Wednesday, September 21, 2011

WASP Mary Lou Colbert Neale, 43-W-1 Sept. 12, 2011


Mary Lou Colbert Neale was born in Juneau, Alaska to Rear Admiral Leo Otis and Florentine Odou Colbert on October 6, 1914.  Her father was Director of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (now integrated with NOAA) and was on the Board of Directors for the National Geographic Magazine.  She traveled extensively as a child attending schools in various locales including Manila in the Philippines.  Mary Lou graduated from Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington D.C. and entered Wellesley College in 1931, graduating with a degree in English Composition in 1935.  She worked as a newspaper writer, and a cataloguer for the Library of Congress.  When the nation prepared for WWII she met with Eleanor Roosevelt to ask  her help in allowing women in the newly formed Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP).  In this program she completed her Primary and Secondary Pilot Training.

Rear Admiral Colbert pins his daughter's wings
on while Jacqueline Cochran looks on.
  While working with aeronautic charts in the Department of Commerce, Mary Lou met famous female pilots Jackie Cochran and Amelia Earhart.  Through her acquaintance with the military in Washington D.C., she learned of the formation of the Women Air Force Service Pilots [WASP] Program.  She was the first candidate Jackie Cochran signed up for the program and was a member of the first class, 43-W-1.  Mary Lou was stationed in Dallas, Texas, Long Beach and Palm Springs California.  She was assigned to the Ferry Command, flying P-38s, P-51s, P-47s, P-63s, P-39s, B-25s and various training aircraft between the west and east coast military bases.  Mary Lou was later Commander of the WASP Unit at the Palm Springs Army Air Force Base.  She received a commission as Captain in the USAF Reserve after the WASP organization was deactivated.           

After WWII, Mary Lou married her flight instructor in the CPT Program, Navy Captain Raphael A. (Ray) Neale and had four children.  She was a member of the San Fernando Valley 99s Women Pilots Organization, on the Board of Directors and wrote for the P-47, P-38 and P-51 Veterans Organizations, was a charter member of the Santa Clarita Chapter of the American Association of University Women, and volunteered as the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital’s Medical Librarian for 30 years. Mary Lou conceived and organized a WASP Display in the P-38 Museum Hanger of the March Reserve Air Base Museum in California.  Fellow WASP, Iris Critchell, partnered with major photographic donations to the display.  The display is in recognition of the twenty-eight WASPS who ferried P-38 aircraft during World War II.               
Mary Lou Colbert Neale was honored in 2007 with a granite plaque in the International Forest of Friendship, an arboretum and memorial forest beside Lake Warnock in Atchison Kansas.  It is a memorial to the men and women involved in aviation and space exploration, with the names of over 1,200 aviation notables including Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager, the Wright Brothers and Sally Ride.

On March 10, 2010 she, and all fellow WASP, received the United States Congressional Gold Medal for her service as a WASP during W.W.II.  It is one of the highest honors the Nation can bestow.  

Reposted with permission from the family of Mary Lou Neale

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