WWII Pararigger Visits Modern-day Parachute Shop: United States Marine Corps Women’s Reservist Recounts Her Days as a Pararigger During WWII
By Master Sgt. Beth Holliker, 180th FW Public Affairs
/ Published November 17, 2010
Swanton, Ohio -- "Join the Marines to release a Marine to fight," read the billboard down the street from where Marjorie Tredway worked as a secretary in 1943. Excited to show her patriotism, she joined the United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve, two months after the Women's Reserve was organized.
Established in February 1943, the Marine Corps Women's Reserve had Women Marines assigned to over 200 different jobs that could be filled by women to free up battle ready Marines for war. Jobs such as photographer, parachute rigger, aerial gunnery instructor, cook and baker, control tower operator, auto mechanic, cryptographer, stenographer, agriculturalist and many others were open to Women Marines.
By the end of World War II, women made up almost 85% of the enlisted personnel assigned to Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps.
To help determine which jobs women were best suited for, they were quizzed about their hobbies and things they liked to do. "Of course I was a secretary and they wanted to send me to secretary school and I said 'No, I don't want to do that, I do that in civilian life,' recalls Marjorie. She mentioned that one of her hobbies was sewing and soon after that, Private Tredway was shipped off to boot camp at Hunter College in New York.
During that time, women in the USMCWR attended the same boot camp as women in the Navy. "We did everything the fellas did," said Tredway. The only difference was the DI couldn't swear at us."
After boot camp, Pvt. Tredway attended Parachute Material School at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, N.J., graduating as a pararigger Oct. 23, 1943.
From there, she was shipped to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point where she was a pararigger until she completed her enlistment in 1945.
Now, 65 years after her two years of service in the USMCWR, Marjorie and her husband of 66 years, George Flack came to the 180th Fighter Wing to visit a modern day parachute shop.
Mr. and Mrs. Flack spent several hours talking with personnel in the Aircrew Flight Equipment shop about the differences of what once was and still is a critical job. For decades military aviators have entrusted their lives to the men and women who so diligently and carefully, clean, repair and pack the one item that could save a pilots life.
"I was a rigger 60 years ago," said Flack. "Things ought to have changed."
One of the most notable differences is the name and function of the shop. Today, the parachute shop is called the Aircrew Flight Equipment shop, which combines traditional parachute riggers and life support and survival equipment specialists.
Aside from the technicalities of the name and function, the biggest change she noted was how different parachutes are today. "It's like day and night," said Flack. "The parachute itself is entirely different. Ours were circles and these are rectangles."
As the shape of the parachute has evolved, so have the materials chutes are made of. "Ours were silk, all silk," said Flack. "These are nylon."
Brought along on the visit was the tool kit made by Mrs. Flack herself, complete with her hand-written identification card.
A brief show and tell with Master Sgt. Shawn Lagrange, non-commissioned officer in charge of the Aircrew Flight Equipment shop, found that many tools of the trade used by Mrs. Flack during WWII are very similar, if not identical to those tools used to rig and pack parachutes today. During her service though, Mrs. Flack had to hand craft many of the necessary tools herself, where as today the tools are purchased ready to use.
Throughout the rest her visit, Mrs. Flack continued to walk the modern-day parachute riggers down her memory lane laughing and smiling as she told stories of her days as a rigger, pointing out similarities and differences.
As the visit between old-school and modern-day came to a close, Mrs. Flack said many heart-felt and teary-eyed thank-yous to those who made her day so special and to all of the men and women of the 180th Fighter Wing.
Though her years of serving in the military have long passed, she continues to demonstrate her patriotism by teaching young children proper flag folding and handling techniques and customs and courtesies.
Mrs. Flack, former Pvt. Tredway of the United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve remains proud to be one of the 20,000 women that served in the Marine Corps, taking on non-traditional jobs during WWII so that those battle ready Marines could join the war and protect our country.