As we reflect on our nation’s history, we often come across inspiring stories of courage, sacrifice and heroism. Among these tales includes Dorothy “Pat” Rudd, a 101-year-old World War II veteran who we had the opportunity to honor as “Veteran of the Day” on June 7 during the daily Flag Retreat ceremony in Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World.
In 1942, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Public Law 689 establishing the Women’s Reserve as a branch of the Naval Reserve authorizing women to serve in the Navy for the duration of the war, plus six months. Pat jumped on this opportunity and joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) program to perform shore-based duties for the U.S. Navy. Pat, a Specialist S, 3rd Class, was stationed in Washington, D.C. for a year before becoming one of the first 200 WAVES to be deployed overseas – in her case, to what was then the Territory of Hawai’i. There, she served as an educator helping service members learn how to read and write, and she also helped over at the hospital helping those wounded.
Pat met her husband, Gerald, at Pearl Harbor, who was active-duty Navy himself, and they were married for 71 years. Pat also has an interesting connection to Disney as her late husband helped construct the log cabins that are still enjoyed by Magic Kingdom guests in Frontierland today. We’re also grateful to Gerald who helped build parts of EPCOT and Walt Disney World’s original resort hotels.
“I was really happy the buildings he helped build in Frontierland are still there,” said Pat while beaming with pride surveying her late husband’s contributions to building Magic Kingdom. “I’m proud of him and that his work has brought so much joy to so many people here at Disney.”
Honoring a World War II military veteran in Magic Kingdom had particular importance to members of the Disney SALUTE veteran employee resource group who participated in the day’s events.
“Pat’s unwavering spirit and commitment to duty are an inspiration to fellow servicewomen,” said Susan Finnigan, lead project manager for Disney marketing and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. “It was an honor to be able to join my fellow veterans here at Disney to help celebrate a trailblazer and hero like Pat.”
On June 12, 1948, three years after the end of World War II and Pat’s naval service, President Harry S. Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law, officially opening the door for women to serve as full, permanent members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Disney has long honored those who serve in our nation’s Armed Forces throughout the 100-year history of The Walt Disney Company. Walt and his brother Roy held a very special place in their hearts for our military and their families and we continue that proud tradition today with events like Magic Kingdom’s daily Flag Retreat, where we select an active-duty military member or veteran for this honor from among the park’s daily visitors.
Today, at age 101, Pat lives in Central Florida and still volunteers, doing needlework for patients in VA hospitals.
As we recognize Women Veterans Day this year on June 12, we’re honored to offer a heartfelt tribute to the unsung female military heroes of the past like Pat and all those who continue to serve our country today.