It took 68 years and a U.S. senator before Mildred Pretzer got what was coming to her.
The 100-year-old resident of The Colonnades, a retirement community near Charlottesville, was honored on Tuesday by Sen. Timothy Kaine, D-Virginia, and a phalanx of U.S. Army soldiers in Class A dress as she received several military honors for her World War II service in the Women’s Army Corps.
“I didn’t do great things. As a non-commissioned officer, I was keeping records. As a commissioned officer, I was in charge of every WAC on the base where I was stationed,” Pretzer said, addressing an audience of friends, family and neighbors as well as Army officers and Kaine. “My decorations are for service, not for bravery. But I am very proud of being a WAC.”
Pretzer enlisted in the corps in 1943 and left the Army as a second lieutenant in 1946. She kept detailed training records for Army Air Corps pilots in training as an enlisted soldier and later served as base WAC commander as a commissioned officer.
One of the last WACs to serve, she was not entered for all of the awards for which she qualified because the men who processed her discharge were unaware of honors that were specific to the women’s corps.
“Her family contacted my office to see if there weren’t some awards that she qualified for, and the staff looked into it,” Kaine said after the ceremony. “We not only learned a lot about her, but we learned a lot about the Women’s Army Corps and its role.”
Kaine’s staff found that Pretzer was eligible for several honors, including the Army Good Conduct medal; the WAC Service Medal; the American Campaign Medal; the World War II Victory Medal; and the Honorable Service Lapel Pin.
“The women in the military today had important path builders for them who served and who set high standards,” Kaine told Pretzer and the audience before presenting the medals. “Thank you for your service to our nation.”
Standing in the honor guard among eight soldiers attached to the National Ground Intelligence Center, Sgt. 1st Class Letiticia Davis, who served in intelligence with NATO, said her military career was paved by women like Pretzer.
“She made it possible for women like myself to be in the military today,” the 20-year veteran said. “If she hadn’t been there, perhaps we wouldn’t be here.”
First Sgt. Susan Letendre, who served in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer attached to the 7th Special Forces Group, agreed.
“My job was to work with women and children in Afghanistan with Special Forces, and had it not been for women like Mildred that never would have happened,” Letendre said.
Pretzer, noting that most of the retired and active-duty soldiers in the room were men, said that was something to which she was accustomed.
“I am today, as always in World War II, a woman outnumbered by a lot of uniformed men,” she joked. “But be at ease. I will not enlist again. I am 4-F because of my ears, and I cannot get a release from my duties in Apartment 444.”
Joking aside, Pretzer said she was proud to receive the long-awaited honors and honored that a U.S. senator would go to bat on her behalf.
“It means so much that he and his staff would take so much time for this,” she said after the ceremony. “It means a lot.”