Brooks, Hazel McKaughan Pearce (1915–1967)


By: Cynthia Marshall Devlin

Type: Biography

Published: June 20, 2022

Updated: June 20, 2022


Hazel McKaughan Pearce Brooks, an official member and pilot of the World War II Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), daughter of Lidney Dane McKaughan and Abbie (Baty) McKaughan, was born in Waco, Texas, on July 19, 1915. The family was living in Fort Worth at the time of the 1920 census, and in 1930 they lived in Houston, where Hazel attended San Jacinto High School. She was active in a number of school organizations, including Spanish Club, Pep Club, and Booster Club, and graduated in 1933. She then attended North Texas State Teachers College (now University of North Texas) and was a senior in 1936. On March 5, 1938, Hazel McKaughan married Wendell Pearce in Houston.

Family members affectionately referred to Hazel as Aunt “Hay” and relayed that she felt a strong patriotic duty to fulfill the mission of her husband (Pearce) who died in an aviation accident while training for war duty. In 1942 Hazel Pearce joined the Women’s Army Corps and became a cadet. More than 150,000 women served in many non-combatant, non-militarized positions in the WAC during World War II. However, she singularly focused on another method of serving, and, according to family accounts, she hired a private flight trainer because the WASP organization required that members have flight credentials before acceptance in the program that demanded rigorous entrance requirements. Before she decided to join the WASP, she worked as a secretary. 

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program developed as a result of Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold’s approval of a plan by two women pilots, Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy Harkess Love, who had proposed to form two flying units in non-combat roles to ferry both aircraft and materials from factories to military bases. These separate units, the Women’s Flying Training Detachment and the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron merged to create the WASP. Hazel’s brother was Richard Earl McKaughan, Sr., of Aviation Enterprises, based in Houston, and his company won the contract during World War II to train female pilots for the WASP program at Avenger Field (see SWEETWATER ARMY AIR FIELD) in Sweetwater, Texas. He later formed Trans-Texas Airways that helped transform the transportation industry in the state.  Aviation Enterprises’s ace pilot and future vice president of Trans-Texas Airways, Henry E. Erdmann, directed the training. The women pilots noted in their bi-monthly newsletter, The Fifinella Gazette, which was underwritten by Aviation Enterprises, that Erdmann lacked the usual attitude of male pilots toward his female counterparts.

Hazel joined a diverse group of women who came from all over the country to partake in WASP training at Avenger Field. Much of the training for the female pilots emphasized the same curriculum that the Army Air Forces cadets experienced. Up at six in the morning, the women finished the day’s duties at ten in the evening. Each morning they cleaned their barracks, ate quick breakfasts, and completed physical exercises. Flight instruction included link trainers, basic aircraft, later leading to advanced aircraft. Classroom studies included subjects such as weather, navigation, math, physics, and aircraft basics, including a breakdown on various engines. They qualified to fly all types of military airplanes. Many acquired more flight hours than male pilots. Some later instructed male pilots. Hazel Pearce graduated after training for approximately six months, and she was a candidate in the sixth class of a total of eighteen classes conducted at Avenger Field in Sweetwater during the war. Four other Texas female pilots joined her on graduation day on October 9, 1943. She received her silver wings from program director Jacqueline Cochran.

After graduation, the newly-minted, highly-trained pilots domiciled at a variety of military bases across America. They received $250 per month and were required to purchase their uniforms. Hazel Pearce was assigned to the Fifth Ferrying Group, Air Transport Command at Love Field in Dallas during the war. Love Field served as the headquarters for the United States Air Transport Command. Overall the women pilots flew more than sixty million miles, and by Christmas of 1944 they had flown every type of aircraft built in World War II.

Hazel McKaughan Pearce married James Marvin Brooks in 1944. Her husband worked for Aviation Enterprises and initially oversaw the administration of Avenger Field when she was training there. He later worked for Trans-Texas Airways in various high-level positions, and he was director of training for Texas International Airlines. Hazel Brooks, as most of the WASPs, began a new life after her service. She returned to North Texas State College and graduated on May 28, 1956, with a bachelor of science degree in business administration.  

Hazel McKaughan Pearce Brooks, age fifty-two, died of cancer at Hermann Hospital in Houston on September 24, 1967. She was survived by her husband James Brooks; she had no children. Interment was at Forest Park Westheimer Cemetery in Houston. 

Members of the WASP, who had always been classified as civil service employees, finally received long overdue recognition when President Jimmy Carter, through the G.I. Bill Improvement Act of 1977, awarded the WASP full military status. In 2010 the WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, and by 2016 they gained the right for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. The United States Air Force (USAF) accepted women for pilot training in 1976 on an equal footing with male candidates.

 

Visit the Texas Women Project's standalone website

The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.

Visit Website

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 9, 1943. “Hazel McKaughan Brooks,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/64762077/hazel-brooks), accessed June 7, 2022. International Women’s Air & Space Museum: Hazel M. Pearce (https://iwasm.omeka.net/items/show/675), accessed June 7, 2022. Caroline Johnson, “Women with Wings: The 75-Year-Legacy of the WASP,” Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/women-wings-75-year-legacy-wasp), accessed June 7, 2022. Luiza McKaughan, Interview via email by Cynthia Marshall Devlin, 2021. National WASP WWII Museum (https://www.waspmuseum.org/), accessed June 7, 2022. WASPs of World War II, Women of World War II (https://www.womenofwwii.com/wasps/), accessed June 7, 2022.

Categories:
  • Aviation and Aerospace
  • Military
  • World War II
  • Transportation and Railroads
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Houston
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Cynthia Marshall Devlin, “Brooks, Hazel McKaughan Pearce,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/brooks-hazel-mckaughan-pearce.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

June 20, 2022
June 20, 2022

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: