By RENEE PRUSI
For The Daily News
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Martha Hollingsworth might have been born and raised a Southern girl through and through, but the only female World War II veteran to take part in Wednesday's edition of Upper Peninsula Honor Flight has been a Yooper for many years now.
Renee Prusi Photo
Quinnesec resident Martha “Betty” Johnson, seated, poses with a group which greeted her when Upper Peninsula Honor Flight veterans arrived at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Wednesday. From the left are Lee Erickson of Alexandria, Va., who is Betty’s grandson, along with U.S. Navy Capt. Butch Dollaga of California and Air Force Col. Heather Pringle of Idaho. Johnson served in the Air Force during World War II.
And she's happy of that.
Martha, who is called Betty by everyone, married a soldier from the Quinnesec, Lee Johnson, at World War II's end and moved to her husband's hometown in 1947.
Together, Lee and Betty Johnson had five children, followed by 20 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
What many might not guess about Betty, now 88, is her time of service to the United States of America.
She spent her childhood in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. At age 20, something happened that made her want to join in the World War II effort as a member of the armed forces.
"My brother was killed in the war," Betty said. "He was a fighter pilot who was involved in air-sea rescue prior to D-Day. HIs plane went down and he died of his wounds and exposure. His name was James Holllinsworth."
Betty convinced her mother to sign a permission slip so Betty could join the Air Force, which she did. As World War II came to an end, Betty was offered a choice assignment.
"It was in D.C. and I thought I should go even if I didn't want to be that far away from home," she said. "So I took the assignment as a stenographer.
"My brother was buried in England and wanted to be able to go there, so I took an assignment in the Atlantic Theater," Betty said.
Sent to Germany, she met a young, badly wounded soldier from Quinnesec. His name was Lee Johnson and he was the love of her life.
"I have so many wonderful memories," she said. "Most involve Lee, but there is one memory from when I was first overseas. I looked at the bulletin board one day and there was a sign that said 'if you are interested in classical music, sign up here.' That was like putting a carrot in front of a rabbit. I became one of six servicewomen chosen to go on a goodbye tour with Gen. (Geoffrey) Keyes.
"We saw so many interesting places like Hitler's hideout," Betty said.
Betty, like the rest of the Honor Flight contingent, enjoyed the day touring the nation's capital.
"I loved Honor Flight," she said as the jet carrying the group returned to Delta County Airport in Escanaba. "I have one word for it: Fantastic."
She and the other veterans seemed almost overwhelmed by the applause they received during every stop along their tour.
For instance, U.P. Honor Flight Mission IV's veterans were greeted when they arrived at the World War II Memorial by more than 100 school children from Rocky Run Middle School in Chantilly, Va., students who had just studied the Second World War and wanted to meet these American heroes.
The students held up thank-you signs and other greetings, reaching out to shake hands with many veterans as they arrived for their tour of the memorial.
Also on hand to salute the veterans were U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, and U.S. Rep. Dan Beneshik, R-Crystal Falls, as well as a number of high-ranking officers from the Pentagon.
Everywhere the Honor Flight went, the veterans were greeted with applause, including at Reagan National Airport upon arrival.
"This is unbelievable," said veteran Bob Engdahl of Wells Township as he was met with a wave of applause and cheers as he walked into the terminal. "Thank you all so very much."
Also on board was veteran Frank Rodman of Hermansville.
Wednesday marked the fourth trip for U.P. Honor Flight to the nation's capital. So far, some 313 World War II veterans have made the one-day trip on the four flights - all at no cost to them. Those who organize the flights raise all the funds from the various communities around the Upper Peninsula.
The goal is to bring all World War II veterans from the U.P. to see the memorial built in their honor, which was dedicated in 2004.
While in the nation's capital, the group visits the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and Arlington Cemetery, among other stops.
Members of U.P. Honor Flight IV were sent off early Wednesday morning from the Delta County Airport with music by the Escanaba High School Band and greeted by several hundred community members upon their return at about 8:40 p.m. Wednesday.