Veteran Salute: WAVES teach WWII fighters how to fly blind

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A New York native, who now calls Wichita home, spent her time during WWII helping night fighters prepare for their missions overseas.

Mary Cummings volunteered to serve after she graduated from college and decided teaching was not for her.

Cumming said her parents were very supportive of her decision to enlist, and she was the first in her family to do so.

She ended up on radar, which she said was very new at the time.

“I knew I wanted to do something, and so enlisting is what I chose to do,” Cummings said.

It didn’t take Cummings long to choose the Navy, enlisting in 1944.

“Well, I liked the uniform better than the Army,” Cumming said.

Cummings was one of the WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services, and said they started by learning how to be in the military.

“To learn how to march and get the Navy feeling,” Cummings said.

She was one of four female officers, and their task was to help set up the Air Control Center at Vero Beach, Florida.

“We worked around the clock, in a big facility that tracked the planes when they went out on missions,” Cummings said.

She was in charge of nearly 40 enlisted women.

“Those girls were dedicated too, they had given up a part of their young life,” Cummings said.

The women lived in a hotel that had been converted to living quarters, where she said they had a beautiful view.

“On the third floor overlooking the ocean,” Cummings said.

She said the women have fond memories of days spent at the beach, but there was work to be done every time they boarded what they called the “cattle trailer” to cross the Indian River.

“They were night fighters and they were young pilots, who were just out of training,” Cummings said.

Cummings said the men were young because the war had been going on so long.

The women tracked the night fighters as they learned to fly blind, or by use of radar only.

She said some pilots never made it back.

“We lost lots of young pilots and maybe that’s not right to say, but it’s war,” Cummings said.

She said those who did make it, were quickly shipped overseas.

She said she was so relieved when WWII was finally over.

“It was great,” Cumming said. “I remember hearing the news.”

After all these years, Cummings is still thankful for the decision she made, to answer her country’s call, and wear a sailors uniform.

“I am still proud of it,” Cummings said.

Cummings met her husband when they were in the first and second grades, and they “went together” in high school.

After they both did stints in the Navy, during WWII, they went on to enjoy more than 60 years of marriage.

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