Joan M. Polidori-Kleca, 89, Winter Park, Fla., passed away peacefully Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, at Orlando VA Medical Center.
She was born in Daisytown and grew up in the Greenwood section of Altoona.
Joan graduated from Altoona High School in 1942 and then from Mercy Hospital School of Nursing. She then joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1944, eventually attaining the highest rank possible for a woman, a full colonel.
Along the way, Joan received a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of New Mexico, attaining a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout. She performed her graduate work at the University of Michigan Hospital for five years.
Well traveled and educated, Col. Kleca spent time in surgery and as an instructor for the Army in Heidelberg, Germany, her favorite town of all. She worked as a recruiter and an instructor and in operating rooms with the 5th MASH unit in Europe as well as numerous bases throughout the U.S., including Sandia Base in New Mexico, Fort Sam Houston in Texas and Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco, Calif.
Joan did two tours of duty in Vietnam as a major, one in Long Binh with the 24th Evacuation Hospital and another helping set up Saigon Hospital. She was at the hospital when it was overrun during the Tet Offensive with gunfights in the hallways, earning the nickname "Two-Gun Polly" as she was forced to have two 9-mm handguns at her hips. Col. Kleca was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal.
Joan's appetite for knowledge was insatiable. She completed any course or class she could find in her off-duty hours, from a counterinsurgency training course at Letterman Hospital in San Francisco to a burn treatment course in San Antonio, Texas. She even mastered an auto maintenance training course, ably replacing a water pump on a car for her certificate.
In the Orlando VA Medical Center's community living center, where she resided for her last few years, she tried comforting others, trying to make her own bed as well as her roommate's bed.
Joan's lively personality and willingness to make everyone else feel special will be sadly missed, mostly by her nephews and nieces and her brother-in-law, Robert G. Guido of Bellmawr, N.J.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Dominick and Maddalena Polidori of Altoona; her brother, David; and her sister, Norma V. (Polidori) Guido.
Col. Kleca would make a fine role model for girls in that all she accomplished in schooling and the military was an uphill battle in a "man's world." She was the only woman present in many situations during her career.
Friends will be received from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, at Mauk & Yates Funeral Home Inc., Juniata, followed by a funeral service at 11:30 a.m., Father Carl Spishak officiating. Committal will be at Calvary Cemetery, Altoona, with military honors.
In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project, P.O. Box 758517, Topeka, KS 66675 (www.woundedwarriorproject.org).