In April of 1942 Army Nurse Corps recruiters assured Hazel (then Stickney) Murphy that nurses never stayed overseas longer than a year. She figured she could do anything for that long.
Three weeks later, Murphy and 6,000 troops boarded the USS West Point in San Francisco. She shared a stateroom with 11 nurses. Before Murphy's tour would end, she would serve in Australia, New Guinea and the Island of Biak in the Dutch East Indies.
She was gone almost four years.
Not until Oct. 29 of this year, had Murphy, who now lives in St. Petersburg, been as excited about a journey. That's when the Honor Flight of West Central Florida flew her as one of 74 World War II veterans on a one-day trip to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.
Even before the trip Murphy knew she had been chosen for something special.
"There was a mandatory orientation on Oct. 22, and it was one of the best days," said Murphy, 92. "I met the woman who would be traveling with me. I felt really lucky, because she was the sweetest person."
Each veteran is paired with a volunteer guardian. Janice Doyle of Brandon accompanied Murphy and like each guardian, donated $400 to Honor Flight to pay his or her costs.
"This was something my husband David and I could do together," Doyle said. "We both have an appreciation for the older veterans."
Fast forward to the day of the flight.
"I was so excited," Murphy said. "When we walked around the airport there were many people there to greet us."
Honor Flight volunteers waited at Tampa International Airport dressed in red, white and blue to welcome the veterans, Doyle said.
Before sunrise, the chartered flight headed to Ronald Reagan National Washington Airport.
"When we got off the plane, we went to our assigned buses and each had spaces below for a wheelchair for all of us," said Murphy. "I didn't think I'd need one, but Janice told me it was a long walk. She was right. I was glad to sit down and wrap up."
First stop, the Iwo Jima Memorial and a group photograph.
Next, Arlington Cemetery to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A bit of cold rain didn't dampen the spirits of the greatest generation.
"We saw it all, from the Jefferson Memorial to the Capitol,'' Murphy said. "But when we arrived at the World War II Memorial, I was flabbergasted."
Murphy said she immediately saw the Pacific Pavilion and found the names of each place she had taken care of wounded troops.
"It was beautiful,'' she said. "Just seeing the names of the places I'd served, knowing we were all being honored, meant so much. I had an older brother, Bill, on the other side of the world during the war. He was in Germany while I was in the Pacific. Seeing the memorial was really something that brought me back. I'll never forget it."
Heading for home, the veterans were given another surprise.
"We were all gabbing about where we came from and what we were doing,'' she said. "Just like when we were in the service. Back then, we never asked anyone their name, just where did you come from. I thought I'd heard wrong when someone said, 'mail call.' "
Next thing Murphy knew, she heard her name called. Someone handed her a manila envelope.
"It was 2 inches thick and full of letters from children around this area and far away as California," said Murphy with a big smile. "They asked questions about when I entered the service and what I did. They thanked me. Getting those letters topped this trip off."
A Clearwater Fundamental Middle School student wrote that she hoped Murphy had a good time on her flight to Washington. She shared that she had a grandpa who was in the war.
A seventh-grader from Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School in St. Petersburg wrote that she could tell Murphy was unselfish because of what she'd done for this country.
When the veterans stepped from the airport shuttle in Tampa, well-wishers lined the pathway. They carried signs and flags, giving the veterans a hero's homecoming. At the end of the path the recently Ret. Army Maj. Gen. Michael Jones, former chief of staff for U.S. Central Command, greeted each veteran. Each also received a special World War II medal.
Sitting in the kitchen of her mobile home, Murphy rereads the students' letters and looks at her Honor Flight mementoes.
"So many years had passed and there wasn't one word said about World War II until this memorial and for me, the Honor Flight," Murphy said. "When we got off the plane after the war, no one knew who we were. Stepping off the Honor Flight, people knew us the minute we got off the plane. They made us feel like kings and queens."