Friday, January 25, 2013

Mary Jo Farley Tilton, 43-4 Dec. 2, 2012

Reposted from the Corpus Christi Caller:


Lt. Col. Mary Josephine Farley Tilton USAF retired, passed away Sunday evening the 2nd of December 2012 in Corpus Christ.

Josephine (Mary Jo) was born in Aransas Pass, Texas on the 18th of January 1922. While in kindergarten she saw a WWI era biplane with a machine gun mounted behind the propeller and told her mother 'I want to be a pilot.'

She started taking flying lessons after graduating from Aransas Pass High School in 1940, while attending Southwest Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos. She worked as a cashier at the Rialto Theater while in Aransas Pass to pay for flying lessons from Frank Smith and flew out of cow pastures near the carbon plant between Aransas Pass and Rockport. The day she passed her tests and received her private pilot license in Corpus Christi, she flew her grandmother, Alice Eleanor (Curry) Farley back to Aransas Pass as her first passenger.

Mary Jo working on an aircraft engine in 1943
Mary Jo began working as an aircraft engine mechanic at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station after the war began in 1941. Soon she became a Link Trainer Instructor, teaching instrument flying. When a hurricane in 1942 disrupted communications along the Texas coast, she was assigned to fly messages from Corpus Christi to Houston at the request of Western Union.   At the end of 1942,  she  received a letter from Jacqueline Cochran about a new program for women pilots in Sweetwater, Texas under the supervision of the U.S. Army Air Forces. called the Women Airforce Service Pilots, W.A.S.P.   These were the first US women military pilots. Air Force Secretary, Michael Donley described them as 'trailblazers' and said from their time forward 'women would forever be a part of United States military aviation.'

There were 25,000 women that applied and Mary Jo was one of the 1074 that were accepted and graduated. She arrived at Avenger Field in February 1943. She successfully completed the training and received her wings as a member of the class of 43-W-4 on the 7th of August 1943. This was the first class to start training and graduate at Avenger Field in Sweetwater.

Mary Jo's first assignment was with the 5th Ferry Group at Love Field, Dallas. She was stationed in Sacramento and Victoria as well. She also towed targets for target practice. She was transferred to the U.S. Army Navigation School in San Marcos in September 1944 where she trained navigators on training flights.

She continued serving in San Marcos until the WASPs were deactivated in December 1944. Hap Arnold, Commanding General of the USAAF, in 1944 said to the WASP, 'you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. If ever there was any doubt in anyone's mind that women can become skillful pilots, the WASP have dispelled that doubt'I salute you and all WASPs.'

It was not until 1977 that Mary Jo and the WASP received veteran status for their service in WWII.
The United States Air Force offered the WASP commissions in 1950 and Mary Jo accepted a commission as 1st Lieutenant. She was recalled to active duty in 1952 because of the Korean War. She served as Assistant Base Adjutant at Furstenfeldbruck Air Base in Germany, later with the 322nd Air Division at Wiesbaden, as well as at other bases in the states. She retired from the Air Force Reserve in 1982 after 25 years of active and reserve service with the rank of Lt. Colonel.

Mary Jo was inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame in 2004 for her service in the WASP. President Barack Obama signed Public Law 111-40 on July 1st, 2009 awarding W.A.S.P.  the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded in the United States.  Mary Jo received her medal in 2010 but was unable to attend the ceremony at the United States Capitol.

Mary Jo was proud to have served with WASP, especially the recognition received from those that followed the trail that she helped blaze. Col. Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot a space shuttle (Discovery) and first woman space shuttle commander (Columbia) said, 'The WASP were and still are my role models.' Lt Col. Nicole Malachowski, the first woman Thunderbird pilot, said 'I know I was able to be a woman fighter pilot'and a woman Thunderbird pilot because of the WASP.' She said they 'redefined what's possible for women who want to serve their country.'

Mary Jo worked with American Airlines at LaGuardia, in New York as well as in El Paso, Syracuse and San Diego after WWII, but was not allowed to be a pilot because she was a woman. She loved flying and found other ways to satisfy that desire including flying with an air circus. She had many exciting flying experiences and adventures to fill her memories.

Mary Jo received her B.S. in Education from Midwestern University in 1965. She taught in elementary schools until she retired from the school district in Mary Esther, Florida.  She was always an avid collector with many interests.

During her retirement she remained active with arts and crafts, and at 75 she was still playing tennis and collecting speeding tickets. Prior to complications with Alzheimer's and return to Texas she had been a member of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and Chapter No. 202 order of the Eastern Stars, Ft. Walton Beach, Florida.

There has always been a smile on Mary Jo's face and she laughed at her problems. She will be missed by those that knew and loved her.

Mary Jo was preceded in death by husband, Master Sgt. Forrest Glenn 'Jim' Tilton, her parents, Cyrus Eugene and Ann Pricilla (Sorell) Farley, her brother Milton Eugene Farley, and sister Roberta Cecile Melson. She is survived by her sister, Anna Louise Baker of Corpus Christ and nieces and nephews.

Graveside Services will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, December 7, 2012 at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.

She requested that donations be made to the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina or the Shrine Crippled Children's Hospital in lieu of flowers.

Originally published Thursday, December 06, 2012
Respectfully edited for accuracy and photos added by Wings Across America

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