Floretta S. Welch, a devoted Navy wife, watched her husband go off to war over three decades spanning World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
With all those nights of worry and near-constant relocations, Welch found ways that she too could serve her country.
She joined the war effort working in a defense factory during World War II and later became “Miss Flo,” a popular radio personality for an English-language radio station in Japan in the 1960s. She and other military wives rallied support for troops and veterans as active members of the VFW Auxiliary.
Welch, 92, died Dec. 28 of heart failure. Her friends and three generations of family celebrated her life last week at a remembrance celebration in Blaine, where Welch had lived with her granddaughter for the past six months.
“She had to be very resilient and creative,” said her daughter, Shirley Weeres of Blaine. “If something needed to be done, she did it. That’s how Navy wives are.”
Welch was born into a family of subsistence farmers in a gap in the northeastern mountains of West Virginia. Her family didn’t know they were in the middle of the Great Depression, she told her children, because “it was poor all the time” there, Weeres said.
At age 16, she married Keith Welch, a feed store clerk. Two years later the couple was swept up into the war effort: Keith Welch enlisted in U.S. Navy, serving on the USS Tuscaloosa, and his wife and her mother took factory jobs making rayon flight suits for the Army Air Corps. They carpooled to a work site in Maryland.
“She would go up and down the line and check the bobbins that handled the thread. It was her job to change the bobbins,” Weeres said. “With my dad being gone, she liked to feel like she was contributing. It was needed. The women worked when the men left. It was as important as the men who went to war.”
After the war, Keith Welch worked as a brakeman for the railroad and then re-enlisted in the Navy in 1948, eventually serving in the Korean and Vietnam wars. The family moved regularly for the next two decades, as Welch worked as a seamstress and held the family together while enduring her own tragedies: Three of her four children died in infancy.
“She was very spiritual. When you go through hard times and you don’t have much, you have to put all your faith in the Lord,” Weeres said.
While the family was stationed in Japan in the late 1960s, Welch was asked to host an English music radio show on KRY radio in Tokuyama city. Due to her quick wit and easy demeanor, her show gained popularity. She interviewed American musicians performing for troops on USO tours.
“She was kind of a celebrity. She had an entourage. She had her producer, her hair stylist and her makeup artist. She had fan mail,” Weeres said. “They considered her an ambassador between the American military and Japanese people.”
The couple retired to Florida in 1972 but relocated to Minnesota in 1979 to be close to their daughter and three grandchildren near Zimmerman. In Minnesota, Welch served as chairwoman for the 1986 reunion of the USS Tuscaloosa and USS Wichita crews in Minneapolis.
She loved to travel and never passed up an opportunity to become steeped in local customs, riding a camel in Morocco and going to the bullfights in Spain.
“She loved the idea of going someplace different and finding out about a different culture,” Weeres said.
Besides her daughter, Welch is survived by three grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.