Legacy of Hope: The Selfless Example of Laura Mankey Lives On as an Inspiration to Others

Laura Jean (Berwager) Mankeyby Ryan T. Blystone

The helping hand was always fully extended if someone asked Laura Jean (Berwager) Mankey for some assistance.

"Laura was one of those people everybody wishes they were," says her husband, Navy Lieutenant Jeff Mankey. "She was always trying to find ways to help others. If anybody asked her to do something, it was never ‘I'll see if I'm not busy so I can help.' It was immediately yes, and she'd figure how to change her schedule so she could help."

As a Girl Scout once herself, Laura relished speaking to the Girl Scouts to promote the importance of getting an education and to talk about being a pilot. She always liked to organize events, such as a community clean-up project, or celebrations like flight school graduations for her fellow naval officers.

"She would always find things to do," Jeff says. "She wasn't the type of person who just wanted to sit and watch TV."

A 2003 graduate of the University of San Diego with a bachelor's degree in physics while attending the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program, Laura was commissioned as an ensign on Dec. 20, 2003. She later earned the rank of Navy lieutenant junior grade. She was selected for flight training as a pilot, a career move that goes back to her teenage years when she was interested in the movie Top Gun.

"Before she graduated high school, she knew everything there was to know about navigation, knot tying, sailing, nautical flags, the phonetic alphabet and Morse code," Jeff says. "A lot of people I know who have been in for 15 years didn't know it as well as her. She had the perfect skill-set to be a great naval officer."

While at USD she studied physics, math and naval science. She also participated in microgravity fluids research for NASA in a weightless environment at the Johnson Space Center.

Laura Mankey compiled interesting and impressive life experiences and, at 26, was always looking forward to the next adventure.

Then came Jan. 26, 2007. On this day, the Navy helicopter she was aboard with three other crew members crashed during a training mission off the California coast, killing the entire crew. Laura had celebrated her 26th birthday just four days prior. Jeff, who married Laura in January 2003, was working aboard a Navy submarine in Washington at the time and was helpless to do anything.

The loss of Laura was devastating to her family, which includes her parents, three sisters and two brothers, and to Jeff, who, at age 28, was thrust into a state of emotional distress.

"I couldn't begin to tell you all of the things I want to say about her - I think about her all the time," he says, nearly a year later. "I used to read a lot of science-fiction stuff, but I've read the Bible twice now. I wasn't particularly religious before, but if she missed a week of church, she always felt bad. I came to realize that she's right."

Jeff said he spends time each month visiting his family in Thousand Oaks and her family in West Hills. But family members can't replace what he had with Laura, who, according to a Web page she had created, stated her "favorite hobby is hanging out with my amazing husband. He is the light of my life and my best times are when I am with him."

To keep Laura's name and her memory preserved, Jeff has established the Lt. j.g. Laura J. Mankey Endowed Scholarship Fund at USD. He donated a substantial amount to fund what will be an annual scholarship awarded to help the financial needs of an NROTC student officer, one who shares the "service aspect" as much as Laura did.

"I hope people will remember that she was never about herself first," Jeff says. "She always put other people first."

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