In 1943, with war raging in Europe, Irene M. Davey’s husband made a dramatic announcement: He was enlisting in the military. What he didn’t expect was that she would be joining alongside him.
Davey, an Attleboro woman known for her wit, strong opinions, and patriotism, died Sunday at age 104, the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Service said. She was the state’s oldest female war veteran.
“If you had to have a discussion with her, you took the mild side,” said Attleboro Veteran’s Department volunteer Phil Audette. “You weren’t going to win.”
Earlier this year, Davey was awarded the honorary title of sergeant major for her two years spent during World War II as a truck driver at Fort Devens and recruiter in Dayton, Ohio, in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Her husband Harold, who died in 1974, served as an air-crew chief in Wyoming.
At her 100th birthday celebration, she fired off one-liners as she talked about her time as a military recruiter.
“If they didn’t want to go into the service, I made them,” Davey said, according to a 2008 Globe story.
When asked about Davey’s demeanor, her daughter, Patricia Davey Desmarais, only had one word: feisty.
“If she had an opinion, she let her opinions be known. She was very strong—willed, minded, and bodied,” Davey Desmarais said, adding that she remained this way even in her final days. “As a matter of fact, she was just fighting with me for who I voted for this past election.”
She also kept her driver’s license until she was 99.
While she never saw combat, she learned of the horrors of war first-hand by driving wounded soldiers from Boston to the Devens’ hospital. Because of security rules, she was under strict orders not to tell anyone—not even the soldiers—where they were going.
Davey told he Globe, "I was bringing back a young man who wanted to know where he was. And I couldn’t tell him. It was very hard."
She was honorably discharged in 1945 and returned home to Attleboro.
For Davey’s 103rd birthday, Girl Scout Christina Rozek presented the centenarian with a short book, “The Life, Times, and Poetry of Irene M. Davey” for her gold badge in 2011.
“I’ve always had a lot of strength, it seems,” Davey said in Rozek’s book.“I always worked—loved to work. Without work, and without doing, you’re nothing.”
Davey also leaves two sons, Martin Davey and Fred Talbot, as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The Department of Veterans’ Service said it could not immediately identify who would now be the state’s oldest female veteran.