Minnesota's Greatest Generation

The Gersey Family: "Inspired By Your Commitment!"

In 1942 Elizabeth (B.J.) Hughes Gersey became the first young woman from Duluth to volunteer for service with the Navy WAVES in World War II. She served as a Radioman First Class at the Naval Air Station at Jacksonville, Florida and was honorably discharged in August 1945. On September 13, 2008 B.J. had the opportunity to go to Washington, DC with 93 other WWII veterans through the Twin Cities Honor Flight program. While in flight each veteran was surprised with a handful of "V-Mail" messages written by family, friends, and other well-wishers. The V-Mail letters that follow were written by B.J.'s daughter, Leslie, who accompanied her on the trip as a Guardian, and her son, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and sum up the legacy that B.J. and her generation have created for them. View copies of original V-Mail messages.

To: Radioman First Class
Elizabeth (Betty Jayne Hughes) Gersey
Naval Air Station
Jacsonville, FL

Dear Mom,

I am so proud of you & of your many lfe accomplishments! You are an inspiration to me, to Tom, to your grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I know your parents' hearts swelled with pride, too, when you headed off to Madison, to begin your wonderful years in the Navy.

At a time when our country needed its youth most, you were the very first woman in line to enlist. Surely, your actions influenced and inspired other young women to follow in your footsteps, and serve their country in wartime. Your column in the Duluth Herald allowed families all over Duluth/Superior to feel connected to their loved ones in the armed services.

Even now, as I sit in the audience at your public speaking engagements, I am continually proud, honored and inspired by your commitment to keeping WW2 history alive and relevant for those who were or were not there.

You are a national treasure, and I'm so very lucky to have you in my life!


Leslie's son, John Greven, and his wife, Stacy, and their children also shared their thoughts as B.J. traveled to Washington:

Hi Grandma,
I am very excited for you. You deserve all the recognition in the world. You are an inspiration to everyone you come in contact with. I love you very much and I am very proud to be your Grandson.

Hi Grandma B.J.
I have never in my life met someone as amazing as you. You have accomplished so much in your life that people could only dream of. You are a true inspiration to me and my family. We love you so much and are so very proud to have you in our lives. I am so excited for you!
Love always,

Hi Great-Granny
Have a great time in Washington D.C. - Austin

Love you Grandma - Thomas

B.J.'s son, Tom, went back in time with his V-mail message, writing to his mother as though she were leaving home for war duty, and anticipating the future:

Dear Mom:

As your yet-to-be conceived son, I hope that I am a big part of your future plans. You must be nervous and excited being away from your home and family, doing the important work that needs to be done. I am sure your Navy buddies feel as you do...wondering what the future will hold and if all your dreams can really come true.

Everyone in Duluth is proud you stepped up to answer the call from your Nation. I know you are serving with a great deal of pride and passion. I would be fortunate to inherit your commitment to achieve excellence and to develop a moral character. If I do obtain these gifts from you, I promise to nurture and cherish that spirit to pass on to your grandchildren.

I will meet you for the first time just before lunch on the 1st of February in '46. Until then, I wish you "fair winds and following seas", sending the love from those you hold dear.

Thomas Jon

B.J.'s daughter-in-law and grandchildren shared Tom's pride in her accomplishments:

Dear Mom,
Congratulations on the many honors you have received, before, during, and after your service to your country. I know how hard you have worked through the years to make sure people did not forget the sacrifices many made to keep our country free.
You are an inspiration to us all. Enjoy your visit to the memorial and I'm sure you will have many great things to tell us when you return.

Hi Grandma, I just wanted to take some time to let you know how much I appreciate the sacrifice and dedication you gave in such a trying time. As the entire world was faced with the threat of fascism.
We are all so lucky to have had a group of people dedicated to the ideals of freedom and basic human rights who stood up and said, "No" and then asked, "What can I do?" You are one of those people.
I am so proud to know you and to have had the joy of being exposed to your experiences. I am with you in spirit and wish you a wonderful time.

Grandma B.J.
Hi! I hope you're having a great trip to D.C.! I understand you will be visiting the WWII monument. While you're there, I hope you think back on all your Navy memories fondly and know how proud we all are of you. I love hearing all your great stories about your time in the Navy - it makes me feel like I was there with you! Enjoy your time in Washington with your friends and I can't wait to hear all about it when you get back!
I love you!