Howson, Mary Holmes, 2nd Lt

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Last Rank
Second Lieutenant
Last Primary AFSC/MOS
M 0273-Airplane Pilot
Last AFSC Group
Primary Unit
1943-1944, Air Training Command
Service Years
1943 - 1944
Second Lieutenant

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Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by SSgt Geoffrey Howson to remember Howson, Mary Holmes, 2nd Lt.

If you knew or served with this Airman and have additional information or photos to support this Page, please leave a message for the Page Administrator(s) HERE.
Contact Info
Home Town
Last Address
Sweetwater, TX

Date of Passing
Apr 16, 1944
Location of Interment
Washington Memorial Chapel Churchyard - Valley Forge National Park, Pennsylvania
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

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  2015, In the Line of Duty

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Mary Holmes Howson
February 16, 1919 to April 16, 1944

Mary Howson , class 44-4, and Elizabeth Erickson, class 44-6, were both training on this final day of their lives. Mary had been on a long cross-country flight in a AT-6 and was preparing to land at Avenger Field. Elizabeth is just about to complete her first solo in an AT-6 and is also planing to land. They are approaching Avenger Field from different directions and they are on a collision course. Elizabeth is busy getting ready to do practice landing. Mary is looking into the Sun. They collide. Elizabeth fell to the ground in her plane. Mary bailed out but was too low for her parachute to open.

Mary was borne in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and had two brothers that were already in the service. She majored in art at Smith College. Mary became a teacher at Booth School in Devon, PA., after getting a teaching fellowship at Oak Lane Country Day Scholland and studying at UCLA. After teaching for a term, she also studied at Bryn Mawr in aerial mapping.

Just before joining the WASP, she was working for the U. S. Geological Survey Office in Washington, D.C. and spent every spare moment learning navigation and practicing flying at a nearby field.

A tribute from James Whitcomb Riley, and book plate.

Other Comments:
Bookplate: Mary H. Howson

A bookplate inside a copy of Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines
by Sally Van Wagenen Keil at Radnor Memorial Library in Wayne, PA.

I began reading about the WASPs at the local library while I was back home one summer. This was the second book that I read. I glanced right past the bookplate and it was only later I realized that Mary was one of the thirty-eight and that here was a local connection to the history.

There is a article about Mary at WASPs on the Web and also a tribute in her memory, after a poem by James Whitcomb Riley.


Class: 44-W-4 Trainee

Born: February 16, 1919
Wayne, Pennsylvania

Graduate: Smith College

Mary began her flight training to become a WASP
on November 1, 1943 at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas.

While returning from a cross-country flight in a PT-19, Mary was killed in a mid-air collision in the traffic pattern at Avenger Field, on April 16, 1944-- just three weeks before her scheduled graduation.

Remembering Mary
Mary's mom's interview

R E M E M B E R I N G | M A R Y

1944:  Mary Howson,  a recent graduate of Smith and a WASP trainee, was killed in a mid-air collision near Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas just three weeks before she was to graduate from the AAF flight training school at Avenger.  Her flight was returning from a �??cross country�?? that day as the news of a mid-airhowsom collision filled the air-waves and spread throughout Avenger Field.  It was soon learned that a  trainee in one of the lower classes had not landed after taking off on her first solo flight--but who was in the other aircraft?   As each of the trainees from class 44-W-4 returned and landed her plane safely, the list of �??unaccounted for�??  aircraft grew shorter.  At last, there was only one plane which had not returned. Its pilot?  Mary Howson. 

Mary�??s body was shipped home to Pennsylvania in a cheap pine box, her funeral at the expense of her family.  Her classmates took up a collection so that a classmate could escort her body home.   Because the WASP had not been officially recognized as �??military�??, there were no benefits and no gold star allowed in the window of her parent�??s home to signify that a person in that household had been killed in the line of duty.  Her classmates and family were not even allowed to place an American flag on her coffin. 

Some four weeks after Mary�??s class graduated, her mother requested permission  to come to Avenger Field and address the trainees.  She wanted them to let their families know what to expect if anything should happen to their daughter so they would not be as totally shocked as she had been when she was notified of Mary�??s death.  As she traveled from Pennsylvania to Texas, she carried with her the telegram which she had received from the War Department.  As she finished talking to the trainees, she opened the yellow telegram and read it to them.  All it said was, �??Your daughter was killed this morning.  Where do you want us to ship the body?�??

On Memorial Day weekend, 2005, the 1929 hangar on Avenger Field was officially opened. During the ceremony, a thirty-five foot flagpole with an American flag was unveiled. It was donated by one of Mary's classmates, and placed on the grounds as a permanent reminder,  to all who pass by, of the service and sacrifices of the courageous young women pilots of WWII and the freedom they helped preserve.

Tribute to Mary Holmes Howson, WASP Trainee

I cannot say, I will not say
That she is dead.
She is merely flown away.

With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand,
She has soared to a strange new land.

And left us gazing up at the sky,
We, who are earthbound,we, who sigh.

Yet pause and think how surpassing fair,
It needs must be since she lingers there.

And you, O you, who wistfully yearn,
For the landing plane and the glad return.

Think of her as soaring on,
as dear in the love of there as the love of here.

She has climbed to the peaks above storm and cloud,
She has found the light of the sun and of God.

I cannot say, I will not say
That she is dead.

She is merely flown away.



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World War II
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Overview of World War II 

World War II killed more people, involved more nations, and cost more money than any other war in history. Altogether, 70 million people served in the armed forces during the war, and 17 million combatants died. Civilian deaths were ever greater. At least 19 million Soviet civilians, 10 million Chinese, and 6 million European Jews lost their lives during the war.

World War II was truly a global war. Some 70 nations took part in the conflict, and fighting took place on the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe, as well as on the high seas. Entire societies participated as soldiers or as war workers, while others were persecuted as victims of occupation and mass murder.

World War II cost the United States a million causalities and nearly 400,000 deaths. In both domestic and foreign affairs, its consequences were far-reaching. It ended the Depression, brought millions of married women into the workforce, initiated sweeping changes in the lives of the nation's minority groups, and dramatically expanded government's presence in American life.

The War at Home & Abroad

On September 1, 1939, World War II started when Germany invaded Poland. By November 1942, the Axis powers controlled territory from Norway to North Africa and from France to the Soviet Union. After defeating the Axis in North Africa in May 1941, the United States and its Allies invaded Sicily in July 1943 and forced Italy to surrender in September. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the Allies landed in Northern France. In December, a German counteroffensive (the Battle of the Bulge) failed. Germany surrendered in May 1945.

The United States entered the war following a surprise attack by Japan on the U.S. Pacific fleet in Hawaii. The United States and its Allies halted Japanese expansion at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and in other campaigns in the South Pacific. From 1943 to August 1945, the Allies hopped from island to island across the Central Pacific and also battled the Japanese in China, Burma, and India. Japan agreed to surrender on August 14, 1945 after the United States dropped the first atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


1. The war ended Depression unemployment and dramatically expanded government's presence in American life. It led the federal government to create a War Production Board to oversee conversion to a wartime economy and the Office of Price Administration to set prices on many items and to supervise a rationing system.

2. During the war, African Americans, women, and Mexican Americans founded new opportunities in industry. But Japanese Americans living on the Pacific coast were relocated from their homes and placed in internment camps.

The Dawn of the Atomic Age

In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, warning him that the Nazis might be able to build an atomic bomb. On December 2, 1942, Enrico Fermi, an Italian refugee, produced the first self-sustained, controlled nuclear chain reaction in Chicago.

To ensure that the United States developed a bomb before Nazi Germany did, the federal government started the secret $2 billion Manhattan Project. On July 16, 1945, in the New Mexico desert near Alamogordo, the Manhattan Project's scientists exploded the first atomic bomb.

It was during the Potsdam negotiations that President Harry Truman learned that American scientists had tested the first atomic bomb. On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress, released an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan. Between 80,000 and 140,000 people were killed or fatally wounded. Three days later, a second bomb fell on Nagasaki. About 35,000 people were killed. The following day Japan sued for peace.

President Truman's defenders argued that the bombs ended the war quickly, avoiding the necessity of a costly invasion and the probable loss of tens of thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Japanese lives. His critics argued that the war might have ended even without the atomic bombings. They maintained that the Japanese economy would have been strangled by a continued naval blockade, and that Japan could have been forced to surrender by conventional firebombing or by a demonstration of the atomic bomb's power.

The unleashing of nuclear power during World War II generated hope of a cheap and abundant source of energy, but it also produced anxiety among large numbers of people in the United States and around the world.
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  • Alcorn, Cecil Clyde, SSgt, (1941-1945)
  • Alcorn, Ernest Merton, TSgt, (1942-1945)
  • Allen, George, Cpl, (1944-1946)
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