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Colonel Margaret Phillips

WWII, Vietnam veteran, dedicated community volunteer

Colonel Margaret Patricia Phillips, who died peacefully November 19 at Claremont Place, was a member of “The Greatest Generation.”

This group, “came of age in the 1940s, had survived the poverty of the Great Depression to win a global war that cost 60 million lives, while participating in the most profound economic and technological transformation in human history,” wrote Victor David Hanson. “Their achievement from 1941 to 1945 remains unprecedented.”

She was born June 23, 1923 in Detroit, Michigan, the eldest of four children to Welsh-born parents Gladys Rose Crowther and Edwin Trevor Phillips. A set of identical twins, Harry and Leyson, were her younger brothers, and a sister, Martha, completed the family. She graduated from Detroit’s Cooley High School in 1941 and entered Chicago’s Evangelical College, where she earned her nursing degree in 1944. She entered active duty in the Army Nurse Core as a registered nurse in early 1945, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. She completed her basic training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.

Col. Phillips’ army career lasted 32 years, 10 months and seven days. Her first active duty was on Okinawa, Japan, during World War II. She often told a story about a night early on in Japan when she and her fellow nurses heard gunfire, which they believed to mean the Japanese had taken the island. But it turned out that American soldiers were firing their guns in celebration because the war was over!

She served in Germany, Hawaii and Japan after World War II. Other tours of duty included Vietnam, where she was promoted to Chief Nurse of Vietnam during that conflict. She was also appointed Chief Nurse of Korea after the cessation of the Korean War.

In the 1960s, Col. Phillips settled in Denver, Colorado. She was a proud citizen of the Mile High City and relished showing visitors Denver’s historic Molly Brown House and Brown Palace Hotel. She happily drove visitors through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and to see the sights in Cripple Creek, Central City and Vail. She retired in 1978, completing her army career as chief of the nursing department at Denver’s Fitzsimons Army Medical Center. 

Col. Phillips received numerous medals and awards throughout her military career.

During her World War II service she earned the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre Operations Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Army Occupation Medal, two Overseas Service Bars, a National Defense Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and the World War II Victory Medal.

In Vietnam she earned the Vietnam Service Medal with four Bronze Service Stars, and the Vietnam Campaign Medal with ‘60 Device. For service in Korea she earned the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Legion of Merit.

In retirement, civilian Col. Phillips became a member of the Staenberg-Loup Jewish Community Center gym in Denver. She joined a water aerobics class, which she attended five days a week for more than three decades. She made many friends in water aerobics, and nicknamed their class “The Dancing Dollies.”

The same energy she had given to her military career she transferred to her retirement, her family shared, becoming her community’s neighborhood watch block captain, working the polls during elections, volunteering at Ebert Elementary School, serving as the president of the Retired Army Nurse Core Association, attending and volunteering at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, participating in the Town Hall Lecture Series, and collecting used clothing for Denver’s Rescue Mission and the Center for Work, Education and Employment.

She was an animal lover, owned many dogs and cats over the years, and supported her local animal shelter. She also became a member of the Denver chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars. In 1998, the group presented Col. Phillips with the Patrick Henry Award for Patriotism.

Between all of these activities, she created and kept up ties with a large circle of friends from childhood and her many military placements around the world. She was an excellent role model for her nieces and nephews, her family shared, serving as a parental figure to all of them. She traveled extensively throughout her retirement, and enjoyed reading in her leisure time. She was especially proud that she was the grandniece of the Welsh poet, W. H. Davies, and took pleasure in reading his work.

In 2014, Col. Phillips moved to Claremont Place. She was allowed to bring her dog, Winston (named after Winston Churchill) to her new residence. Her niece and her niece’s husband lived just two blocks away, and they were loving caregivers, her family shared.

Col. Phillips attended Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Covina with her niece, and was heartily welcomed into her new church congregation. At Claremont Place, she partook in nearly every activity offered. Along with her niece, she joined water aerobics classes at AbilityFirst in Claremont. Col. Phillips also donated to Claremont’s Crossroads, Inc., a nonprofit that assists women in transitioning from incarceration to economic self-sufficiency.

In May 2017, along with two other World War II veterans, she joined the American Legion’s Memorial Day celebration at Oak Park Cemetery in Claremont. During the observation the veterans shook hands with children and adults, who thanked them for their service. In July, she and fellow World War II veteran Bill Hayes rode in Claremont’s annual Fourth of July parade and were cheered enthusiastically by the crowds along the route.

Her last few years were enjoyable as she acclimated to California, her family shared. She made new friends at Claremont Place, visited with family, attended plays and concerts, and delighted in the beauty and charm of Claremont, “the City of Trees and PhDs.”

Her family would like to acknowledge their appreciation for the love and nurturing Col. Phillips received from the exceptional staff at Claremont Place, and from VNA Hospice and Palliative Care of Southern California for their excellent care during her time in hospice.

A private funeral, with full military honors, including a gun salute, was held at Forest Lawn, Covina Hills on December 2. At the funeral, a release of 33 doves symbolized her many years in military service. A celebration of life was held January 21 at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. At this event, another 33 doves were released, and guests viewed Col. Phillips’ 2008 Library of Congress interview for The Veterans Project, a video archive of stories from World War II and Vietnam veterans. To view the segment, visit loc.gov/vets, click on “search the veterans collections,” and search for Margaret Patricia Phillips.

Col. Phillips often quoted a stanza by Canadian poet Edward Markham, which will be printed on her grave marker. It exemplifies how she lived her life, serving her country, inspiring others with her seemingly inexhaustible energy, and giving her time and resources to her community:

“There is a destiny that makes us brothers

None walks his way alone.

That which I put into the life of another

Comes back into my own.”