It is hard for Mary Hancock to not stand out. She is in her 90's and can work a crowd like a pro.
On October 4, cheers filled the room when a whole group of veterans returned home to the Inland Northwest with Honor Flight.
‘Nurse Mary’ as we came to call her during the 36-hour trip was the only female veteran. But, being outnumbered is nothing new.
“We were the first women on that base, thousands of men,” said Hancock.
Hancock was in her early 20's when she served in World War II as a naval nurse. She quietly patched together men who were injured, often while learning to fly planes for the war effort. It is how she served her country and how she met her Marine pilot husband, Kelly.
Hancock and the other nurses played a vital role in the war effort, but as so often with veterans of both genders, her service was quietly put away to go back home and begin a new life.
She raised her family and built a ranch with her husband. Her family grew, life continued and her memories and photographs were tucked away.
However, Hancock’s service was not forgotten. This past fall, Nurse Mary and 92 other veterans flew to Washington, DC on Honor Flight.
The veterans represented WWII, along with the Korean and Vietnam wars. The men and Hancock got to see the memorials built in their honor.
“Very sad, I know some of those boys, went to school with them,” said Hancock.
Hancock, who was traveling with her daughter, was surprised by her son and daughter-in-law during the visit.
“I didn’t know they were coming,” said Hancock. “Just a wonderful experience. It really touches you how much they have serving and what they’ve done.”
Each veteran had a different reaction to the memorials; remembering their service, their loved ones and their brothers who didn’t come home.
Nurse Mary was most interested in visiting the Women in Military Service Museum. She was part of a shift in the role women played within the military.
In 1941, there were about 800 active naval nurses. By the end of the war, 10,000 nurses were deployed on six continents. But when you talk to Hancock, it was just something that you did. Like so many veterans, Hancock shrugs off her accomplishments and gives credit to those around her.
And on any Honor Flight trip, there is so much credit to be given.