Becoming a WASP

End of an Era



Jean McCreery flew under her maiden name, Terrell. She was born in Troy, Ohio in 1924 and worked at WACO [Annotator's Note: The Waco Aircraft Company] in her hometown. McCreery was a senior in high school when World War 2 started, and was the only girl in her class taking courses in mechanical drawing. She eventually made her living as a commercial draftsman, mostly in civil engineering. After the war started and "everybody was tooling up," WACO was building the big CG-4A gliders, and the company hired McCreery while she was still in high school. McCreery joined some of the guys she worked with in taking flying lessons, earning a private pilot's license in 1943. She applied for admission to the WASP [Annotator's Note: Women Airforce Service Pilots] program, went to Cleveland, Ohio for an interview, and although she was underage, she was accepted into the last class. McCreery believes that Cochran [Annotator's Note: Jacqueline Cochran, wartime head of WASP, 1943 to 1944], who was fervent about maintaining a spotless reputation among the women pilots, was inclined to accept her because her parents went along on her interview. According to McCreery, when the war started going better after D-Day [Annotator's Note: Allied invasion of Normandy, France on 6 June 1944] in May 1944, "they [Annotator's Note: the US Army Air Forces] decided they were going to get rid of us [Annotator's Note: the female pilots]," and everybody told her she wouldn't graduate. She trained in a Stearman [Annotator's Note: Boeing-Stearman Model 75 Kaydet military trainer aircraft] through primary, and took "instruments" and "code" before moving up to the AT-6s [Annotator's Note: North American Aviation AT-6 Texan advanced trainer aircraft], "the golden plane of the Air Force." McCreery's cross-country flight was from Sweetwater, Texas to Blythe, California. On the way back, she had orders to stop in Tucson [Annotator's Note: Tucson, Arizona], where McCreery got her first glimpse of a jet plane. She returned safely, graduated in the class of W-10, got her wings and uniforms, and was assigned to Randolph Field [Annotator's Note: later Randolph Air Force Base; now part of Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Universal City, Texas]. She said everyone was wondering what was going to happen next.


Admitting to an "old story," Jean Terrell McCreery related the tale of how, because she was underage, she couldn't buy alcohol in the United States so she decided she would go to Mexico to by a bottle of booze for her "gentleman friend." She left Randolph Field [Annotator's Note: later Randolph Air Force Base; now part of Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Universal City, Texas], went to the border and parked the plane, took a cab into Mexico to make her purchase, and returned by the same route. She says she was having a good time, but not everyone was so lucky. McCreery mentioned how 38 women were killed in training, and as far as she could tell, all the fatalities were accidents. She didn't know any of them. After she graduated, she was told to "go home, and don't talk about it." She went to Florida, married and had ten children. She said she never flew again. After her children were grown and she was widowed, she remarried a man who liked flying and the WASPs [Annotator's Note: Women Airforce Service Pilots], and traveled with her on a WASP trip to Russia. They attended the dedication of a "museum" [Annotator's Note: Women In Military Service For America Memorial in Arlington, Virginia], and during that trip she volunteered to be the editor of the organization's newsletter, a position she held for ten years. McCreery says she is proud of her work in that job.


During her tenure as newsletter editor [Annotator's Note: for the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Newsletter], Jean Terrell McCreery had an opportunity to go up in a seaplane with three airline pilots. The pilot allowed her to take the controls, and she landed the plane "just as pretty as you could ever believe." As a "badly spoiled" only child, McCreery always wanted a sister, and her wish was fulfilled in the close associations she made in the WASPs [Annotator's Note: Women Airforce Service Pilots]. The cadets slept six to a room, and two rooms shared a bathroom. They came to know each other intimately, and sometimes, they would come in from a mission and the mattress on one of the beds was rolled up. The girl had been washed out or quit and left without a "goodbye." She had to learn to deal with her emotions at a very young age, and grew with them. In time, the women of WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, and in McCreery's opinion, "They didn't handle it right." They were awarded in Washington [Annotator's Note: Washington, D.C.], and it was "not an organized thing." The attendance was greater than the venue's capacity, and some people didn't get in. McCreery's grandson served as her military escort, helped to get her situated, and he helped to pass out the medals. She enjoyed seeing her friends and their families. McCreery says she doesn't think anybody ever knew the scope of the WASP program until then. Their numbers continue to dwindle, and McCreery says, "It's real sad, but we'll go together."

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