Mary J. McCrea McCallum
October 30, 1921- October 11, 1978
Class: 44-W-2
Training Location: Avenger Field (Sweetwater, Tex.)
Assigned Bases:
Long Beach Army Air Base (Calif.)
Palm Springs Army Air Base (Calif.)
March Army Air Base (Riverside, Calif.)
Las Vegas Army Air Field (Nev.)
Planes flown: PT-17, BT-13, AT-6, AT-10, B-17, C-47, PQ-8
Graduation Details
Dates: September 6, 1943-March 11, 1944
Number of Trainees: 109 trainees, 49 graduates
Place: Gymnasium, Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas
Graduation Speaker: General H. H. Arnold, Commanding General, AAF
Master of Ceremonies: Captain N. O. Monserud, Commanding Officer, Station Hospital 318th AAFFTD, Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas

Mary McCrea was born in Portland Oregon in October of 1921.

Mary began life as a bit of a rebel.  While her older sister and mother played with dolls in the warmth of the house, Mary was bundled up in the backyard playing in the covered unused sandbox her father built years before for her sister Ann.

J.W. enjoyed working on his own cars and boats, doing the tune-ups, changing the oil, and the rest of the maintenance.

As soon as she could walk, Mary shadowed her father, and it wasn’t long before she began to help.

Mary was devastated when J.W. travelled to France when she was seven years old, to be present when Charles Lindberg landed the Spirit of St. Louis.  She shared his fascination with planes.

Mary read books about planes and flying and followed the exploits of Amelia Earhart in the newspaper.

At the age of fourteen she enlisted in ground school and began flying lessons at a small airport at Jantzen Beach.  Once she soloed, she began to fly out of Swan Island and Pearson Field across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington.  She earned her pilot’s license at Pearson Field at sixteen before she even applied for her driver’s license.

When World War II began Mary went to work welding at the shipyards on Swan Island.  When she got wind of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), she applied for both programs.  After a series of letters and interviews she was accepted into the combined Women Airforce Service Pilots (W.A.S.P.).

In September of 1943 she took the train to Sweetwater Texas where she was one of one hundred and nine trainees in the class 44-2.

When Mary, and the forty-eight other remaining trainees, graduated in March of 1944, she was immediately assigned to the Air Transport Command and dispatched to Long Beach Army Airbase.

At LBAA, Mary ferried new B-17 “Flying Fortresses” to Savannah, Georgia, and Ft. Lauderdale Florida, where they were picked up by male pilots to be flown into service in Europe.

For the return trip they picked up new C-47’s and B-25 “Marauders” in Virginia and Michigan and delivered them back to the West coast.

In August, Mary was reassigned to the Palm Springs Army Airbase where she towed targets for live ammunition B-17 practice and did early morning simulated low altitude strafing attacks on various military training encampments.

Mary was deployed to Las Vegas Army Airfield in October, where she received six weeks of training sandwiched between twice a day flying B-17’s on strafing and ground school live artillery practice.

At March Field, where she was sent next, Mary used her new training and learned to fly faster pursuit fighters and dive bombers.

On December 10, 1944, Mary was selected from her class by her pursuit class instructor to be the first in the class to fly a new P-63 “King Cobra”.

After being issued a parachute, the lieutenant escorted Mary up on the wing where she climbed into the narrow cockpit of the single seat fighter.  He went over what she already learned in class about the cockpit and emergency procedures until he could tell she was comfortable, then he slid the canopy shut.

Mary started up the Allison 1600 horsepower engine spinning the four bladed prop, and after a couple of practice maneuvers getting used to the tricycle landing gear she taxied to the runway and parked and waited for permission from the tower to take off.

Mary was amazed at the power when she was cleared to take off along with the speed and climbing ability.  Going well over 300 mph, in nothing flat she was at altitude where she went through training maneuvers turning, banking, diving, climbing, and stalls.  When she was cleared to come in for landing she was instructed, as in all pursuit landings, to come down over the runway by the tower and to “peel off”.  That meant to pull the plane straight up losing airspeed then do a 180-degree vertical bank while dropping the landing gear.  Then when coming in for her final approach near the end of the runway she engaged the flaps and landed.

Mary was disheartened when the WASP disbanded three weeks later.

After returning to Oregon, Mary continued her dedication to the war effort by joining the Red Cross who sent her to Washington DC for training and eventual deployment to England.

When Germany surrendered and the war in Europe ended, so did Mary’s position with the Red Cross.

On her train ride back to Oregon, Mary met Donald McCallum who was an INSCOM (predecessor to the CIA) Army Intelligence Officer also on his way back to Oregon where he was an attorney.

They fell in love, were married and had two children.

Mary passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 56 in Sunriver Oregon where she and Don were founders of the resort, and the owners park there is named after her.

Sources:
Information submitted by her son, Tom McCallum
Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas

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