Nebraska veterans take part in historic women-only flight
ALLIANCE – On Monday, Sept. 24,135 women veterans were in Washington D.C. as part of the Nebraska Female Honor Flight. Two of them, Jane Matejka and Kristina Goodwin, are from Alliance.
The visit, organized by Bill and Evonne Williams of Omaha and their Patriotic Productions organization, honored the special sacrifices women have made for America through their military service.
Jane Matejka, an Alliance native, joined the U.S. Army in 1974, toward the end of the Vietnam War and stayed until early 1985. During that time, she was stationed in Germany as a personnel data analyst and eventually earned the rank of SP5.
After an almost 20-year career with the Postal Service in the Denver area, she retired back to Alliance in 2007.
Kristina Goodwin started out in the Colorado National Guard then transferred to active duty in the U.S. Air Force. After ending up in the transportation division, she was deployed to the Middle East during the first Gulf War to help set up operations bases.
Goodwin left the service after 15 years. Her husband, also an Air Force veteran, retired in 2006 and is the memorial services coordinator at the Alliance Veterans Cemetery.
The trip was the first to include only women veterans from Nebraska. They served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan. Even the flight crew was all women, along with women doctors and nurses to assist with passengers.
Two of the women, ages 95 and 98, are World War II veterans.
“Bless their hearts; they’re still living on their own,” Goodwin said. “They were just so vibrant and so much fun to have along.”
Also along for the trip was actress Loretta Swit, well-remembered for her role as Maj. Margaret Houlihan, head nurse in the 1970s TV series M*A*S*H. She often tells stories of younger women telling her they saw her as a role model in their own decision to join the military.
“Loretta always made it a point to express her gratitude to military women because they actually experienced the full reality of what Maj. Houlihan portrayed,” Goodwin said.
Matejka also enjoyed her short visit with the actress, who is still active in theater, painting, and with animal rights activities.
“She was wonderful,” Matejka said. “She looks just like she did on television, just older, like the rest of us.”
During their visit to Washington, the women toured all the historic sites and war memorials. Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer came out on a rain-soaked day to greet the veterans at the women’s memorial.
Goodwin has been to Washington before, as her husband was stationed at one time in Dover, Delaware.
“We were able to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery,” she said. “The rain complemented the somberness of the ceremony.”
For Goodwin, it was an amazing trip.
“A large group of women who hardly knew each other came together and quickly formed camaraderie,” she said. “We all have that common military bond.”
The trip was Matejka’s first visit to the nation’s capital.
“What really impressed me was the sense of belonging I felt from all the people who met us,” she said. “Everyone was cheering and waving flags. It was awe-inspiring.”
She added it seems the women are somehow left out of most veterans’ celebrations.
“This trip was one of the most heartfelt ‘thank-yous’ I’ve had during my military career.”
When they returned to Omaha, they were greeted by Gov. Pete Ricketts and his wife Susanne. And there was a ceremony by members of the Quilts of Honor Foundation.
Each of the 135 women was presented with a unique quilt hand-sewn by foundation members.
“When we received our quilts, we were given what they call a Quilts of Honor hug,” Goodwin said. “They wrapped the quilts around our shoulders, quilts made by Nebraska veterans.”
With the theme “Duty, Honor, Country,” the first Nebraska Female Veterans Flight arrived at Eppley Airfield Sunday night. It was a fitting time to say thank you and welcome home to a group of veterans that many of their ranks never heard.