Mary Helen Crane Foster
Mary Helen Crane grew up in San Antonio, Texas and was working at the General Depot there when the United States declared war in 1941. After observing flight training in Corpus Christi she became interested in learning to be a pilot. She began taking lessons and responded to a newspaper advertisement for what became the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program, headed by aviator Jacqueline Cochrane.
Mary Helen (Crane) Foster went through basic training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX. After her graduation, she was assigned to Malden. When she arrived, she was given the task of checking out planes that needed maintenance or that had completed maintenance. Her log book shows mostly that she flew Vultee BT-13A’s, but some other planes also. She shared this task with a male pilot and they would typically fly each plane solo.
They would sometimes fly a plane to check out a student pilot’s complaint and sometimes to see if the repairs had been made properly and that the plane was again ready for service. In July of 1944, the base changed over from instruction in the BT-13A to instruction for Troop Carrier Command pilots flying the C-47A. Her log book shows her first flight in the C-47 to have been on July 13, 1944. She flew the C-47’s for maintenance until December 20, 1944. She had gotten permission to ferry planes over the Atlantic to England and had plenty of volunteers at Malden to fly with her as crew, but the end of the war with Germany intervened. At that time, the surplus of male pilots released from Europe caused the Army Air Corps to dismiss the Wasps.
An article in The Dallas Morning News stated that Mrs. Foster flew BT-13s and C-47s and DC-3s at Malden Army Airfield, MO. She was the only female pilot on the base. “I reported in, and the commanding officer said, “I didn’t ask for a woman pilot”.” And I said, “Sir, I didn’t ask to come to Missouri”.
With no piloting jobs available in military or civilian service after the war, Foster took a job as private secretary to the dean of women at Southwest Texas State University and later worked as a librarian in Dickinson and Houston, Texas. She and her husband raised five children.
Foster and her fellow WASP pilots were finally allowed veteran status and made eligible for benefits by order of President Carter in 1977. In 2000 she moved to Northport to be closer to a daughter employed at the University of Alabama. In March 2010 Foster and 1,113 of her fellow pilots were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Source: Operation Fifinella