ST. GEORGE — Among the nine military veterans set to depart St. George early Thursday on the next Utah Honor Flight mission is Ivins resident Leona Marck, who served in the U.S. Navy Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services – or WAVES – unit during World War II.
Marck is eager to be a part of this group after having to miss April’s mission due to a fractured hip shortly before her scheduled flight.
Recalling her service days, Marck said she was 20 years old when she joined the Navy in 1944.
“But I was a farm hick from a small town in Idaho – wide-eyed and open-mouthed,” she said with a laugh. “To get to see the country and meet different people and (endure) the challenges we faced was wonderful.”
Marck was assigned to a 3,000-bed temporary hospital near San Francisco. She helped care for returning wounded marines and sailors – some clinging to life after some of the most brutal fighting of World War II in the Pacific theater.
Marck worked with nurses, giving shots, dressing wounds, removing stitches, changing bed linens and giving comfort to ailing servicemen. She was occasionally assigned to what was referred to as “death watch,” which meant watching over the most severely wounded Americans who didn’t appear to have much time left.
“You don’t let a person die alone,” Marck said. “I got so involved (in one case). This kid was breathing very, very shallow. I followed his breathing, and when he stopped breathing, so did I. And I passed out.”
Marck became a secretary to a Navy captain and enjoyed her two years of military service. In 1946, she was discharged – not her choice, the WAVES were considered reserves – as a Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class (temporary).
“I was very unhappy because I loved where I was, loved my job,” said Marck, who went on to become a school teacher and raise five children in civilian life.
Marck and approximately 350,000 other women served in the military during WWII. Not all were welcomed with open arms. At first, Marck remembered, Navy men seemed to resent the women’s presence stateside, because that meant it was more likely they would be sent overseas to a combat zone. As time went on, however, the WAVES earned respect.
“I think they found out we weren’t just females,” Marck said. “We contributed a great deal.”
The St. George group of veterans making Thursday’s Honor Flight will be joined by 40 veterans from the Wasatch Front for the three-day trip to the East Coast. The “St. George Nine” are a mixture of World War II and Korean War veterans, including two female veterans. The remainder of the traveling party includes guardians and Utah Honor Flight staff.
The St. George group will return to Utah Saturday for a welcome-home ceremony at approximately 8 p.m. at the Falls Event Center, 170 South Mall Drive. Everyone is invited to this free event to show their patriotism and gratitude toward these veterans. Many of the local veteran service organizations are expected to attend.
“Taking veterans to see their memorials is such a treat for us,” said Utah Honor Flight chairman Mike Turner. “For many veterans, getting the chance to see the memorials with fellow veterans brings them closure. Sadly, our World War II veterans are dwindling in number, so we must honor them while we can.”
- What: Utah Honor Flight return ceremony.
- When: Saturday, Sept. 30, approximately 8 p.m.
- Where: Falls Event Center, 70 South Mall Drive, St. George.
- Cost: Free.
- Additional information: The public is encouraged to attend and to bring patriotic signs and decorations to welcome the veterans home.