By Tracy Crane
DANVILLE — Audry Morse grew up a “military brat” — the daughter of a nurse and an Army pilot and the big sister to two brothers she helped raise when her dad was killed in a car accident at age 29.
Following in both parents’ footsteps, she became a nurse in the Army, where she met her husband, Tom, a helicopter corpsman in Vietnam who worked in the burn unit at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. They have three sons — one’s in the Army, another’s in the Navy.
Morse has endured long hikes and obstacle courses in basic training, and life-and-death situations as a military trauma nurse.
In civilian life, she kept three boys in line, surviving years of youth sports and booster clubs and now embracing the grandparent’s life.
Who is more prepared than her to prove to hundreds of male members of American Legion Post 210 that she has what it takes to be its first female commander?
“When I’m in a legion meeting, I’m the only girl,” said Morse, who was elected to succeed her husband on Aug. 1 as commander of the Danville post, the first woman to do so in its more than 60-year history.
“It makes me feel like one of the guys,” Morse said with a smile.
A past commander, the late Frank Atwood, encouraged Morse to get more involved and be an officer, but she admits some of her fellow legionnaires tested her mettle over the last three years after becoming an officer, then first junior vice commander, followed by senior vice commander.
Morse, who works full time as a licensed practical nurse at the Illiana Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Danville, said she was challenged to not miss more than two meetings — or she was out — and given duties, at times, with very little notice.
But Morse said she took it all in stride, almost relishing the challenge.
“You just go with the flow, and they see that you have the initiative to keep going and not complain,” said Morse, who emphasized the camaraderie and sense of family she and her husband have found at the legion, which has become a second home of sorts for the couple.
The Morses are a tight-knit family, and when two of their sons were stationed in Afghanistan several years ago, Tom and Audry decided one way to show their support was joining Post 210 and giving back to veterans and the community.
Tom, who also works full-time at the VA, became post commander two years ago. They also joined the American Legion bike riders, and Audry went for the membership trifecta, joining the Legion Auxiliary, too.
“I really have big shoes to fill now,” she said of her husband. “He has shown me that it takes a team of the legion family to keep your legion strong.”
But Tom is quick to admit that his wife played a big part in his success as commander the past two years, allowing him to spend so much of his free time at the legion while also giving her reason to be there, too, helping in many ways.
He said his wife has proven — over and over — she’s right for the job.
“They put her through the mill pretty good,” he said.
Added past commander Bob Fox: “She has earned her stripes more than anybody I know. More than any man. More than I did. She does everything.”
He said she’s at the legion about five nights a week, starting as soon as she gets off work at the VA.
“She’s just a peach of a gal,” he said.
For Morse, the timing couldn’t be better for this new challenge in her life. Her three boys and full-time work kept her busy in her younger years, but with their kids now grown, she’s less than two months from retiring from the VA.
Come Aug. 1, she says she’ll be ready to take on her new full-time volunteer role, which she accepts with honor and enthusiasm.
“It’s volunteer, but you do it from the heart,” she said.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.