At 108 years old, Lucy Coffey is the United States’ oldest living female military veteran. Coffey was an accountant-statistician and served in the procurement office through the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. With 150,000 members during the war, the WAC was the first group of women besides nurses to be members of the Army. When she enlisted in 1943 around age 37, Coffey had already been turned away from the military several times for being too short or slim. Throughout the war, she served in Australia, Dutch New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan.
Two of Coffey’s brothers served in the Pacific during the war as well, though they were never in one place at the same time during those years. Coffey braved some terrifying times when her group moved closer to combat than they’d intended and faced food and water shortages, sometimes depending on Navy sailors to share their food. After her honorable discharge in late 1945, Coffey stayed in Japan as a civil servant for about 10 years, and still dreams of making a return visit. When she left the Pacific, she worked at a San Antonio air force base until she retired in 1971.
For years, Coffey longed to visit the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, VA. Last month, her dream finally came true when American Airlines offered her a free first-class flight to Washington, DC. The organization Honor Flight Austin stepped in from there to coordinate a trip she’d never forget. When Coffey arrived at the airport, she was greeted by massive applause in the terminal. She visited the White House and received a special welcome from the president and vice president. She also paid a visit to the National World War II Memorial, which stands to honor the 400,000 US military members who were killed in the war.
Coffey isn’t able to speak much these days and didn’t walk on her trip, but that didn’t stop her from making the most of every moment in Washington. She’s known for her humble attitude toward her service, having simply done what she felt was right at the time by enlisting. Coffey’s nephew John Mulrey, a Vietnam veteran himself, accompanied her on the trip. He told Stars and Stripes, “She is very, very shy about her time in the service. She doesn’t talk about it much. She just did what she had to do.” [Stripes] [Image via Instagram]