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Looking Back On A WWII Veteran's First Flight

November 11 marks Veterans Day, when the country honors all who served. Our aviation commentator Dan Patterson has some thoughts about one of the veterans in his family and her remembrances of flight.

My mother, Jane Delores Peterson was born in 1924 in Jamestown, NY. She would have been just over four years old when Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in 1927. She remembers later that year my grandfather took her to the highest spot in town to see Lindbergh in his Spirit of St. Louis fly over Jamestown and told her, “Janey, you remember this forever."  She recalls the small silver plane flying low over the city and as the sound of his engine drifted away he flew up the center of Lake Chattauqua headed for Erie and Cleveland.

I looked up Lindbergh’s logbooks and there it is:
August 1, 1927 Buffalo to Cleveland, Ohio (Flew via Jamestown, Chattauqua, N.Y.; Erie, Pa.) 2 hrs. 15 min

Almost 20 years later she got herself on an airplane when World War II was raging , she wore the uniform and the boots of the Women’s Army Corps. A local man asked my grandfather why would he let his daughter enlist in the Army. He replied sharply, “Because that’s the way we raised her”.

My Mom was stationed across the country in Seattle when her father had a heart attack.  She requested emergency leave orders to go back to Jamestown, NY. Her Commanding Officer said yes but told her to get back as soon as she could; after all there was a war on. She saw her Dad and started back, first to Chicago. The train was taking too long, she knew she that could get there faster by flying. She called Air Transport Command, headed to the airport and registered for any available flights west. The other day I heard her tell my daughter, “I hitchhiked a ride in a bomber”.

My mother cut a striking figure in 1945.  A brunette with clear blue eyes, she wore the uniform and pillbox hat with style; she wasn’t concerned about getting a ride. It only took an hour to get a call. 

She wrote a letter home about flying:

“The Red Cross called and said there was a flight leaving for Colorado Springs, was [she] interested?” That was 1000 miles closer to Seattle. The plane was a B-24 and she wrote “they let me sit up in the glass nose with the navigator.” Apparently there were also 5 sailors and a Lieutenant on board, but they rode in the back.

"We were at the same level as Mt. Ranier and it looked like you could reach out and touch it. Add to all this the realization that I was in a B-17 and I felt like I was floating without a plane."

Operations at Peterson Field, Colorado told her to check at 0730 the next morning. She wrote, “Lucky is the only world for it” as a B-17 was leaving “directly for Seattle” She was already in slacks (black and white checked was all she had) and the pilot “took one look at me and told me to put on more clothes, as it was going to be cold”. A decidedly non-regulation red sweater was added to the outfit.

"This trip was something I’ll never forget," my mother wrote. They flew over the Badlands, the Rockies and farmland that looked like “a lot of patchwork” and the “trains looked so tiny”. She wrote, “We were at the same level as Mt. Ranier and it looked like you could reach out and touch it.  Add to all this the realization that I was in a B-17 and I felt like I was floating without a plane."

Before that Mom had never flown and then in a day had flown in two legendary bombers.

Almost 50 years later I flew in a B-24 from L.A. to Salt Lake City. I realized that I was flying in the same airspace that Mom had flown through.  I was shooting photographs and could picture Sgt. Jane Peterson in the very cold nose of that bomber, looking out at the landscape of the country she was serving during wartime.

Dan Patterson is an aviation historian and photographer. You can see more of his photos at his website, www.flyinghistory.com

Aviation programming on WYSO is supported in part by the National Aviation Heritage Alliance and The Air Force Museum Foundation.

Dan Patterson is an aviation historian and photographer. You can see more of his photos at his website, www.flyinghistory.com