Veteran recalls service days before taking Badger Honor Flight

Published On: Oct 17 2013 10:03:55 PM CDT   Updated On: Oct 18 2013 07:34:39 AM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

Fought between World War II and Vietnam, the Korean War is often called "The Forgotten War."

Only 2 percent of the Americans who fought in Korea were women, and one of them is sharing her experience days before she boards Wisconsin’s Badger Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

“I ate all kinds of pies, drank all kinds of malts,” said WAVE Officer Mary Reinhardt. “Finally they said, 'If you get to 105 pounds, we’ll consider you.'”

The then 22-year-old was determined to gain enough weight to qualify for the chance to serve her country in 1952.

“We were very patriotic then having gone through World War II,” said Reinhardt, who is the daughter of Sicilian immigrants who settled in Milwaukee. Reinhardt gave up teaching to become a cryptographer during the Korean War.

“It was hard work, the kind of work you couldn't discuss even among your friends,” said Reinhardt.

There were 24 of them stationed in San Diego. From a windowless, locked room, Reinhardt deciphered messages meant for her superiors that, to this day, she’s still devoted to protecting.

“It was engrained in us,” she said. “If you made a mistake, you could compromise the entire system, so even now, after all these years, I still don’t talk about the specifics.”

Thousands of Americans died in the three-year battle between North and South Korea. And despite a truce, the countries are still at war and keep fighting.

Reinhardt served until 1955 and did another five years in the reserves. The medallions she was awarded can't replace her memories, because on her 84th birthday Thursday, she is still as sharp as she was some 60 years ago.

“It was a wonderful feeling to feel that you were a part of our country, our organization, our armed forces,” said Reinhardt, who eventually went back to teaching, got married and had three children.

On Oct. 19, for the first time, she and about 90 other Wisconsin veterans will board the Badger Honor Flight for a trip to D.C. to see the memorials built in their honor.

There will be a hero’s welcome upon their 9:15 return to Madison’s airport Saturday night.

News 3’s Jennifer Hoff will travel with the group. Her coverage begins with reports Saturday and continues Sunday and Monday.