Remembering My Sister, Mary
by Bill Trebing
I had been going through my 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!" ﾠ 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.
I had to get home. As was normally the case, I was broke or nearly so. It was late in the evening and as I recall most working people had finished their days work and were home for the night. There must have been many compassionate souls helping me that night because without them I would have been lost. Somehow, with a loan or a gift from the Red Cross, and a ride to the airport that I do not remember, I was on a plane and heading to Denver, Colorado. Hours had passed since that fateful phone call and in that time I had nothing to eat. I was hungry when the stewardess came by with a food tray and asked me if I would like something to eat. I told her no. I didn't tell her that I didn't have money to pay for any food. Never having flown on an air-line before, I didn't know that the food would not have cost me anything. By the time I arrived in Denver I was really starved. When I travel by air now, I never refuse their food, no matter what it is. People often gripe about the quality of the food on the plane but I eat it and am thankful for it. Even the little bags of peanuts are appreciated.
My dad and my brother met me at the Denver airport. While I try to gather my thoughts about what happened next, let me tell you about my sister. She was a little over a year older than me. When we were very young we must have gotten along very well. It was in our pre-teens and probably into our teens that we were not always on the same wave length. We did our share of spatting. No big deals, we just had different views of most everything. We were friends though, and after we had gone through our petty period, we were great pals. One of the dirty tricks I played on her had to do with our chores. I had to take out ashes from the stove and also get in a bucket of coal for the morning fire in the old range that served as a source of heat for the house and also for cooking our meals.
One chore that we were supposed to do together was to wash and dry the supper dishes. We did have running water but we did not have an indoor bathroom. Instead, we had a path to the out-house. When it came time to do the dishes, I developed the habit of having to go to the out-house. I would take my time and when I got back to the house, the dishes were usually done. This worked to my advantage for some time, until someone got wise to what I was doing. It came time to do the dishes again and I was off to the out-house. It was freezing cold out there but I hunkered up, did what I thought had been a sufficient amount of time, and then went back to the kitchen. This is what happened. When I headed to the out-house, Sis started to do the dishes. Someone told her about my dirty little habit and told her to wait until I came back. Suffering through that bitter cold and then still having to do the dishes when I came in made a believer out of me. We did them together from that time on.
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 rent. We would fly back to Louisville and when we were over our parents house, 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 ...
When Iﾠ had to go into service she made the decision to do her part. There was a need for women pilots and she joined the Women Pilot Training Program and was stationed at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas.
We kept in touch as much as we could while we were going through our training. I have two of the letters that she wrote me and I would like to have you read them now. The first one was when she was fairly new in her training.
A LETTER FROM MARY:
Houston, Texas 3/16/43
Here I am, on the flight line, waiting for a ship. When I first got out this morning, I checked out a parachute, helmet and goggles, and came out here and the sky suddenly got black. My instructor said, "Well, we might as well check the stuff back in, it's going to rain."
Well, I checked my stuff in, ambled over to the Ad building, had a cup of tea, and wrote mom a letter. When I got back, the sun was shining brightly, and my instructor was up with another student--so--I'll have to wait till he gets back. Maybe get heck too!
I have to practice on stalls and spins today. I have had solo time on the ship I fly--it's a honey. We get an army check ride after so many hours, and I'm about ready for mine. I'm not afraid of it though.
They really work us here--we have to be ready to go at 7:00 in the morning--and we seldom get home before 8:00. We have regular army rules, same as cadets. We have calesthenics and marching drill--guess you can sympathize with me. The Trebings' can really take it, can't they? They have to!
It sure gets lonesome here--the guy I think I am going to marry, someday, ( don't tell ma!), is in Orlando, Florida, which isn't too far from you. Maybe you'll get to see him someday--he may be shipped off any day though. He's a swell guy.
Got some cookies and such from home, and boy they were good!
I have a theory of flight test coming up this P.M. so guess Ill study a little.
My address is on the envelope, Are you broke? What the heck are you doing?
LETTER FROM MAY-- SEPT. 1943:
Dearest June Bug,
Right now I'm in "Emergency Equipment" class, (Life rafts, etc.) Guess we're about finished with ground school, I hope. So far we haven't done much flying. Everyone has to take an acceptance check ride before going on trips. The check ride is about two hours long, and the girls who have already taken it say that they have to do everything in the book, s o o o I have something else to worry about.
The biggest thing right now to worry about is the letter I got from Hal today. ( Your future brother.)ﾠ He is supposed to be shipped out right away, and I don't guess I'll get to see him. Boy, the lump in my throat just won't go down.
Then when I think of you in combat too- Well it's a good thing they work us seven days a week-guess I'd go batty. I'm batty enough as it is. I meant to send you money enough to get up here next week end, but after I call Hal this evening, I won't have enough left to buy a good square meal, so guess you'll have to do like I do--hitch-hike by air. I figured with all the expense you'll have being a papa, you won't have a lot left over from your pay.
I'm on the look-out for something special for "the baby." He's really going to be something. I wish I could go home with you, but I'm afraid to hope.
Well, I'll be seeing you soon. We get off duty at 5 P.M. every day and I'll try to get you someplace to stay.
I received that letter when I was going to Gunnery school in Laredo, Texas. We were never able to get together at any time during our training, although we never gave up trying. I've copied her letters for you to read so that you might just a glimpse of the sort of person she was.
As I have stated before, my sister was one of the thirty-eight women who lost their lives while serving in the WASP. She had gone by train to Oklahoma City to ferry a PT-19 training plane back to Love Field, Dallas, Texas. The date was November 7, 1943. Her plane ran into difficulties somewhere in the vicinity of Blanchard, Oklahoma. At the time this was a heavily forested area with only an occasional field where there might have been a chance to crash land a plane. The story as I know it is that without power there was only one place there she had any chance at all. In order to get to a clearing, she would have to go over a farm house and then immediately under high tension electric lines. She was able to clear the farm house but the vertical stabilizer of the plane caught on the high lines and nosed her Diane into the ground. The crash ruptured an artery in her neck and we were told that she died instantly.
Needless to say, but our daughter, who was born on that day, was named Mary Elizabeth Trebing in honor of the aunt that she would never see.
Fifty-five years have passed since that day and my eyes still tear up when I talk about it. My only consolation is that she died doing the thing she loved most, flying.
I love you sis.
Your brother, Bill