Intriguing obit only hints at 102-year-old Fargo woman's 'extraordinary life'
FARGO—Mildred Rea Frankson lived a long life.
She was 102 when she died Wednesday, Nov. 9, but her obituary, which appeared the next day in The Forum, was striking for its brevity:
"Mildred Rea Frankson, 1914-2016. She lived an extraordinary life."
Above the words was a photo and like Frankson's obit, it was intriguing.
The stylish hairdo. The oversized sunglasses.
Was this a reclusive movie star from the golden age of cinema?
Turns out, no. But Frankson's life did smack of the silver screen: Think the glamour of Greta Garbo and the tendency of Forrest Gump to find oneself in the proximity of historic events and figures.
"She was a very classy gal," said Jim Frankson, recalling his mother, who in recent years lived at Bethany on 42nd, a senior living community in Fargo.
Before that, Mildred Frankson lived in Rochester, Minn., where she worked in higher education and where she settled with her first husband, Loren Frankson, after World War II.
The couple met just before the outbreak of war while both were living in Honolulu.
He served on a U.S. Navy ship. She was a civilian employee working for an Army colonel.
Frankson said his mother started working for the colonel when he was stationed in Denver. He was so impressed with her abilities that he asked her to come with him when he was transferred to Hawaii.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Mildred was taking a melon out of the refrigerator when she looked out a window and saw Japanese planes flying over Waikiki and heading for Pearl Harbor.
"She thought it was a drill," Jim Frankson said, adding that after the bombing raid his mother worked for days helping the victims of the surprise attack.
It was not her first brush with history, nor her last.
When Mildred was still in college in Nebraska, she was asked by school officials to escort a very important person who was coming to campus to give a talk, Jim Frankson said.
That person was Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the president. Frankson said his mother spent the afternoon leading up to Roosevelt's lecture just hanging out with the first lady.
When his mother told the story many years later, Frankson said she described Roosevelt as a really nice lady.
His mother also said she and the first lady "went out and bought shoes."
In 1942, Mildred was working in the finance office of the Army base in Hawaii when her boss told her he had a special task for her, Frankson said.
He wanted her to personally deliver paychecks to the men who flew with Lt. Col. James Doolittle on their famous bombing raid on Tokyo, an attack intended as payback for Pearl Harbor and which provided America with a much needed morale boost at a tough point in the war.
"I asked her what they were like," Frankson recalled, referring to the airmen.
"My mom was, like, 6 feet tall and she said, 'Well, they were all really short and they were really nice guys.' "
Frankson said his parents got married at a church in Hawaii during an outdoor ceremony out of fear of another possible attack.
During the war, the ship his father served on was assaulted by kamikaze pilots. Frankson said his father, a gunner, once snapped a picture of an attacking enemy plane, a photo Frankson still has.
He has other photos, too, including shots of his mother looking glamorous on Waikiki beach.
Mildred, who was twice widowed, traveled a great deal during her life. Frankson estimated she visited more than 30 countries.
"She literally went around the world and just did so many things that were ahead of her time," he said. He's happy so many of her descendants, including grandchildren and great grandchildren, were able to know her.
"They're so grateful. She was such a cool lady," said Frankson, who added that some her stories didn't come to light until recently.
The one about Doolittle's raiders, for instance.
"We didn't find this out until we were eating at Doolittle's (restaurant) one night."