Above & Beyond: Aunt Mildred

A race across the Pacific

Left to right: Bill Malloska, the airplane’s owner; Augie Pedlar, pilot; Manley Lawling, navigator, later replaced by Vilas Knope; and Mildred Doran, in classic uniform. (Courtesy Richard A. Durose)
Air & Space Magazine

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Reporters interviewed Mildred at every stop on the way to California. One reporter wrote, “But although she photographs remarkably well, it’s hard for a camera to suggest her wide hazel eyes and warm olive coloring or the dimple that comes with her infrequent smiles.” For the race, Mildred wore khaki jodhpurs and a tunic with a Sam Browne belt. The Lincoln Oils logo was embroidered on each arm. She sported a handful of fraternity pins sent by admiring college boys.

At noon on August 16, 1927, eight aircraft lined up at Oakland Field in front of 50,000 spectators. Two airplanes, Pabco Pacific Flyer and El Encanto, crashed on takeoff (with no casualties). Six airplanes took off, but three returned in minutes because of mechanical problems—including Miss Doran, its engine “sputtering like a Tin Lizzie.” Mechanics hurriedly replaced its spark plugs. Mildred, waiting nearby, was advised that Pedlar thought it best that she not come along for his second attempt. Still Mildred boarded. While some reporters wrote that Mildred looked ashen and in tears as she got on the airplane, a reporter/sorority sister who spoke to her while she waited wrote that Mildred said, “There’s no use making a fuss about it. You have to take things as they come.”

Of the eight aircraft that qualified, four set out for Honolulu. Art Goebel’s Woolaroc and Martin Jensen’s Aloha made it, but Golden Eagle and Miss Doran disappeared. Malloska offered $10,000 for Miss Doran’s recovery. The U.S. Navy searched for 12 days and found nothing. Ten aviators died—three preparing for the race, five during it, and two in the search for survivors.

Memorials and ceremonies were held in honor of those lost. In Flint, factories shut down for prayers. Flags flew at half mast. Thousands attended a memorial at San Francisco’s Pier 30. Another tribute was held at sea, aboard the SS Maui, and Mildred’s fifth grade students sent a floral arrangement with the inscription “God Bless You Every One.” Some 5,000 floral pieces were set afloat on the Pacific Ocean.

The Boston Daily Advertiser wrote: “When the spark has passed from the bodies of all who read these lines, admirers of valor and of noble spirit will be celebrating the name of Mildred Doran.” The Canadian province of Ontario named a lake in her honor. Among the tributes her family received was a poem by Marcel Ducout, a writer for L’Aérophile, the journal of the Aéro Club de France.

In 1929, Malloska had the Doran Tower constructed adjacent to Lincoln Field as a memorial to Mildred, vowing it would stand for 100 years. Next to the building was a large stone with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die.” Malloska later sold his oil business to Cities Service Company (now Citgo). In 1932, Lincoln Field was bought by a developer and named Lincoln Manor Subdivision. The tower was moved and the plaque was lost. In 1973, the relocated tower was torn down because the owner could not afford municipal fees and taxes.

I wish Mildred had backed out when urged to do so. She would have had many other flying opportunities like the Dole race. And I would have gotten to know a very interesting aunt.

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