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April honor flight reminds Victoria woman of life journey

By Victoria Advocate
May 29, 2011 at 12:29 a.m.

Sitting at a table full of  photographs of her youth, Pearl Gummelt laughs as she recalls how she met her husband during World War II. For Gummelt, the visit to war memorials in Washington, D.C.,  provided by the Honor Flight Network was a trip down memory lane.

: Memorial Day celebration.

: 10 a.m. Monday.

: De Leon Plaza.

Cramped in a commuter train bound for San Diego, 23-year-old Pearl Fegette sat knee-to-knee with strangers for two days and three nights.

The year was 1943, and World War II raged on.

The now-widowed Pearl Gummelt looked down at a sepia-toned photograph on the dining table of a curly-haired, Shirley Temple-looking woman in a white U.S. Navy dress uniform.

The 90-year-old looked up - those brown eyes still twinkled and those Temple dimples still there.

"We were just a couple of dumb country girls," Gummelt said, laughing as she held the dining table photo.

Caressing her right elbow in the photo was her best friend of more than 70 years, Dorothy Hansen, from Cranfills Gap, Texas. The two were nurses and stationed at the San Diego Naval Hospital during the war.

In April, the two were able to take an honor flight with about 200 other World War II veterans to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C.

"It was really wonderful," Gummelt said. "I was thinking about many of my patients and how happy they would have been to see such a thing like this."

MORE THAN JUST A FLIGHT

The Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit that raises money to transport as many U.S. military veterans to see the memorials of their wars at no cost to them.

The trip was one down memory lane.

Bing Crosby's throaty serenade and the sweet sounds of The Andrews Sisters singing "Don't Fence Me In," blared overhead while going from memorial to memorial.

The song took Gummelt back to the war.

It was there she met her husband, Pete Gummelt.

Her husband of 38 years was a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps and took part in the invasion of Guadalcanal and Tarawa. He contracted malaria and was sent to the hospital, where he was tended to by Gummelt.

He was from Moulton. She was from Gatesville.

"He was just another patient," she said, laughing.

Once he got better, he went back home to Moulton, broke up with his hometown sweetheart and traveled back to the hospital to claim Gummelt as his own.

This made Gummelt laugh, but after three weeks of dating, the two married.

He would always sing to her, "Don't Fence Me In."

FRIENDSHIP BEGINS

Gummelt looked to the right of her while on the bus, and there was Hansen.

The two became friends during nursing training at St. Mary's School of Nursing in Galveston in 1939.

Hansen graduated as a registered nurse in 1941 and worked in Galveston as she waited for Gummelt to finish her training.

But the need for nurses during the war would soon bring them closer.

Gummelt had planned to take some time off after school, but Hansen had a different idea.

Hansen went for a physical, where she coaxed Gummelt to join the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps with her.

The rest is history, and it's now 70 years later, she said.

"I've been blessed," she said. "God has blessed me in too many ways to count."

CONTINUING HER MISSION

Since her husband's death, Gummelt has gone on more of her own adventures.

Though she's turning 91 soon, that has not stopped her from doing the things she loves.

"My bones are almost 100 years old," she said with a giggle.

Gummelt lives independently and communicates by cell phone and email.

On Memorial Day, Gummelt always takes time to think about the freedom she is still able to experience, she said.

The sad part for her is that younger people don't grasp the importance of the date.

"It bothers me that people do not know their history," she said.

Stressing history in school could help make the younger generations more grateful for what they have, she said.

Today, Gummelt volunteers for hospice care, never forgetting her nursing ways.

There, she sits with patients and makes sure to keep them company - it's compassion that's the real key, not nurse training, she says.

She first fell in love with nursing when she traveled as a 9-year-old with her family as they searched for a cure for tuberculosis.

For as long as she can, she'll continue giving back, just as she has all her life, she said.

"Match your problems with someone else's needs," she said. "That's a good policy."

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