By Kay Philips
Chair of the YWCA Pacific Region Advocacy Committee
This year, the Rose Parade in Pasadena, C.A. on New Year’s Day will feature a float honoring the women pilots of World War II. Almost three years ago (in March 2010), 300 remaining women pilots of the 1,100 women pilots who served during World War II were honored in Washington, D.C. with the Congressional Medal of Honor. Most were in their late 80’s and 90’s. (Read more about the honorees who will also be on the Rose Parade float.)
We in the YWCA have a special reason to celebrate, for our own YWCA leader was one of those pilots: Peg Calhoun.
Peg Calhoun served on the Board of Directors of many YWCAs during her career: Long Beach and Mid-Peninsula (Palo Alto) in California; the National Board of the YWCA of the USA during the 1950’s and 1960’s; the YWCA of India; and on the Executive Committee of the World YWCA. She visited YWCAs all around the world as she traveled with her husband, Cal, an economic consultant with Stanford Research Institute. She was a good friend of Margaret Hathaway, who worked for the World YWCA to establish numerous YWCAs in Africa when colonialism ended. She and Cal helped Margaret build a camp for women in Zimbabwe for the YWCA.
How did Peg become a pilot? When World War II broke out, she and Cal spoke of what they should do. Cal could not join the service because of a bad back. They decided Peg should be the one to serve.
So, she took flying lessons and even practiced take offs and landings at the San Francisco airport! And she became a pilot in the WASPs—the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots. She flew huge bomber planes solo, test-piloting them from the end of the production line of Douglas aircraft in Long Beach, C.A. to the east coast, where male pilots took them overseas. She told stories about how the only navigation instrument they had was an old-fashioned compass, and how some women pilots were assigned to pull targets for the artillery to practice shooting and died when the shooters missed the targets.
After the war, Peg began her many years of volunteer work with the YWCA until retiring in Claremont, C.A., where she continued to enjoy the friendship of Margaret Hathaway and Elizabeth Palmer, former General Secretary of the World YWCA, as well as many other YWCA retirees at Pilgrim Place. She was able to attend several special reunions with her flying friends during her lifetime before passing away.
Vibrant, positive, enthusiastic, humorous, full of interesting tales, and a devotee of the YWCA — and a good pilot. We will salute you, Peg, as the float rolls by and recognizes the women heroes of the past.
Kay Philips is currently Chair of the YWCA Pacific Region Advocacy Committee and previously served as Executive Director of the YWCA Mid-Peninsula in Palo Alto for 22 years. Kay was on the National Board twice, and received the YWCA’s Dorothy I. Height Racial Justice Award in 2008.