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95-year-old Norfolkan among those honored on flight

October 5, 2018

Watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery was a meaningful experience for Kathleen Briard.

She also enjoyed visiting the World War II, Vietnam and Korean memorials. And she got a kick out of meeting Loretta Swit, who played Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan in the TV series “M*A*S*H,” which aired in the 1970s.

But the highlight was simply spending time with 134 fellow female veterans.

“Just being with all of these women from all branches of the service was wonderful,” the Norfolkan said. “It was great to hear what they did.”

Briard participated in the women-only honor flight that traveled to Washington, D.C., in late September. The trip was organized by Bill and Evonne Williams of Omaha, who operate Patriotic Productions. In the past 10 years, the organization has shuttled thousands of veterans to Washington to be honored for their service and to see the memorials.

At age 95, Briard, who was a nurse during World War II, was the second-oldest woman on the trip. A 98-year-old World War II nurse from Omaha was also on board the flight that departed Omaha long before the sun rose and landed in Washington about the time most people there were just starting their day.

Once on the ground, the women — dressed in matching red shirts, black vests and rain ponchos to ward off the drizzle — were escorted into buses that toured them around the city.

“The weather didn’t dampen our spirits,” Briard said.

She had high praise for Bill and Evonne Williams and the crew that took care of their every need. The trip was “well-orchestrated,” she said.

In addition to the ponchos, vests and red shirts, the women received small shoulder bags to store their personal belongings. Meals and beverages were provided on the plane and buses.

Wheelchairs and volunteers to push them were also available, Briard said. She took advantage of the offer when the walk was too long or the route a little treacherous, she said.

In addition to the World War II, Vietnam and Korean War memorials, the women visited the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial dedicated to those killed in that building on the Sept. 11, 2001, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and others.

Their adventure started the night before the flight with a banquet at an Omaha hotel. There, each veteran received a Quilt of Valor made and donated by a volunteer. Many also had the opportunity to meet Swit, who was “quite a nice gal,” Briard said. Swit accompanied the women on the trip.

After graduating from nursing school in 1944, Briard, a West Virginia native, joined the Nurses Cadet Corps and was sent to Hawaii where she nursed wounded soldiers, many of whom had been serving in the Pacific.

“We were a holding station,” she said. “Soldiers were flown in, taken care of and put on a plane and sent to the states. We saw a lot of burn patients and a lot with limbs removed.”

Although the war was winding down by the time she arrived in Hawaii, the scars from the bombing on Dec. 7, 1941, were still visible.

“And we still had blackouts,” she said, meaning windows were covered at night so no light shown from them, and no outside lights were used. The goal was to be invisible to enemy bombers.

She was happy to be doing her part, she said.

Briard has lived in Norfolk since 1956. She worked at the former Lutheran Community Hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, which are now joined as Faith Regional Health Services. Her late husband, Gene, operated an insurance company.

While many people her age would have shied away from making such a trip, not Briard.

“The flight was such an honor,” she said. “It brought back a lot of memories of my time in the service.”

She especially appreciated the people who greeted them while in Washington and the approximately 2,000 people who welcomed them home at the airport.

“Everyone was loving and kind,” she said. “It was a great day.”

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