Wish StoriesShirley Travels Home to be Honored for Her Service
We’ve all seen the famous image of Rosie the Riveter, with her red bandana and blue jumpsuit. The image is so iconic that it’s a part of our society’s collective memory surrounding World War II.
But for Shirley, age 101, Rosie’s image hits closer to home.
That’s because Shirley was among the hard-working and determined women who supported the war effort by joining the workforce. For many women, this was a complete change of life from the norms of the time, as many had small children at home and had never worked outside of the home. Yet they answered the call and went to work in factories to make essential defense equipment and parts during World War II.
Growing up in Franklin, NC, Shirley was the only sister among her seven siblings. Fiercely independent from a young age, she never let being the only girl impact what she believed or wanted to accomplish. As she grew older, she was incredibly proud of her brothers for enlisting in the military and working in defense plants during the war, and their service inspired her to do the same.
After stepping up as a “Rosie the Riveter” to make equipment at the onset of the war, Shirley enlisted in the SPARs, which stood for “Semper Paratus, Always Ready,” more formally known as the Women’s Coast Guard Reserves. Her first assignment took her to the Florida coast, where she carried out administrative and logistical responsibilities.
Shirley served as Seaman 1st Class from 1943 until 1946, when she was honorably discharged from her last posting in Washington D.C.
Along the way, she has been recognized for her brave service and commitment. Some honors and medals include the WWII Victory Medal and the American Campaign Medal. Recently, she was awarded the Living Legend Proclamation by Women in Military Service Across America (WMSA), which included a letter and challenge coin from Admiral Schultz, the commander of the U.S. Coast Guard.
To this day, it is evident that Shirley is not only a woman with gumption and an affinity for service, but also with an unwavering commitment to her family. It was her deep admiration and support of her brothers that led her to join the Coast Guard and defend the United States during such a pivotal point in history. And it was her greatest honor in life to serve among them.
Shirley’s brothers played a significant role in building the foundation of her life and the choices she’s made along the way, supporting her as she grew into the incredible woman she is today. In this season of her life, she has grieved the passing of each of her brothers, devastating losses that she still carries with her today.
When Shirley thinks about her family, her fondest memories always bring her back to Franklin. Due to health complications and the COVID-19 pandemic, she has not been back to her beloved hometown in years.
Since she last returned to Franklin, Shirley’s family has named a brick in her honor at the Veterans Memorial of Macon County. This memorial was dedicated on July 4th, 2009, and recognizes veterans of all service branches and wars. While proud to be honored among them, Shirley had not yet seen the Veterans Memorial or her brick in person.
When Wish of a Lifetime heard Shirley’s story, we were thrilled to help her return to the place where it all began. We knew it would mean so much to her to receive recognition for her service surrounded by those she knows and loves in her hometown.
It was a true trip down memory lane. Shirley visited her childhood church, saw the homes where her parents had lived, and witnessed how much the downtown has changed since she was a child.
Next, family members, local veterans, Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel, active duty Coast Guard, and special guests gathered at the Veteran’s Memorial at the Macon County Recreation Park. Together, they honored Shirley’s service legacy with remarks and a special invocation. Even the local fire department was there, proudly waving the American flag from the truck.
Shirley finally saw the bricks commemorating her service and that of her brothers. It was a sacred moment for her as she realized her name was among many others she knew and remembered.
Patty, Shirley’s daughter, shared that their visit to Franklin came together beautifully and that everyone left with great feelings.
“It was a great honor that you gave my mother,” she said. “My mom…the smile on her face just glowed, it was like a major sunrise.”
This trip has become a beautiful memory for Shirley and her family. When she returned home, Shirley asked Patty, “I was really there, wasn’t I?” What a joy it was for Patty to respond, “You really were!”
Wish of a Lifetime extends a special thank you to the American Legion Post #108, Captain Baer, Ken Carpenter, photographer Stephan Pruitt, retired Lt. General Kathleen Gainey, Rosie the Riveter Helen McWherter, and every single person in attendance that day.
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