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'We just did our jobs': Creighton administrator is part of first Nebraska All-Female Veterans Honor Flight

On the plane trip home from the Sept. 24 Nebraska Female Veterans Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., Tracy Monahan looked up the aisle from the back of the Boeing 747 were she was riding with 134 other female military veterans who had been a part of the event.

Each of the women had been given a red shirt and black vest to mark their participation in the Honor Flight — a tradition initiated by Omaha couple Bill and Evonne Williams to celebrate and commemorate the service of veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War — and, after a day that began with a 2 a.m. wake-up call on the heels of a Sunday night dinner that went past 9 p.m., they were still abuzz with what they encountered in the nation’s capital.

From a 98-year-old woman who served in World War II to younger veterans of the nation’s most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Monahan, a senior administrator in the Creighton University School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, took in the enormity of what she had just experienced and the sisters-in-arms with whom she had experienced it.

“And I was moved,” said Monahan, who spent 24 years in the U.S. Air Force as an officer in the Medical Service Corps, all but five of those years concurrent with her work at Creighton. “I thought of that 98-year-old who was in World War II. From that day to this, from she to me, the changes that have taken place in the military, and how she and the women who served in Korea, in Vietnam, paved the way for my career. I was very fortunate to have served so long and I look back very fondly on what I was able to contribute. And for a long time on that ride home, I thought about all those women who went before me and made it possible.”

The Honor Flight has become a cherished tradition in the Omaha area but, until now, it’s largely been the province of male military veterans. When a friend told her an all-female trip was being planned, Monahan, who retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2016, went to the Honor Flight webpage and applied.

In July, she heard the news she’d been tapped to be a part of this first-ever, all-female flight, replete with a one-day, 10-stop tour of memorials and other sites in D.C., an opportunity to connect with different generations of veterans, and a dinner with an appearance by actress Loretta Swit, who portrayed Maj. Margaret Houlihan on the famed television dramedy set in the Korean War, M*A*S*H.

At the dinner preceding the flight, Monahan and the other veterans were each presented with a quilt, a gift from the Quilts of Valor program. They also met personally with Swit, who thanked them for their service and who, Monahan realized, was another one of those groundbreakers for women in the military.

“It dawned on me that a lot of the women there grew up watching her on TV,” she said. “They were coming up to her and saying, ‘I saw you, your character as a nurse, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do, that’s how I wanted to serve.’”

Whisked to Washington by 7:30 a.m., the women visited, among others, the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. They were then back on a flight home from the whirlwind tour.

“Looking back, everything was so overwhelming,” Monahan said. “I think most of us are of the mindset that we just did our jobs and we didn’t seek any glory. But everywhere we went, everyone we encountered, they were so appreciative. It was touching. I came to appreciate what a high honor this was to be selected.”

Many of the women on the flight were veterans of the Vietnam War. At their stop at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, it was not lost that just eight names on the memorial’s iconic reflective, black granite face belong to women and that female veterans found themselves in for much of the same dismissive treatment male veterans of the war faced. The return of the flight to Omaha’s Eppley Airfield provided some semblance of a homecoming for those veterans.

“The women who were Vietnam veterans on this flight never got a welcome home,” said Monahan, the daughter of a Vietnam veteran. “So to see that when we arrived was a very moving thing. The whole day was just a celebration of one another and of all the branches we represented. We sat and listened to one another’s stories. Obviously, there were a lot of women who served on the medical side, but I was surprised by the number of women who were gunners or in similar roles. It was an impressive opportunity to get to know how far we’ve all come.”

From a military family — both her father and two grandfathers were in the Army — Monahan joined the Air Force shortly after completing a master’s degree program in hospital administration. She spent five years on active duty and 19 years in the reserve overseeing hospitals, including a 2009 deployment to the theater hospital at Joint Base Balad in Iraq.

Through monthly training exercises, deployments and other postings, Monahan said the care and encouragement she received from Creighton was unparalleled.

“Throughout my military career, Creighton was always supportive,” Monahan. “Thinking about this flight and Creighton, it’s great to be at a place where service is valued and an understanding that a contribution like military service is something that gets inside of a person and helps them see how they can make a difference.”

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