OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Friends and family members in Oceanside are honoring the passing of one of the nation's first female Marines. In this Zevely Zone, I went to Oceanside for a tribute and toast to remember.
A group of about fifty people met at Buccaneer Beach to toast a glass "Cheers Mrs. Willis and to all of the women you have inspired in life," they said.
San Diego County is saying so long to one of America's first female Marines Corporal Adriana Wills.
"She was the start of an era of women serving their country," said Adriana's daughter Stephanie who was legally named Stephanie "Marine" Willis because that's how much her mom loved the Corps.
"People are going to want to know, was she tough?" I asked.
Stephanie told me, "Oh gosh, yes. She was in charge of our household, despite the fact that my dad was a career Marine, my mother was in charge."
Adriana's husband John Willis was also a Marine who fought in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam before retiring with two Purple Hearts. On Friday, August 21, Adriana was laid to rest next to John at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.
"Being a Marine you are always a Marine. They both served their country well," said John Willis the couple's youngest child. John says after his mother's military service, she became a revered teacher in Oceanside for 30 years. She once was a substitute teacher in John's class.
"Correct. And I would pray that she would never call on me because there was no mercy," said John with a smile.
During World War II, the Germans got off easy. Adriana wasn't allowed into combat but her children say she would have fought if she could have. The children grew up with a sense of, "Patriotism, love your country," said John.
Adriana paved a road of patriotism. Stephanie signed up to serve as well becoming a Captain in the Air Force.
"She was a woman ahead of her time. She was independent. She loved adventure. She was a gifted teacher and she believed in serving her country," said Stephanie.
Mrs. Willis was a Marine which meant friends and family members didn't toast champagne. Instead they toasted her favorite drink Budweiser.
"She was a Midwest gal and with Midwest humor and she liked her Budweiser and her favorite saying before she'd do it was 'Down the Sewer'," said John.
Let's all toast a glass to beauty, brains, and brawn.
"Down the Sewer!" said guests at the memorial before scattering rose petals into the ocean in her honor.
Adriana Willis was 97-year old when she passed away in June. She is survived by her children and six grandsons.