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War was her salvation and her sorrow

You'd never know it to see her, but Mary Horton's long life was framed by the horrors of war.

The longtime cashier at Nichols Supermarket died Feb. 19, at Van Duyn Home & Hospital. She was 90 years old.

Mary, who was born in Leicestershire, England, had served with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War II. As a one of the "WAAFs," Mary worked with ground crews during the harrowing air attacks by the Nazi Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Not only did Mary survive that bloodiest of wars, she began to build a whole new life after she met Norman Horton, an American serviceman from Liverpool, N.Y. The couple decided to live in Liverpool and raise a family. Their first son, John, was born in June 1946. Another son named James and a daughter named Jane followed. The family often spent summers at their camp on Lake Ontario's Chaumont Bay.

Mary had worked at Nichols for 30 years until illness and age convinced her to abandon her cash register a couple decades ago.

"She was a good egg," recalled Nichols' owner, Mike Hennigan. Everybody at the store loved her, he said, colleagues and customers alike. She made quite an impression on people with her bubbly personality and her lilting British accent.

"She always had a smile on her face," Mike remembered.

But while her friendly grin was certainly sincere, it belied a personal tragedy as bitter as they come.

On March 26, 1968, Mary's son John was killed in action in South Vietnam.

A private first class in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division's 502nd "First Strike" Infantry, John Richard Horton was 21 years old. He died after suffering multiple fragmentation wounds during the final days of phase one of the Viet Cong's infamous Tet Offensive of 1968. He had arrived in Vietnam just 29 days before his death.

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