As a girl of 12, Pauline Banken met Amelia Earhart at her dad's Masonic lodge and dreamed of flying.
By the time World War II broke out, she had realized her dream as a qualified pilot. But to serve her country she had to agree to be shot at all day long as she flew the Army's most innovative and dangerous plane.
Mrs. Banken, who served in the Women's Airforce Service Pilots, died Friday (April 24, 1998) at Bayfront Medical Center. She was 75.
In declining health for about nine months, she entered the hospital April 19 for treatment of pneumonia, said her daughter, Linda Demler.
Five times a day for a year in the midst of World War II, she climbed into the cockpit of a B-26 Marauder, the so-called Widow Maker and "the hottest bomber we had," the former WASP recalled in a 1996 interview. She took off from her base near Fort Myers and towed targets off the Florida coast so that men, pilots with the Army Air Forces, could practice shooting from their planes.
"They didn't hit me bodily, but they hit the plane," she remembered. "But a couple of times, we lost the target. They shot so close to the rudder that the target became loose and flew off into the sky."
The danger didn't matter, Mrs. Banken said. She and hundreds of other women, for a few months in 1943 and 1944, got their wings and, for half a century, could call themselves military pilots.
The Army put them in the same category as Red Cross workers until Congress recognized them as veterans in 1977, shortly after women again returned to the cockpit of military planes.
Thirty-eight of them died in the service.
"We weren't even making a second lieutenant's pay," said Mrs. Banken, who later held an Air Force Reserves commission and was recalled for non-flying duty at Hickam Field in Honolulu during the Korean War. "We had no medical insurance, and when one of our girls died, we'd all chip in and send the body home."
Born Pauline Canney in Duluth, Minn., she came here in 1978 from Miami with her husband, Edward Banken, after he retired as a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center. They later divorced, and he died two years ago in Spring Hill.
Mrs. Banken attended Stephens College, Columbia, Mo., the universities of Minnesota and Miami and Embry-Riddle School of Aviation, Daytona Beach.
She was an active life member of the OES, a member of American Legion Post 305 and the Retired Officers Association, St. Petersburg.
In addition to her daughter who lives in St. Petersburg, survivors include two sons, Paul, Denver, and Bruce, Miami.
A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Bay Pines National Cemetery. National Cremation Society is in charge of arrangements.
Her family suggests memorial contributions to Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, 300 East Bay Drive, Largo, FL 33770.
_ Information from Times files was used in this obituary.