Women’s History Month: granting a last wish

by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

I never had the honor of meeting Mildred McDowell, but she inspired an experience that taught me about the undeniable camaraderie past and present Air Force members share.

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I was working at Airman magazine in early 2011, when one of the writers, Randy Roughton, traveled to Illinois to interview the 103-year-old McDowell. At the time, she was our country’s oldest living female veteran.

In his story, published in the March/April issue, Roughton mentioned that McDowell, who joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1943 and later transferred into the Air Force, wished to eventually be buried in her Women’s Air Force uniform–which she no longer possessed.

As a staff, we were touched by the many calls and emails we received from service members three and four generations younger than McDowell, offering to track down a replacement uniform. It had been more than 40 years since she had retired, and people still appreciated her service and felt inspired to honor her.

We were told that McDowell was thrilled when she was presented with the uniform later that year.

“She was very proud and pleased that she would be able to be buried in her uniform,” said her grand-nephew, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Stan Giles of the 134th Air Refueling Wing at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tenn.

When she died at the age of 104 on Nov. 15, 2012, McDowell was buried in her uniform in Ramsey, Ill., about 75 miles north of Scott Air Force Base.

Learn more about pioneering Air Force women on the Women’s History Month page at AF.mil.