Veteran Salute: First female to brief pilots at her base talks about service and finding her husband in the Air Force

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – When the attack on Pearl Harbor happened, one veteran says she was just 7 years old.

Peggy Grell said back then they were rationing gas and food.

She said there were also air raid drills, where you had to go inside and shut off all the lights.

Grell was raised near Boston and says there were German submarines spotted off the coast of New England.

“It’s very memorable to me, and at that time, everything changed,” Grell said.

She said they used to wave to the troop trains as they rolled out of town.

“So that was how our life was,” Grell said.

She said at that time everyone did so much to support the war effort.

She said her father worked in the Rayon mill, where they made parachute materials, and her sister went to work in a rubber shop.

“This is my brothers, my heroes,” Grell said.

All of Grell’s brothers served in combat, during WWII.

“Thank the Lord, they all came back safe,” Grell said.

Their patriotism is what inspired Grell to step up.

“I thought that’s what I should do, is I need to go and do my share,” Grell said.

Our country was again in war, The Korean War.

She said her family was very quiet about her decision to serve, but her father did give her a ride to the train station.

“My dad kissed me goodbye, and the only thing he said was be careful,” Grell said.

She she was told to report to a Boston Shipyard.

She said while waiting to ship off, her brothers surprised her.

“I tell you it was a happy time for me, because I knew then I was getting their blessing, and they were rooting for me, so I was very proud for me them to come and see me,” Grell said.

She said when she got to Lackland Air Force Base, she got her very first tailored outfit.

“Look at me, I am in my dress uniform, out in public, for the first time,” Grell said.

She said you just feel different, the first time you put on a uniform.

She said the first time you put on the uniform, it’s really something, and she still remembers what it meant to see Old Glory fly each day.

“Marching along with tears in my eyes, because the flag does that to me,” Grell said.

After air traffic school, Grell had an important task ahead.

“There hadn’t been a woman Base Operations Dispatcher at this base before,” Grell said. “Oh boy!”

She says everything was done by hand.

“Back in those days, we had those big chalkboards, where we kept track of inbound and outbound flights,” Grell said.

As the first to brief pilots, she often got a hard time.

“I got used to pranks, and there were plenty of them,” Grell said.

She said they were always up to something, like when they made up names for planes and things in the sky.

“Okay, so I grab my paper, and pencil and I am ready to copy it down, and he says, it’s a b-1-r-d, well guess what a bird, it’s a bird,” Grell said.

She said the board that listed “she” was on duty, was often a target.

“My name was Peggy Landry, but someone had changed it to Leggy Pandry,” Grell said.

The same man who was harassing her, held on to this slip, here you see the initials LY and GL.

“It was the 18th of January, 1955,” Grell said.

The two were married that same year, and she said over the next nearly fifty, they did a lot of plane watching.

“He’s just gorgeous,” Grell said.

She said after so many invites she finally took the flight of a lifetime.

“I thought I am not going, until I can honor all of them, on the flight,” Grell said. “It is kind of emotional for me.”

This token was given to her by a female airman, when she returned on the Honor Flight.

“A veteran is someone who at some point wrote a blank check, made payable to the United States of America,” Grell said.

Grell said she is proud to be a veteran, and the same one who took the lead from her brothers and joined, has also set quite the example.

Her grandson did the same, and was aboard Nuclear Missile Submarines.

Grell may be a familiar face, as she volunteers often at the Eisenhower Airport, and said she feels close to her late husband there.

She said they used to sit for hours and just watch planes take off and land.

She said she sure enjoys welcoming back the Kansas Honor Flights, too.

She said she often encourages women to look into joining the military.

“It’s just a wonderful life, and you will not be sorry,” Grell said.

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