You haven't seen a tree until you've seen its shadow from the sky.
I might never have known about her if I hadn’t noticed the small yellowed newspaper clipping inside a display case at the local history museum. Thankfully, I did. And that is how I met Mary Webster.
What I’ve learned about Mary’s life can be summed up as a collection of facts and dates, yet at the same time I know very little about her. In the end, though, what she accomplished is what matters.
Mary had a dream-to fly. In the beginning, fate was on her side. Central Washington College of Education (now Central Washington University) announced, in 1940, that it would start offering the Federal Civil Aeronautics Authority’s civilian pilot program. Mary entered the program in May of that same year. (Of the 39 students accepted, FCAA regulations stipulated that only one-tenth could be women. )
Mary earned her pilot’s license, and then, after the start of WWII went on to gain acceptance into the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program in 1942-graduating and earning her silver wings on October 16, 1944. She then joined the ranks of other WASP pilots ferrying planes and flying low-target planes, and helping break in new planes.
I wish I could say that Mary’s story has a happy ending. She worked hard to become a pilot and even harder to win a place as an elite WASP. But fate had other plans. Just 6 weeks after receiving those coveted silver wings, Mary Webster died in a plane crash on December 9, 1944. Mary would be the last member of the WASP to die in the line of duty. On December 20, 1944-just 11 days after her death-the WASP was deactivated.
There is so much more to the story of the WASP. Ground breaking history tainted by gross unfairness, and finally recognition, years later.
But this is about Mary. A local girl with a big dream. And while I can’t possibly ever fully appreciate what fulfilling a dream like that entailed for a girl of 20, more than seventy years ago, I can appreciate what she did. For all of us.