PORT ANGELES — Among her fellow Korean War veterans, she’s affectionately known as “Queen Mary.”
At 90 years old, Mary Reid attracts quite the attention as the only woman in the Olympic Peninsula Korean War Veterans Association Chapter 310. That’s how she adopted the moniker.
Reid, who now lives at Park View Villas, served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War as a nurse from Nov. 7, 1950 to Dec. 31, 1951.
“I volunteered for the excitement,” Reid said. “I hadn’t had much fun in my life.”
Growing up in the Great Depression, Reid lived simply. She lived alone with her mother after her father died, and two subsisted off one can of salmon, one egg and a handful of oats for two, sometimes two and a half, days at a time.
She performed well in school and decided upon a career as a teacher or nurse.
“But I had no hope for further education,” she said.
So, Reid enrolled in the necessary classes for both professions, acting as though options did exist.
Then, presented with the opportunity to join the cadet nurse core, Reid marveled at the prospects: free lodging, food and a stipend. Reid passed the exam without incident and began training.
Then, the Army presented Reid with the opportunity to go to South Korea.
“I felt obligation and I thought also it would be fun, she said, adding incredulously, “to serve in the Army!”
When Reid arrived, she couldn’t fathom the conditions.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she said.
She and the other 49 nurses watched as gangs of homeless South Korean children, ranging from 4 to 10 years old, wandered the streets, doling out shoeshines for pennies.
“It was impossible to feel as though you weren’t going to cry,” she said.
Of her legion of memories, that one stands out in vivid detail.
She has recorded those memories in her privately published book, “A Nightingale in Korea: One Bird’s Eye-view,” which published about 1,000 copies.
Reid has given away all but a few.
She didn’t talk about her experiences in her youth, as she said few veterans do.
“While they’re young, they don’t talk about it,” she said. “It’s when you’re old that you talk about it all the time.”
“It’s most outstanding thing you can do in your life — being in a war,” Reid continued. “It’s a whole new level of life.”
Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].