Martha McKenzie Carpenter
1923 – February 6, 2011
Planes flown: PT-17, BT-13, AT-6, B-26
Training Location: Avenger Field (Sweetwater, Tex.)
Assigned bases: Napier Army Air Base (Dothan, Ala.) and Tyndall Army Air Base (Panama City, Fl.)
WASP Martha McKenzie Carpenter, the great granddaughter of McKenzie, Tennessee founder James Monroe McKenzie died in Memphis on Sunday, February 6, 2011. She was 88.
Martha’s roots were always planted deep in the soil of Tennessee, even though she took flight and served her country as a WASP during World War II. During one of her last cross country training flights, Martha’s unique experience was captured by classmate Doris Tanner in her “Zoot Suits and Parachutes”.
“A rough cow pasture was where luckless Martha McKenzie found it necessary to land. Her plane had sputtered out its last drop of fuel before she realized she was lost. Mushing the plane down, she managed to land safely, climbed out and began walking to a nearby farmhouse. Suddenly, she grew aware that she was not alone. Turning, she found an approaching herd of Herefords bearing down on her. A burst of adrenaline sent her running faster than possible. She jumped the fence and made it to the farmhouse porch. Pounding on the door, she met a deaf old farmer who kept repeating, “Well, I’ll be darned if it ain’t a gal.” He cranked up his old Ford and drove her to the nearest telephone some miles down the road.”
Martha eventually graduated from Army Air Forces flight training as a member of WASP class 44-W-5, one of 72 young women pilots to earn their silver wings on June 27, 1944.
After graduating, Martha’s Army orders sent her to Napier Army Air Base in Dothan, Alabama, close enough to Tennessee to almost feel like home. At Napier, she would have flown AT-6’s as an engineering test pilot, instrument instructor and would have ferried PT-17’s and AT-6’s. From Napier, she was transferred to Tyndall AFB, Florida, where she successfully completed B-26 transition training to become a B-26 tow target pilot.
After the WASP were disbanded, Martha became a bookkeeper, married and began to raise a family. She retired from Memphis Furniture Manufacturers as a bookkeeper.
Of her hometown, Martha once said, “McKenzie has always been a good place to live. Folks were interested in having good schools, good churches and keeping an eye on their children. The town has responded to national emergencies, sending their boys to the service, supporting the Red Cross and War Bond campaigns. There have always been those planting flowers to make the town pretty, book clubs to keep up to date on what was going on, and church circle meetings. Many former McKenzians and their children have excelled in the field of education, military, athletics and religion. I am sure the young people coming up now will accomplish even more with the opportunities open to them today. And when they become famous, I hope they will always mention they got their station in this little town, even if it’s through a great grandfather or grandmother. I hope those who choose to leave McKenzie will always have a longing to return someday. I honestly believe the happiest people in the world are those who were born and raised here and never left. I still get home sick sometimes and when I’m on the way up here, along about Jarrell Switch, the air seems to smell better, the trees greener, and I drive a little faster.”