Local female World War II veteran shares her story

More than 16 million Americans served during World War II and as of this year, there are less than 500,000 veterans still alive in the U.S., according to the National World War II Museum.

The number of WWII veterans in Texas is estimated to be about 29,000 and even fewer women who served remain. One of those still living is 96-year-old Anna Gatti who lives in Austin.

Gatti attributes her long life to her Italian genes, a glass of wine at dinner and "finding the funny" in things.

"I think life is great, I enjoy it, I like having fun," Gatti said. "Keep a sense of humor and you're all set."

Gatti was born in 1922 in Massachusetts where she spent her formative years. After she graduated from Boston University with a degree in French, she joined the Navy in 1942,  not long after the start of WWII.

"Well, my father - even though he immigrated from Italy - he fought in the American Army in World War I. And, he didn't have a son to carry on the family tradition. So, I thought, 'I'd better step in and do it.'" Gatti said.

The Navy sent her to meteorology school even though Gatti said she "hated science and math with a passion." She reported for duty in Alameda, California.

Initially, Gatti mapped out forecasts for pilots abroad and eventually she moved on to work in naval intelligence.

"Here were these women, invading this man's world. And, the regular Navy people were very unhappy with us and they really made our life tough," Gatti said.

"But, then when they saw we were serious - we learned our jobs, we did our jobs well - then they started accepting us. Then they even started dating us - so we were in," Gatti added with a laugh.

During a recent all women veterans Honor Flight Austin trip to the memorials in D.C. and Arlington, Gatti saw firsthand what her service meant, not only to her country, but to other women in the military.

Women like Vice Admiral Raquel Cruz Bono, a University of Texas graduate and the highest ranking female in the Navy Medical Corps. Bono greeted the veterans at the Women's Memorial when they were in D.C. and Gatti said she was thoroughly impressed.

"She's very wise and very gracious to admit that she's where she is because of what came before her. Those of us who opened the door and, we did," Gatti said.

Gatti spent four years serving her country. The most recent Honor Flight Austin trip was her third with the organization and she says each visit to the war memorials is as powerful and moving as the last.

After leaving the Navy, Gatti went to work for a telephone company and got married. She and her husband Corey were married for 60 years before he died in 2009.

The couple had three sons and because her husband worked for the Foreign Service, the family spent 30 years living in Europe, the Middle East and the Dominican Republic.

Once Gatti's husband retired they headed back to the U.S. They didn't want to live in the cold Northwest where they grew up, so they headed south to Austin.

40 years later Gatti said she is still loving her active life in her northeast Austin retirement community and she said she has a little advice for living a good life.

"Keep busy. Socialize. And if you have a friend or friends take good care of them. I mean you'll have lots of acquaintances but if you have a real friend cherish that friend," Gatti said.

Gatti also reminds people to cherish and remember those who serve and who have served our country, not just on Veterans Day but every day.

"Think of all of the people who have done so much and sacrificed so much for our country. Don't forget them. I get all weepy."