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WWII nurse from Minnesota awarded Congressional Gold Medal

Lieutenant Colonel Hortence McKay was born near Harmony, Minnesota and graduated from Brainerd High School in 1927.

BRAINERD, Minn. — A Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor Congress can give, and Saturday afternoon, a Minnesota woman was posthumously recognized with the award in Brainerd.

Lieutenant Colonel Hortence McKay was born near Harmony, Minnesota, and graduated from Brainerd High School in 1927.  

"She was a highly intelligent woman at a time when that was not necessarily favored by the world," said Archivist John Erickson from Brainerd Public Schools. 

Erickson has studied her life extensively.

"She was in Army nursing and deployed, as we would say today, to the Philippines just before the start of World War II," Erickson said. "She was present when the Japanese bombed at Manila and casualties were right there, right away. Also, when the Army forces retreated into the Bataan Peninsula, she went with them, so she was treating battlefield casualties coming back to the camps and ultimately she was on the Island of Corregidor, which was the last holdout so, again, many casualties coming there right off the battlefield."

Lieutenant Colonel McKay passed in 1988. During the ceremony, her family accepted the award on her behalf.

"Can you imagine having a Lieutenant Colonel come to babysit? She ran a tight ship," said McKay's neice Patricia McKay Broback. "We knew that her being a Lieutenant Colonel, there weren't many at the time, and to see the ranks that other women now have been able to have, it's very moving. And being a female, it's great."

Lieutenant Colonel McKay wrote a book about her experiences. Click here to view the book.

The Brainerd community has a remarkable number of Congressional Gold Medal recipients. Lieutenant Colonel McKay is the sixth former Brainerd High School student to receive a Congressional Gold Medal, the first woman of the group.  Four of the recipients were represented at Saturday's event by friends and family. 

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