Henrietta Helen Hagen served her country during a time of war, joining the first group of women in the U.S. military.

She married a man who had been a World War II prisoner of war, a pairing that spanned nearly six decades.

And she inspired her son to become an artist.

Mrs. Hagen, of Cape Elizabeth, died Wednesday surrounded by her three children. She was 88.

“Her heart was in the beauty of what could be,” said her son, Mark Hagen, an oil painter from Cape Elizabeth.

Mrs. Hagen was born in Springfield, Mass., the youngest daughter of Herman and Leonora Handy.

She graduated from Classical High School and moved with her two sisters to New York City, where they studied music and dance. Mark Hagen said the description under Mrs. Hagen’s photograph in her high school yearbook caught his attention: “A dish fit for the gods,” it said.

Her family described Mrs. Hagen as a “rare beauty.” She had “the most beautiful blue eyes” and an engaging smile, her son said.

During World War II, Mrs. Hagen enlisted in the WAVES — Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. From its inception in 1942, the WAVES were considered to be part of the Navy. Its members could not serve aboard combat ships or aircraft, and initially were restricted to duty in the United States.

Mrs. Hagen was stationed at a Navy base in Alameda, Calif. After being honorably discharged in 1946, she returned to western Massachusetts.

It was Mrs. Hagen’s combination of beauty and spunk that attracted the attention of Walter E. Hagen, who attended the same high school but was a year younger. Mark Hagen said his mother never really took notice of his dad until after he returned from the war.

Walter Hagen spent nine months as a prisoner after his plane, a B-24 bomber, was shot down over Yugoslavia. When Mr. Hagen came home, a mutual friend suggested that he visit Henrietta. He knocked on her door dressed in full uniform, “then he won her heart,” Mark Hagen said.

Growing up in the Hagen household was fun, he recalled.

“She was always singing. My parents both loved music. Mom and Dad would always be singing around the house. It was a delight to be around them,” he said.

The family lived in New York and Cleveland, putting them close to arts and cultural events. Her son said Mrs. Hagen would take him to jewelry-making and painting classes.

“I became an artist. I attribute that to my mother,” he said. “She encouraged me to pursue art.”

Mrs. Hagen lived a healthy lifestyle. She would make her own yogurt and visit the Jordan farm on Wells Road in Cape Elizabeth to pick up a crate of tomatoes, which she’d use to make her own tomato juice.

“I lived on yogurt in high school and college. I love yogurt, and my mother is responsible for that,” her son said.

When she was 61, she enrolled in college, later graduating with a degree in liberal arts.

Mrs. Hagen also enjoyed the outdoors. She liked to swim in the ocean, hike and ski, and to go river rafting and sailing.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations in Mrs. Hagen’s memory be made to the Fort Williams Charitable Foundation, attention: the Arboretum Project, PO Box 6260, Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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