The last WASP’S line of duty death

May 17, 2019

U.S. history is noticeably silent when it comes to women’s accomplishments. So I wasn’t surprised those courageous women who flew as WWII WASP (Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots) were mostly deleted from our country’s genealogy.

Subsequent to Dec. 7, 1941, the USA was staggering from the big blow Japan bestowed on our Hawaii Territory’s Naval fleet. We needed airmen, Marines, Navy men, Army men, Coast Guardsmen, Seabees and transport pilots.

When the call went out for qualified pilots, 28 experienced civilian women stepped forward and offered their skills to ferry military planes to their designated training areas.

After these 28 women volunteered their skills, and after being accepted for service, other women were delighted to know they too might get the opportunity to be in a military plane’s cockpit.

Between November 1942 and December 1944, women – some being 1920s-era fashionable Flappers – traded in their dresses and other clothing for a man’s flight uniform.

These 1,074 daring and skilled women were flown to Houston to start their training. Those distinguished women who passed the first grueling stages were given orders to travel to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, for advanced flight training.

The WASPs were used to plug the big hole in the day-to-day transporting of planes from factories or U.S. stations to the planes’ assigned training facilities.

The Fly Girls were trained to fly all of the U.S. warplanes. They often put themselves in harm’s way when they would weave and dash their fighter planes, trailing targets through the sky so that the Army and Marines on the ground could practice zeroing in their anti-aircraft guns to shoot the moving targets.

At other times, the female pilots would pull trailing targets so that male pilots could practice shooting them down or develop their dog-fighting skills with enemy planes.

Then, adding to their civilian aviators’ job description, these highly-skilled pilots would conduct night exercises.

They flight-tested repaired aircraft, and if the plane passed the tests, they would fly them to the all-male cadet combat training stations.

Interestingly, these women weren’t considered to be combatants, but they could be assigned to teach their male counterparts how to become successful fighter pilots

Sorrowfully, over the years 38 female flyers were killed in the line of duty. The last one to do so was Washington’s own daughter, Mary Louise Webster.

Aviator Webster was born in Ellensburg and attended Central Washington College of Education (now Central Washington University). She wanted to fly long before she entered college, but being a woman, this opportunity wasn’t open to her until America entered WWII and our government needed Fly Girls.

Mary immediately submitted her application to become an Army Air Force pilot and, due to her flying knowledge and willingness to serve, Mary Louise was accepted into the women’s pilot training program.

Mary passed the first introductory phase and was assigned to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, in October 1944. Then, proving she was pilot material, this novice aviator was given orders for more training at the 33rd Training Wing at Frederick Army Air Field Oklahoma.

Proudly graduating from flight school, WASP Webster was never reluctant to show off her silver Army wings, which were forever pinned to her civilian pilot’s uniform.

At an altitude of 9,000 feet on Dec. 9, 1944, while Mary was a passenger in a twin-engine Cessna T-50, the Cessna’s wings iced up. Her plane went out of control and crashed, killing all on board. Mary Louise Webster became the last WASP to die in the line of duty.

Due to her service to our country, this WASP aviator earned the following medals and citation:

WWII Victory Medal

American Campaign Medal

Good Conduct Medal

Distinguished Unit Citation

Twenty-five-year-old Army civilian aviator Mary Louise, who dared to serve, gave her all for her country. Mary is laid to rest at plot number 11874987 in Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, Ellensburg. She and her WASP Girl Flyers’ peers have more than earned their right to have their stories told in our history books!

For those who would like more information about those 38 women pioneer WWII pilots who died in the line of duty, check out a copy of the memorial booklet “Thirty-Eight American Women Pilots,” published by the Texas Women’s University Press.

Darn right, hopefully we will all have a reflective Memorial Day, which should include remembering heroines like Mary Louise Webster and her 37 Women Auxiliary Service Pilot peers who died in the line of duty.

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