As WWII veteran Freda Haworth Coate celebrated her 100th birthday Wednesday, Nov. 20, with dozens of friends, family, local veterans and elected officials packed into the main hall of her retirement room, it would be hard not to be impressed with the countless stories they shared of her accomplishments throughout her life.
Leander Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10427 Commander Mitch Fuller told the assembled audience she was "someone who has lead an extraordinary life."
Haworth Coate served as a U.S. Army nurse during WWII for the 117th Station Hospital in New Guinea and other parts of southeast Asia from 1943 to 1946, including more than two years in a theater of operation. She earned the rank of second lieutenant during her service and later received the Expeditionary Medal for her work, including in a malaria ward for soldiers.
Haworth Coate was also the first woman member of the Jewel Whyte VFW Post 728 in Danville, Illinois. In fact, because of how well she was recognized for her service, members of the post immediately sought her after new rules were passed allowing women members.
Her accomplishments are still recognized to this day in the city, including her nurse uniform currently being on display at the city's Vermilion County War Museum.Haworth Coate has worked with soldiers throughout her life. After surviving through the Great Depression and completing schooling, she earned her Registered Nurse degree in 1941 from Lakeview Hospital School of Nursing with just 18 other students.
Her first job was working at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Danville, Ill., working with soldiers from the start.
She said a fellow nurse who served in WWI chided the newer nurses, questioning why they hadn't signed up to serve already, which promoted Haworth Coate to join up shortly afterwards.
Following her service, she returned to the VA hospital and continued treating soldiers until her retirement in 1982. She noted that she was so modest about her service that many that knew her personally or through work had no idea she served until she was featured in a news article years later.
"Wonderful! More than I could have ever imagined!" Haworth Coate said Wednesday to describe her birthday, which she was able celebrate with four generations of women in her family stretching from herself to her great granddaughter. She and her family said they were "absolutely blown away" by how many people turned out to recognize her service.
Several women soldiers and nurses who attended the ceremony praised Haworth Coate's service as "trailblazing" in helping to set a path for future women to be able to serve.
In addition to her birthday presents, Haworth Coate received numerous gifts from the military officials and political officers who came out to recognize her, including several "challenge coins" from other soldiers and a folded U.S. flag from U.S. Rep John Carter's office that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol.
Leander Mayor Pro Tem Chris Czernek presented a City of Leander proclamation at her birthday, recognizing her lifetime of service and declaring Nov. 20, 2019 "Freda Coates Day."
"We're just blown away by how much everyone is doing for her," said Alice Hathaway, her daughter.