top of page
  • tara

This Day in History: Lucy Coffey, WWII Veteran

On this day in 2015, a heroine passes away. At the time of her passing, Lucy Coffey was believed to be the oldest female military veteran. She was then just two months shy of her 109th birthday.

 

Coffey began life on an Indiana farm, but she moved to Dallas soon after her high school graduation. She was working in a grocery store when the attack on Pearl Harbor shocked the nation.

 

She wanted to help.  When FDR signed a bill authorizing the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, she leapt at the chance. She must have been pretty determined? The petite Texas woman had to try three times before she was admitted: The Army thought her too short, and she didn’t weigh enough. 


She kept eating until she hit the weight benchmark and was finally allowed to enlist in 1943. By then, she was nearly 37 years old.

 

The women of the WAAC were to serve in support positions and free up men for combat. Initially, they were authorized to do only 54 types of Army tasks, including duties such as clerks, typists, cooks, and drivers. Maybe you won’t be surprised to hear that these tough women persevered. By the end of the war, they were authorized to perform nearly 240 different military jobs, including specialist positions such as cryptographers.

 

As for Coffey, she went to the Pacific where she served as an Army accountant and statistician.  She was present during the Luzon campaign, and she ultimately earned two bronze stars, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, and a Good Conduct Medal. She was discharged at the end of the war, having earned the rank of staff sergeant.

 

The WAAC was disbanded, but Coffey still wanted to serve. In the end, she stayed in Japan for another decade, working for the Army as a civilian. When she returned to Texas, she continued working at Kelly Air Force base in the procurement office.

 

Many years later she spoke of her service, both during and after the war: “I’d love to serve my country forever,” she concluded.

 

The public side of her story might have ended there but for her longevity. During the summer of 2014, Coffey was given an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.  She visited the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as the World War II Memorial.

 

Many gathered to welcome the veteran when she arrived.  “A lot of these folks never got any recognition at all, they just came home, got off the bus, went home and went to work,” one attendee said. “They get all emotional thanking us and we’re trying to thank them for what they did.”

 

Coffey reportedly had a wonderful time. By then, she was a stroke survivor and confined to a wheelchair, but she’d been bound and determined to make the trip. A junior at the Unites States Military Academy spoke of meeting her that day.

 

“A stroke about a year ago limited her mobility and the oxygen tube she used hindered her ability to speak,” Lena Cruzval described, “but she still gave me an enthusiastic nod when I asked if she was enjoying her visit.”

 

Needless to say, her family was proud. “She is very, very shy about her time in the service,” her nephew concluded. “She doesn’t talk about it much. She just did what she had to do.”

 

As a postscript to the story, while Coffey was believed to be the oldest living female veteran at the time of her passing, it was later discovered that there was at least one older woman. This other veteran passed away a few months after Coffey—at the age of 111!

 

Naturally, that is a story for another day.

 Enjoyed this post? More stories of American

heroines can be found on my website, HERE.


Primary Sources:

Commentaires


bottom of page