Greatness never gets old.
Neither does World War II veteran Lt. Mary Phillips Gettys, 96, the widow of a U.S. congressman. She’s a woman who worked handling secret codes during the war, when the freedom of men and women hung in the balance.
“Serving this great country is one of the greatest parts of my life,” Gettys said Tuesday, in a voice as strong and clear as Patton leading troops romping through North Africa. “I felt I belonged. I am so proud of America. To be an American.”
On Tuesday in Rock Hill, the Daughters of the American Revolution – one of the country’s oldest and most respected organizations dedicated to promoting patriotism in the past, present and future – honored one of America’s greatest patriots. It was a ceremony with about 100 people who gave a standing ovation.
No ovation was ever more deserved.
The award is the DAR National Award for Women in American History. And in in this country of more than 325 million people, DAR official Terry Garrett of the Catawba chapter, based in Rock Hill, told the audience at Westminster Towers that Mary Phillips Gettys is the first woman to get the DAR award this year.
Gettys received a certificate and a medal. The medal is red, white and blue.
“I will wear it with pride,” Gettys beamed.
Gettys, the widow of World War II Navy veteran and former U.S. Rep. Tom Gettys, who served in Congress from 1964 to 1975, almost didn’t get the chance to serve her country.
Until the middle of World War II, women were not allowed to serve. Gettys, a Chester native, wanted to follow her soldier father and two soldier brothers into the service, where the bombs and bullets were real and all those men were wounded.
When the military finally allowed women to join during World War II, Gettys joined the Navy WAVES – Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. She served at a Virginia Naval base and did code duty among other men and women who likely helped save the world.
She called the people she served with “honorable” and “great.” One friend from Chester, a Navy man, was killed on an aircraft carrier.
Women like Gettys continued to do what was asked, and more. DAR officials said Tuesday around 400,000 American women volunteered to do military jobs in World War II.
That’s why the Daughters of the American Revolution, which is choosy about who it honors, went to Gettys’ home at Westminster Towers. That’s why more than 100 people clapped and why everybody stood and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Mary Phillips Gettys stood up from a wheelchair and sang the national anthem, too. Her hand was over her heart. She had served and she sang, proudly.
That’s what great Americans do.