BANGS — During World War II, the armed forces recruited women to fill jobs that would otherwise have to be performed by men, keeping them out of the front lines.
Pearl Frye saw it as an opportunity to accomplish something and as soon as she turned 19, and was eligible to serve, she enlisted in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps.
She was born and raised in Virginia, but had not had much of a childhood, Mrs. Frye recalled. Her mother had died when Pearl was a year old and she didn’t have much of a childhood or home.
“I signed up as soon as I was eligible,” she said. That was in 1943. Military service was common in her family as her father, a brother and a nephew served.
She went to Des Moines for basic training, then was assigned to Merced Army Flying School near Merced in central California. It was renamed Merced Army Airfield on May 8, 1943, and became Castle Army Airfield in 1946, named for Gen. Frederick Castle, who was killed on a bombing mission in 1944. It became Castle Air Force Base when the Air Force was established as a separate branch of the armed forces in 1948 and served as part of the Strategic Air Command until it was closed in 1994.
“There were a lot of women there, I couldn’t tell you how many companies,” she said.
Pearl’s job was to keep records for the fliers training at the base, especially keeping track of the flight time each had recorded.
“I was a private,” Pearl said. “If I was in longer, I think three months, I could have gotten a higher rank.”
But when it was time to get out, she opted to leave anyway.
“I liked it,” she said of her time in the service. “I was proud to have a job and a place to live. We got up five days a week and went to work,” she said.
She plays down the significance of her job, but it was part of the process of training the pilots who would carry the war effort to the heart of Japan and Germany.
It was also a personal victory as it showed her father she could accomplish something.