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Korean War codebreaker takes part in Honor Flight

Posted at 6:50 PM, May 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-04 18:50:49-04

The Collier County Honor Flight makes its sixteenth trip to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, to give veterans living in Collier the chance to pay their respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

One of those making the trip had an unusual job for her time.

"In my time, you became a teacher, a secretary or a nurse," said Shirley Hagerson, a Navy veteran who worked as a cryptographer during the Korean War. "The Navy gave us opportunity to do lots of things that I would have never had an opportunity to do."

Hagerson was a Lieutenant Junior Grade whose cryptography work as a young woman in the 1950s  involved coding and decoding messages between ships. 

"Rendezvous points, where they were going to meet," Hagerson said. "This was something we didn't want anybody else to know but the Navy."

Sometimes, the messages she coded weren't always about rendezvous points.

"There was a top-secret message that an aircraft carrier was coming back to port because they had not ordered enough toilet paper," Hagerson recalled with a smile. "The supply officer did not want everyone in hearing distance to know, so it was a top-secret message to the crypto office to please have reams of toilet paper on the wharf."

Hagerson went on to become a teacher after leaving the Navy, teaching the 5th grade for 39 years. Now living at the Vi at Bentley Village, a retirement community in Naples, she's looking forward to the Honor Flight trip, so she can visit the war memorials in the nation's capital with fellow veterans.

"It's just my opportunity to meet more of my fellow officers and enlisted men who have served their country," Hagerson said. "And it's always touching to go see the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery."

Veteran Marty Barrett, an Air Force radioman during the Korean War, will also pay his respects during the Honor Flight.

"The memorials are for those who didn't make it back and made the ultimate sacrifice," Barrett said. "It's just more to honor them than anything else."

Saturday's Honor Flight is the first of three planned flights for 2018. Two more are scheduled for September and October, and will give about 225 veterans the chance to visit the memorials in Washington.