a fascinating life.
Iowa native Ann Morrissey Queen and I had actually met before the Honor Flight. We talked a few months ago when I did a story about her and the treats she makes and delivers around Gwinn, where she now lives. Watching Ann during the trip, I think her guardian, Laura Bianchi, might have had to run to keep up with her. Ann is a dynamo now and I can imagine during her days as an Army nurse, she put her whole heart into caring for the wounded soldiers.
Last, but not least, was Augusta Valentyn Houser - everyone calls her Gus - who might be less than 5 feet tall but has a mighty spirit. A native of Medford, Mass., Gus served in the Women's Army Corps and was one of the ladies who advocated for the Women In Military Service For America Memorial, which was another stop for some on Honor Flight.
During the trip, the women gathered for a special group photo, but at other times, I'd glance over and see two or three of them together, laughing and talking, enjoying the journey. They were sisters, sharing a special bond.
All the veterans on Honor Flight deserve our thanks, our praise and our respect. It was a bonus on this flight to meet some of the women who joined the military when their country needed them most. They remain an inspiration.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is email@example.com.