The story of Air Force veteran Mary Ann Kudelka

Air Force Veteran Mary Ann Kudelka. (Ed Berti)
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Veterans on display at Willow Grove located in the lobby. Mary Ann is the only female. (Ed Berti)

Mary Ann Kudelka now 84 years of age served our nation in the United States Air Force from 1955-1957. She has a unique and different story to tell about her service.

With Memorial Day rapidly approaching we have told and reported stories of heroism, courage, and our local veterans of foreign wars. We informed our readers about their exploits, bravery, experiences and humanity.

This is a very different story about another time in our history and the beginning of woman being stationed overseas, and how the military viewed the service of these patriots who joined the armed services.

Life in 1950’s America was very different than today. Not only through technology, but through our morals, how we viewed woman in our society and much more. The popular TV shows at the time where Leave It To Beaver, Gunsmoke, I love Lucy, The Honeymooners and The Lone Ranger.

Well, Mary Ann was certainly “The Lone Ranger” during her time spent in the Air Force. After graduation from high school she found a good job opportunity working for the New  York State Health Department. She was a secretary and administrative assistant with excellent stenography and typing skills.

At 19 years old she decided she wanted to join the Navy, however, when she arrived the recruiting office was closed for lunch, so she went next door to talk to the recruiter for the Air Force and joined. Her father was not pleased with her decision, so her mom co-signed her induction papers and she was sworn into the military in Albany, New York.

She went off to Lackland, AFB, San Antonio, Texas for basic training in July and August 1955. It was hot and humid, she was assigned Flight 25 and her MOS was Supply. She was able to get her MOS switched, which is not easy, to Secretarial after meeting with a colonel who recognized her excellent skills. She was immediately shipped off to attend school at Francis E. Warren, AFB, Cheyenne, Wyoming. After completion of this course she had orders to attend the Army School for Legal Secretary Training, in Illinois. After graduation, if was off to Hawaii on a military transport which was considered an overseas duty assignment. Kudelka was one of the first woman who actually had been stationed overseas in the early days of the Air Force which was officially established in 1947 as a separate military branch of the armed forces.

While serving at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii next door to Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu, 14 years after the attack on the Pacific Naval and Army Base the remnants of the battle were still evident everywhere. Many buildings were still riddled with bullets from the Japanese attack, and of course the USS Arizona sunken remains in Honolulu, Hawaii harbor as the final resting place of 1,102 sailors and marines who where killed during the Japanese surprise attack on December 7, 1941. The USS Arizona Memorial was not built until 1962, so in 1955, the attack was still very fresh in the minds of Americans and native Hawaiians who may have witnessed and experienced the actual event.

While on duty Mary Ann started and became the Editor of a base newspaper named “WAF Wise” which was a female and family focused publication. She lived in the female barracks while on the base with other young single woman airman. They were treated very well, there was a day room equipped with a radio, records, games, books, magazines and a dance floor.

The USO was seeking different show routines to perform a show in Tokyo and to participate in a competition. There were two airman involved their names were Bob and Eddie who wanted to put together a comedy routine to lift the spirits of the service members stationed in the pacific. They were looking for a woman to complete the act. Our hero, Mary Ann had no interest she was a shy young lady and did not seek the spotlight. However, she was convinced by one of her friends in the barracks to meet the men, when she walked into the room without make-up after a shower they quickly said the young attractive lady will do, she is perfect.

The next thing she knew she was part of the “Coconuts” comedy routine. Her role was to be the straight person. She also met a former Miss Hawaii who taught her the art of the hula dance that would be used in the show. She learned three hula dances and used one in the show. What was selected is “Flower scented nights calling you to my arms,” said Kudelka. Also, known as the Singing Bamboo song that she would dance too.

Singing Bamboo 

“Listen, to the sweet singing bamboo, it’s singing a little love song to you. Telling of a small island rendezvous, a heaven that was just made for two. The tradewind softly kissing to coco palms, flower scented nights calling you to my arms. So listen to the sweet singing bamboo, it’s singing a little love song to you.”  

This new duty assignment was supposed to just fly to Tokyo to compete in the contest. However, the routine was a success and it turned into a three month USO show tour assignment, it was extended to one year. The “Coconuts” toured the entire pacific visiting military bases in Japan, Korea, Guam, Okinawa, Marshall Islands, and the Philippines.

While in Tokyo, Bob noticed Mary Ann was the only American woman from home in a crowd of 3,000 service members. The USO noticed as well, and they were offered a three month show tour instead of continuing on in the competition. When she was in South Korea along the DMZ she once again was the only woman which made her standout among the troops.

She became a song and dance girl and would sing “Life upon the wicked stage.” All the gentlemen were well behaved, respectful and appreciated the show. She was now part of a USO show tour with a group of 23 performers and 22 were men. Mary Ann recalls having a date with a handsome Marine Sergeant at an NCO Club, all 22 male members showed up at the club to keep a watchful eye on her date. “They were my chaperones, my big brothers,” said Mary Ann.

Kudelka has lived a full life after serving in the military. She was engaged three times, was a United Airlines stewardess during the hay day of air travel for 13 years. She married at the age of 38, and had a beautiful daughter. Recently made a presentation on International Women’s Day to tell her life’s story. She now resides at Willow Grove Senior Living facility locally.

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Ed Berti
Ed is retired and remains active as a freelance writer, local journalist and independent contractor. He is engaged in print and electronic media writing stories covering business, sports, hometown news and veteran's affairs including articles of interest to various media outlets. Ed is a graduate of Wagner College where he earned an MBA and holds a BBA from Pace University.
Ed can be reached at, and