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At the age of 16,having saved my $1.00 a week allowance for 6 months with the goal of paying for a 15 minute airplane ride. That did it. "I was hooked". Setting another goal I learned to fly, and at 19 I had my pilots license. But not without a few scary moments, as I look back. Of course at that age we are all brave, and fearless ( since we don't know any better), we all expect to live forever.

My first plane was a "PT 19". That was a low wing, open, duel cockpit, with an inline ranger engine and fixed pitch prop, made by Fairchild, used as a Primary Trainer.My next plane was a Vultee BT-13 (Basic Trainer) with a radial engine and fixed pitch prop.

My love of flying took me to the airport every day, to stand and watch the Airliners Take Off and Land. .

My goal in life was to see the world that I had studied as a student archaologist, especally the pyramids in Egypt, and the exotic Islands of Polynesia.

My husband agrees that I could write my entire biography in only 5 words.


Some things however, are more interesting with a bit more detail.
My application to Western Airlines in Los Angeles, for a job as stewardess at age 19, was, of course, refused and I was told to come back when I was 21.

That I did, and went to work for "The Flying Tiger Line", with the help of my Flight Instructor, and close friend, C.MONTE TREFT who was a Captian with the "Tigers" at that time.
I had applied also to Slick Airways, but secured the Tiger job first.
Of course they ask for experience, and I chanced that they might not check, so, I told them I had been with a major air line. "TWA" for one year. I got away with it, and they scheduled me out on a flight from Burbank, Ca. to Denver, Co. that same evening, Beyond that day, believe me, I had EXPERIENCE. I got home 6 weeks later, after transporting troops between bases in the USA.

After I figured out where to get aboard the plane, I spent time locating every thing, and becoming familier with a C-46. The crew members including Monte Treft, as Captian, were aware of my inexperience, and helped me. They said the most important duty I would have was to make coffee and see that the crew never ran out. They might worry about running out of gas, but I need only worry about running out of coffee.

The Tigers, a cargo line, had a lot of what was called MAT'S contracts (Military Air Transport) at that time, and needed flight attendants, because a large portion of flights were overseas.
Just my " cup 'o COFFEE "

I really lucked out. Since many flights were to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, and the Flughafen, in Frankfurt Germany, I was required to get a passport and an arm full of immunization shots.

Mary Lee Walker Thompson, First Passport Picture 1951

By the time I returned to Burbank, Ca., our home base, I was well experienced. I kept a log of all my trips with the airlines. Some of the more interesting incidents follow.

On a flight from Nyc to Washington DC, we were caught in a Developing Thunderstorm, and the last transmission we heard was before our antennas were knocked out by lightning was " there were 18 aircraft in the area without radio contact". WOW ......

Then there was a brief break in the clouds and, the pilots told me the were over water. We figured we had been blown off course toward the Atlantic Ocean. During the next couple of hours we were buffetted by wind, hail, and lightning like I've not seen since. I had all my passengers tightly belted in their seats, and belted myself in a rear aisle seat. It was then that for some reason (I assume lightning) about a 12" hole appeared in the side of the plane where I was sitting. No one ever got out of a seat belt faster than I did, and pushed myself first off the floor then the ceiling during a seige of violent turbulence, in order to get to the cockpit and tell the flight crew they had a hole in their airplane. Their only instructions to me were, "repeat after me" OUR FATHER
They said we had only a few minutes of gas left and that we were going to go down, and for all we knew, we were still over water. SANS DITCHING EQUIPMENT.

Now, I shall reveal something that you will no more believe than I would have, had some one told me." WHEN DEATH IS EMINANT, THERE IS NO FEAR" just a feeling, of no worry or concern, and no fear whatsoever. This only happens if you are CERTAIN there is no chance of living past a few minutes. It happened to me twice during the 17 years of flying internationally.

While I was still hanging on to everything I could reach in the cockpit, when we saw a break in the clouds, and a runway with it's lights on. The pilot did a fast Shaundell, and got to the approach for the runway. As our landing gear touched the ground, our #2 engine quit, and during our roll the # 1 engine quit. We had no power to taxi to the terminal, but who cared. We were down. All thirty three troops and the crew were alive.

When we finally got of the plane, we could not concieve of the damage that plane had sustained and still flew. No wonder they were used over the hump in WW11
must have had something to do with it.

When we got to the hotel in Columbus, Ga. (That's right) we all met in the dining room for dinner, . We were all so calm and efficient during the time of crisis, and noticed we were all visibally shaking during dinner. This entire crew vowed then and there never to fly again.

The next morning the Company called and said we were to FLY to Newark, NJ. Well, we all did, and took another flight out of there with different crew members. When we met back in Burbank, Ca. we said to each other, " I thought you gave up flying " Well, YEH .......... Seems we didn't.

Since it was my desire to travel in Europe and Africa, and TALOA was looking for experienced Stewardesses, I applied, and got the job. They were an International Carrier (Transocean Air Lines Of America) TALOA It was with this company owned and operated by Orvis Nelson (former United Airline personell) that I got to see most of the world. Europe, Asia and Africa and many Islands.

At work readying the plane(TALOA DC-4) to board passengers

I met and eventually married a TALOA pilot Capt. Frederick W. Sheppard. We flew many trips together.
Mary Thompson and Fred Sheppard
Taken in Honolulu prior to flight to Wake Island on a TALOA DC-4

I flew many years internationaly with TALOA and saw the world. I always considered this the best of my flying years .

After TALOA was disbanded, I went to work as Chief Stewardess for SOUTH PACIFIC AIR LINES Their Chief Pilot was Capt. Claude Turner,and the Exec. Officer, was Sam Wilson, both of whom I had known with TALOA. It was with SPAL that I got to spend time in most of the Tropical Islands of the Pacific. We made a weekly run between Honolulu and Papeete, Tahiti.

Emmy Yen and Mary Sheppard in rear.
Getting off at Faaa Airport in Papeete, Tahiti.

Me and my girls in our work clothes
Mary,Emmy, Francios, and Maxine.

It was during my tenure with SPAL that I visited most of the islands of Polynesia, Melonisia, Micronesia and Indonesia. Had SPAL not been purchased by Pan American Airlines, I would not have given up flying. They wanted to merge the seniority list with their girls, which would have left me based in Suva, Figi. We had stopped over there on occasion, and I did not wish to live there.

Instead I returned home to Honolulu and studied under Dr. Emory of the Bishop Museum
I continued my studies of the culture and dances of the Islands, which I also did after returning to the Mainland. On the last trip out of Faaa in Papeete, I wrote a poem after the passengers were asleep.

I met my present husband Douglas A. Rodenbaugh in 1968 and we have been married for 33 years in may. Finally found MR. RIGHT


We had a polynesian wedding which was blessed by the last living KAHUNA of Hawaii.

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