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Remembering Barrier-Breaking Naval Aviator Rosemary Mariner

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Rosemary Mariner has died. She was one of the first six women to fly aircraft for the United States Navy. Her career began in the 1970s. Here's Capt. Mariner speaking on NPR's Talk Of The Nation in 2013 about who inspired her to break down barriers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ROSEMARY MARINER: My role models were African-American men who had led the vanguard in integration of race in the armed forces and studied many of the lessons that they had to pass on.

INSKEEP: Rosemary Mariner died on Friday of cancer at the age of 65. The people she inspired over the years include her friend Tammie Jo Shults, who was also a Navy aviator. She retired as a lieutenant commander. She became a commercial pilot later on who made the news last year safely landing a Southwest Airlines plane that suffered engine failure. Ms. Shults, welcome to the program.

TAMMIE JO SHULTS: Well, thank you. Good morning.

INSKEEP: And I'm sorry for your loss. How long did you know Rosemary Mariner?

SHULTS: Probably approaching 30 years.

INSKEEP: Oh, goodness. How did you meet? Was it in the military?

SHULTS: I checked into her squadron, VAQ-34, when she was executive officer getting ready to take command.

INSKEEP: What was it like to serve under her then, to take an order from her from time to time?

SHULTS: You know, it - first of all, just checking into her squadron even as the XO, her leadership changed the atmosphere as leadership does. It always sets the tone. And she was one of those completely unique individuals that was able to help everyone cross the great divide. And the squadron that I came from - there was usually one woman a year that went through it. And they still had some of their set ideas and ways about women aviators. But when I checked into her squadron, VAQ-34, there was just a completely different atmosphere. Everybody was pulling together for one mission, and the differences in race or gender were completely invisible.

INSKEEP: Now, when you say set ideas or ways about women aviators, I guess that would be the men who would think, as men sometimes do, well, women can't drive the car. I mean, that sort of thing?

SHULTS: Right, right. Well, and you have to also remember, like, when we talk about Rosemary being in the first class, you know, those kind of changes - they may speak fairly quickly when you say them. But those caused huge ripples of effect. And everywhere Rosemary went in naval aviation, she was the first to do that - the first to fly jets, the first to have command of a squadron. You know, she was - and she was more than a first. She was an original.

INSKEEP: Meaning that she had an influence beyond whatever she did in her day-to-day life. She was a Jackie Robinson kind of figure.

SHULTS: Very much. She had one of the most - I would say whenever you're new at something - you're doing something new, walking through a door - and I will say she was a champion of people - not of women - of people. And the doors that were unlocked for women in aviation and the Navy were unlocked by men. It took women like Rosemary, JoEllen, Mary Louise - there was a group of those ladies in that - six of them, I believe, total. It started with eight, and then it went to six in that first class. And they had to push the doors open with their own hard work, determination and brilliance. And she was one of those leaders that could do that and wield that machete to open up a path and do it with as little malice and with grace.

INSKEEP: Wielding the machete with grace and without malice. Wow. OK, is it possible - we've just got a few seconds. Is it possible to put in a few words what she loved about flying?

SHULTS: You know, I will tell you one of the things that she loved about flying was probably the adventure of it, and her flying was just a small part. That was what she did. It wasn't who she was, and that's part of the reason she was very well-grounded. She found her foundation in Christ, and that's what springboarded her into being a good leader.

INSKEEP: Well-grounded. Tammie Jo Shults, thanks so much.

SHULTS: You bet. Bye-bye.

INSKEEP: She told us about Rosemary Mariner, who died at 65. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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