Mary Elizabeth Trebing
December 31, 1920 – November 7, 1943
Entered Army Air Force flight training: Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, February 21, 1943 and training at Houston Municipal Airport, Texas
Graduated: August 7, 1943
Assignment: Ferry pilot
Assigned bases: Love Field (Dallas, Tex.)
Planes flown: PT-19
Mary Elizabeth Trebing was born to Edward Wilhelm and Myrtle M. Trebing. She was to be Edward and Myrtle’s only daughter; they also had two sons.
Mary attended her first four years of grade-school in Royalton, IL. The family then moved to Lafayette, CO, where she also attended grade school. Later, the Trebings moved to Louisville, CO, where Mary completed her elementary education.
The 1920-30’s were tough times for the entire nation and, in order to find work, the Trebing family moved to Gowen, OK in the 30’s. Mary graduated from High School in Hartshorne, OK in 1941 and then went on to graduate from Eastern Oklahoma A&M College in Wilburton.
When her brother Bill had to go into military service during WWII [Honoree Record ID 228407], Mary reached a decision that she would do her part, too. There was a need for women pilots, so Mary joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). She reported for WASP training class 43-W-4 at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX, on 21 February 1943, and graduated on 7 August 1943. She was then stationed at Love Field in Dallas, TX, with the 5th Ferrying Group.
Mary’s final flight took place on 7 November 1943. Mary had traveled by train to Oklahoma City where she was to pick up a PT-19 training plane and ferry it back to Love Field in Dallas. Enroute, her plane’s engine lost power somewhere in the vicinity of Blanchard, OK. At the time, this was a heavily forested area with only an occasional field where it might have been possible to crash land a plane. Reports later revealed that, without power, there was only one place that offered Mary any hope of a successful landing. To get to the clearing, she would have to go over a farm house and then immediately dive under high-tension electric lines. Mary cleared the farm house but the plane’s vertical stabilizer caught on the electric wires and sent her plane into the ground, nose first. The after-crash report indicated that Mary had ruptured an artery in her neck and that she died instantly. At the young age of 22, Mary was gone.
Bill Trebing recalled how he received the news of his sister’s death. “I had been going through my [military] training and was on my way to being assigned to a crew. I was currently in Salt Lake City, Utah awaiting orders of where to report to next. I was sitting in the canteen with one of my friends. There is no recollection of who he was. I just know that we were having a cup of coffee when an orderly came paging me. There was a phone call for me and I went with him to take the call. It was time for my wife to give birth and I guess this is what I thought the call was about. When I answered the phone it was my friend from Louisville, Colorado, Carmen Romano. He said, “Bill, your wife just had a baby girl!” Before I could reply to that, he said, “Your sister was killed in a plane crash today.” From the heights of ecstasy one moment to the depths of despair in the next. This is one moment of my life that I will never forget.”
Mary Trebing’s death also cast a dark cloud over the small town of Louisville, CO. The entire town completely shut down the day her coffin arrived by train, accompanied by a WASP escort.
Mary’s younger brother, Bill, said this about her: “My sister was a very talented person. I remember how easy she seemed to breeze through school. She seemed to enjoy every minute of it from grade school, through high school, and then college. While in college she worked for the District Attorney and, on her own, took flying lessons and qualified for her Pilot License. She loved to fly. I can remember that we would go to Stapleton Airport and rent a Piper Cub, she paid the rental. We would fly back to Louisville and when we were over our parent’s house, she would cut the engine and yell down to them. After that she would do a few simple stunts to get the adrenaline flowing and then we would take the plane back and check it in. Flying was her true love …”
On September 30, 2010, almost sixty-seven years after her death, Mary Elizabeth Trebing was recognized for making the ultimate sacrifice for her country. At a ceremony celebrating the wartime service of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) held at the Spirit of Flight Center in Erie, CO, Trebing was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal before family members, friends, three former WASP, and members of the Colorado chapter of The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots.
Two of the three former WASP’ pilots in attendance – Kathryn “Kay” Gunderson of Lakewood (43-W-5), Lucile Doll Wise of Arvada (43-W-7), and Betty Jo Streff Reed (44-W-7) of Aurora were wearing a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medals presented to them at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Building on 10 March 2010, in Washington DC.
A Congressional Gold Medal is an award bestowed by the U.S. Congress and is, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S. The decoration is awarded to an individual who performs an outstanding deed or act of service to the security, prosperity, and national interest of the United States.
Mary Trebing’s niece, Carol Mills, attended the award ceremony and remembered her aunt as shy and quiet. “After flight training, she came home on leave before going on to Love Field,” Mills remembered. “I was about 7 or 8, and she took me up for a ride out of the Boulder Airport. Since it was a two-seater, I was the only one that got to go. It was a wonderful experience!” Mills pointed out that Trebing was also a talented artist, lending her cartooning skills to the crew book, a yearbook-type publication, for her WASP training class (43-W-4).
Mary Trebing’s crew book, her Congressional Gold Medal, and other WASP’ memorabilia, are on display at the Spirit of Flight Center. The Spirit of Flight Center is adjacent to Erie Municipal Airport in Erie, CO.
There have been many books about the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII (WASP); however, hardly any about the 38 women who lost their lives while flying for the Army Air Corps. This book tells their story.