GANDY — Valma Jeffcoat used to say that she enlisted in the military because of wanderlust.
"She wanted to get out of Massachusetts and see the world," her son John said. "And that's exactly what she did."
But to people who knew her, it was obvious she had another, deeper reason for entering the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, which later became the Women's Army Corps, in the early days of World War II.
"She was a patriot," John Jeffcoat said. "She loved the country. Maybe it was because she saw the opportunities her parents had here when they came here from Finland."
Mrs. Jeffcoat was never shy about letting people know how she felt about America.
"She'd get all bent out of shape if she saw someone flying a frayed flag," her son said. "She'd go in and tell them, 'You should fly a new flag, and if you don't have one, I'll get one for you.' "
Mrs. Jeffcoat died April 22 of kidney and heart failure at age 90.
Her military career didn't last longer than the war, but it was momentous. She served as an administrative aide, first in northern Africa and then in Italy.
Aside from her assigned duties, she would volunteer to visit wounded American soldiers in military hospitals. She often helped them write letters home.
One such soldier was a paratrooper named Hal Jeffcoat. They fell in love while he was in a hospital bed in Naples and agreed to meet after the war.
The meeting almost didn't happen. Months after they had last seen each other in Europe, she went to pick him up at a train station. They had never seen each other in anything but their military uniforms, and they walked right by each other several times without realizing it.
Eventually they recognized each other. They continued their courtship and got married.
Hal Jeffcoat built a successful 12-year career as a Major League Baseball player, first as an outfielder and then as a pitcher with the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Redlegs and St. Louis Cardinals, followed by a couple of years as a minor-league manager.
The couple lived first in Massachusetts, but moved to Tampa in 1956. They discovered the city during spring training, raised their three sons here and lived here the rest of their lives. Hal Jeffcoat died in 2007.
Her husband's career meant Mrs. Jeffcoat was essentially a single mother for much of the year. She was a petite woman, only 4 feet 11, but she was strong, energetic and determined.
"Mom was the one who kept us all in line, especially my dad," John Jeffcoat said. "She'd load the three of us boys in the car and drive us all the way to Cincinnati to see my dad, and one time to Seattle, before there were interstates."
Just last year, she took her last cross-country car trip with her family. One of the stops was the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Va.
A feature at the memorial lets former members of the WAC look up their own records. Mrs. Jeffcoat did that, and a picture of her as a young woman appeared on a screen.
"Is that you?" a bystander said. Yes, Mrs. Jeffcoat replied. "Well, thank you so much for serving our country," said the bystander.
"That moment made the whole trip for her," her son said.
Besides her son John, Mrs. Jeffcoat is survived by sons Harold and Richard, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]