Oftentimes when we discuss women serving in the military, we think of it as being something that has only happened recently. However in all actuality, women have served their country for many years during wartime. Whether it was by serving as a nurse to wounded soldiers in the battlefield or a test pilot for aircraft, there are thousands of women veterans throughout the country. For their 2013 Veterans Day program, the Upson Historical Society honored and recognized the women from Upson County who have served in the Armed Forces with a program held at the Upson County Senior Center on Saturday, November 16. During the program, those present were able to hear the remarkable stories of three women with ties to Thomaston who served during World War II: Hazel Jane Raines, Grace Hallman Matassarin and Mary Moultrie.
Hazel Jane Raines
Reg Hawkins spoke to the crowd about her aunt, Hazel Jane Raines, who was Georgia’s first woman to earn a pilot’s license and also the first to earn a commercial pilot’s license. Hazel first learned to fly in 1938 on a dare and participated in Georgia air races and shows after receiving her pilot’s license; she even held the record for the most “loop the loops.” Hawkins commented that she remembered her aunt as a fun-loving dare devil, much different from her two sisters which included Hawkins’ mother. In 1941, Hazel became one of only six women in the United States to serve as a Civilian Pilot Training Instructor, and was quoted in the Atlanta Journal that eight of her 17 students had been accepted into the Navy or the Air Force.
Soon after becoming an instructor, Hazel applied and was accepted to be part of the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in England; she was one of just 25 American women chosen to fly. The women in the ATA flew unarmed and without radio contact so as not to be detected, and delivered planes to bomber stations and flew damaged aircraft to repair facilities. Hazel logged more flying hours than any other pilot with the ATA and flew nearly every type of aircraft available at the time. She only had one crash, in 1943 in a Spitfire due to engine failure, but she survived with only a cut over her right eye that required 13 stitches. However, she was grounded for three months and suffered back problems caused by the crash for the rest of her short life.
After serving with the ATA for 18 months, Hazel came back to the United States and became part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in Texas. Although she was no longer in the war zone, her job was just as risky, serving as a test pilot flying recently repaired aircraft, as well as pulling targets for army trainees who were taking part in live ammunition practice. The WASPs were disbanded in 1944 and Hazel went on to train pilots in Brazil. In 1949 she was awarded a reserve position of 2nd Lieutenant in the US Air Force. When the Korean War started, Hazel was the first female pilot in the reserves called into active duty, where she served until the war was over.
Hawkins noted her aunt passed away from a heart attack in 1956 at the age of 40 in England, but she feels that by going through the letters written by Hazel to her mother, she has gained a close friend. Flying was what Hazel loved most, even though some of her family was not very accepting of her chosen occupation. In a letter to her mother, Hazel wrote that she was happiest when flying a plane and never felt so completely close to God when she was up in the blue. In 1989 she was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame as Georgia’s first lady of flight and was inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement in 1995.
Grace Hallman Matassarin and Mary Moultrie
Also during the program, Linda Hallman spoke about her husband Ed’s second cousin, Grace Hallman Matassarin and her friend Mary Moultrie, who served as nurses in the U.S. Army during World War II. When Grace decided to join the Army after attending nursing school, her family wanted to know why she would want to join the Army. Grace simply stated that she needed a little adventure in her life; and that is exactly what she got.
Grace was from Thomaston and although Mary lived nearby in Meriwether County, the two never met until they were working in the same field hospital in the Philippines during 1941. The pair was on the Bataan Peninsula until the night of surrender on April 8, 1942, where they were sent to Corregidor and it was there they were stranded with 11 other women because they were being bombed so much that they were unable to make contact with one of the American submarines. Finally one night, Grace, Mary and the other women summoned enough courage to slip out into the ocean in attempt to meet up with the ship. They were so scared that they said you could hear their hearts beating over the sound of the waves. When they were close enough Grace finally yelled out “Hey, are y’all from Texas?” She was so afraid she would hear something in a foreign language, but thankfully she said she heard a very young voice say “Yes ma’am, we have several Texans on board.”
All of the women were in very bad health from lack of food, but were glad to have been rescued. The captain told them he was to take them to Australia, however he was not happy about doing so because women on board were bad luck and he now had 13! Although the captain didn’t like it, even with all the women on board they were able to make it safely to Australia.
Grace and Mary were among the first to be decorated as Bataan veterans and returned to the Philippines for the 35th anniversary of the liberation. They noted they did not come back for themselves, but to pay respect to those who died, because they are what is important and must always be remembered. Grace Hallman Matassarin passed away in 1995 and Mary Moultrie passed away in 2011; both were buried with full military honors.
After hearing the stories of these remarkable women, the names of all the courageous women from Upson County who have served in any branch of the Armed Forces were read; there were 41 in all. The list included the following: Charlotte Acey, Mary Beth Allen, Virginia Anderson, Nina Ballard, Mary Dean Blankenship, Bonnie Bulter, Vickie D. Dykes, Jewel Farr, Judy Fowler, Grace D. Hallman, Sara Hardy, Sheryl Keadle, Dorth A. Knight, Verlene Lockhart, Irene Matthews, Virginia McEachern, Myrl Mallory, Mary Lucy Moultrie, Margaret F. McNair, Mary France Nall, Virginia Reed, Margaret Hardy Reeves, Luella Robinson, Whattney M. Sanders, Nancy Ruth Shaw, Conchita Smith, Margery Smith, Tammy Smith, Florence Thomas, Rachel Trice, Annette F. Turner, Barbara Utter, Sandra F. Wilder, Debra W. Wily, Kalya Hanson, Amber Shumote, Caitlyne Barber, Tyisha Smith, Amy Althers, Anna Koblis and Karen Casillas.