Mary Virginia Erdman can add another “first” to her list of achievements.
Erdman, who served 16 1/2 years in the Army Reserve Nurse Corps, became the first female to be inducted into the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the Embassy Suites in Little Rock. She joined the list of 15 Arkansas veterans inducted into the organization’s 2017 class, which included 10 who were recognized for valor and five for public service. Erdman was recognized for both her military career and her public service. Nine of the veterans were honored posthumously.
Erdman was also the first female commander of the Arkansas State American Legion Department during wartime, serving from 2012 to 2013. One other female has held the command, during peacetime, since the organization was formed in 1919. Additionally, Erdman was the first female to be elected as a first alternate to the American Legion National Executive Committee, serving from 2013-2015, and the first female to be elected as a member of the National Executive Committee, serving from 2015-2017; she was just re-elected to that post and will serve until 2019.
“I am awestruck by this honor,” Erdman, 76, told visitors to her home prior to her induction into the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame. “I don’t feel like I have done that much. I just feel like I have been doing what I should be doing.
“I feel like I have helped pave the way for other female veterans.”
Erdman enlisted in the Army Reserve in 1986 in Big Spring, Texas. She served as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and as adjutant of the Army Reserve Forces School at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, during her military career, which ended in 2003. She was activated for Desert Storm in 1991, but her unit was never deployed overseas. In addition to stateside duties, she served in Panama, Germany and under hostile fire in El Salvador.
Her military awards include two Army Commendation Medals, the Reserved Component Achievement Medal, the National Defense Medal, the Army Service Medal, the Overseas Training Ribbon, the Brooke Army Medical Center Certificate of Achievement and four Commander Letters of Commendation.
Erdman is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the Combined Arms and Services Staff School and is certified as a battle-focused instructor. She is also a graduate of the American Legion Extension Institute.
“LTC Erdman is very deserving of this honor,” said Paul Foster of Conway, secretary-treasurer of the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame.
“We try to make our ‘script’ short for the induction of our candidates; otherwise, the ceremony could last all night,” Foster said. “This was a difficult task with LTC Erdman because her career and public service are enormous; it was difficult to decide what her most important accomplishment was in her life. She is amazing. We are proud to have her as a member of the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame.”
Erdman is, and has been, active in several veterans service organizations. She is a life member of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Military Officers Association of America, and the American Legion and VFW auxiliaries. She is an active member of the VFW/American Legion Honor Guard in Hot Springs Village.
Erdman has more than 40 years of experience in administration and nursing at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers in Minneapolis; Indianapolis; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Big Spring; and Little Rock, and at the Good Samaritan Society home health care service in Hot Springs Village.
Erdman was born in South Bend, Indiana. Her first husband died in 1972 and left her with three small children.
She said she knew she had to get a good education in order to support her young family. She had married at a young age and did not graduate from high school. Initially, she did get a GED but realized she needed more education.
“I did finally graduate from high school … the same year my son did,” she said, smiling.
Erdman attended Indiana Vocational Technical College, where she received a diploma in practical nursing with honors. She received an Associate of Arts degree in nursing from Southwestern Michigan College, where she was on the dean’s list. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from the University of Michigan.
“I just wanted to go to school one more time,” she said, laughing. She attended Indiana University at Indianapolis, where she received a Master of Science degree in nursing administration, once again graduating magna cum laude.
She said she always worked while going to school and started her nursing career with the VA in Indianapolis.
Erdman and her second husband, Dallas Erdman, celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary Oct. 20.
“Dallas is my support,” she said. “As busy as I am, he is always here for me.”
Dallas Erdman retired from the Honeywell Corp. in Minneapolis. He helped develop control-guidance systems for military and commercial aircraft and the space program.
The Erdmans have lived in Hot Springs Village for 20 years, moving there from Minneapolis.
They have a blended family.
Son Jeff Tucker, 58, lives in Benton with his wife, Maribeth; they have one son, Jeff, 28.
Daughter Peggy Smith, 57, lives in Malvern; she has one daughter, Melissa, 39.
Son Jim Tucker, 56, lives in Benton; he has three daughters, Teresa, 32, Tracy, 31, and Tina, 21.
Daughter Victoria Hovda, 46, lives in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, with her husband, Chris, and son, Jacob, 14.
Mary Erdman continues to work with veterans’ organizations. Most recently, Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed her to the Arkansas Veterans Commission; her term will end Oct. 15, 2022.
Erdman said she comes from a family with ties to the military.
“I still have an uncle in Indiana who is 95 and a World War II veteran,” she said. “My dad had three brothers — two were in World War II, and one was in Korea. They wouldn’t take my dad; he had three kids at home.
“I had cousins in the military and a brother in the Marine Corps,” she said. “My first husband was in the Korean War, and Dallas is a Navy veteran.
“I’ve always had a heart for the military,” she said. “I have been around veterans all my life — in the American Legion and VFW and at the VA hospitals. These veterans gave so much. Seems like I can’t do enough for them for all they have gone through.”