History

A Woman Airforce Service Pilot of WWII: Tribute to Family and Patriotism

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In July 1943, air campaigns were taking a heavy toll on Allied pilots in the European and Pacific theaters. The U.S. Army Air Force needed every available male pilot on the front lines—and that summer, my mother-in-law joined the war effort in Sweetwater, Texas.

On May 8, we observe the 75th anniversary of V-E (Victory in Europe) Day. The pioneering women who trained at Avenger Field, particularly one family member I never got to meet, inspired this story.

A Woman Airforce Service Pilot of WWII: Tribute to Family and Patriotism

Photo: John Spaulding. Mary Grace Mathis waits for a training flight, possibly to try some of her favorite acrobatics.

A twice-divorced mother of a young son (my wife’s half-brother), Mary Grace Mathis was an accomplished pilot—and fiercely patriotic. The freedom of leaving earth behind (and some of her problems) inspired her to train for her pilot’s license in the late 1930s. She took lessons from an old barnstormer (acrobatic pilot), the head of Hudson’s Flying Club at Love Field, Dallas, where she soloed after completing her training. She took to Hudson’s style of acrobatic flying immediately, and it remained her favorite type of flying. She excelled in the more difficult maneuvers and was featured with other women fliers in a 1941 article in the Dallas Morning News, when she was one of only 3,000 female pilots in the U.S.

When the U.S. entered World War II, Mary Grace discovered the ideal outlet for her patriotism and love of flying; the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), formed in 1942, were accepting applications.  She met the minimum height requirement, 5’4,” and she had flown more than the required number of hours since getting her license.

A Woman Airforce Service Pilot of WWII: Tribute to Family and Patriotism
Photo: John Spaulding. Life at Avenger Field with other pilots. Mary Grace Mathis is shown in the trainee’s dress outfit of white shirt and khaki pants.

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