Woman followed brothers into service
When Mary Ryan Hedgecock graduated high school in Fryeburg, she received the American Legion Award. Not one to fall in line with the regular role of a woman in the early 1940's, she wanted something different for her life.
With her brothers off fighting the Nazi scourge, Mary decided she wanted to follow them into service to her country.
"I went into the military as quick as I could," Hedgecock said. "My mother was more enthusiastic with me going into the military than my dad.
"But he told me, 'Now sister, if you will always remember your raising, you'll never, never be in trouble. So just remember that your best side is the good side and don't ever forget that.' All my life I tried to remember what poppa said."
After basic training, Mary went to New Jersey. There she met Ralph Hedgecock, or the redhead as she calls him, while doing one of the few leisure time activities available, playing shuffleboard.
They planned to get married in the states but both were transferred to Italy, Mary in the Army and Ralph in the Air Force.
Americans were not allowed to marry in Italy, so they went into Austria to get married. When they came back, the military didn't recognize the marriage and they had to do it all over again for the state department.
"That made it all legal," she said.
In the army, Mary was a secretary to the big brass and went wherever they did. So she requested a transfer into the Air Force.
Once the transfer was granted she worked in personnel with Ralph. They worked together in Italy until they both transferred to SAC headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. Finally, both were transferred to Barksdale AFB were they retired.
Ralph passed away in 1995, and Mary was presented his flag at the funeral. Now, not content to let old glory sit unused in a box, she donated her late husband's flag to be flown over her Town and Country residence.
"She was asking about her things and she asked about the flag," Mary's sister Mattie Ford said. "She has been so well cared for there and everyone is so nice I thought what a great thing to do with that flag. Old Glory deserves to be flying."
According to Ford, the flag will begin flying over the building when the current flag has fulfilled its term of service.
Mary said she was privileged to be in the military, and is especially proud to have played a large role in placing a memorial to women in the military on the mall in Washington D.C.
Many things in her military life stuck with Mary, but one thing in particular seemed to resonate to this day.
"There's an old expression in the military," she said. "'It's all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,' If you weren't bright-eyed and bushy-tailed you were nothing. You had to count for something.
"I'm here, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed."