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Jean Landis

 
December 15, 2022

Jean Landis, 104, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, December 13, at Lantern Crest Assisted Living in Santee, California. A private family service will be held early in 2023.

She was born September 28, 1918 to Felix Landis and Katherine Nesch Landis in the small farming community of El Cajon, California. The family lived in a tent that Felix had purchased from the Hotel Del Coronado's "tent city."

Jean was the middle child of three. Felix Jr. was two years older and Jerry was 10 years her junior. Jean was a tomboy who loved sports, the outdoors and riding her horse, Apache Maid, bareback through the fields.

After high school, she attended San Diego Teachers College, now SDSU, where she was homecoming queen and active in campus clubs. Upon her graduation in 1940 with an A.B. degree in physical education, Jean taught at Grossmont High School in San Diego. That same year, she took the first step in pursuing her lifelong dream of flying.

With Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart as her inspiration, Jean joined the Civilian Pilot Training Program.

When the United States entered World War II, Jean volunteered and was chosen for the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), a paramilitary organization where women flew military aircraft on non-combat missions, freeing male pilots for combat roles.

She was on of a few women trained to fly the P-51 Mustang and she spent the bulk of the war flying these amazing machines from the factory in Long Beach, California, to Newark, New Jersey, where they were loaded on Liberty cargo ships and sent across the Atlantic. Jean would then fly a P-47 Thunderbolt back across the country, where it would be deployed for service in the Pacific.

She also flew the B-17, C-47, P-39, P-40 and P-63 on special missions.

Jean served until the WASP program was deactivated in 1944. WASP records were classified for many years, and the women who served went unrecognized as American patriots. That ended when the U.S. Congress passed a bill, signed by President Barack Obama in July, 2009, to award the Congressional Gold Medal -- the highest award of honor for civilians -- to Jean and all other WASP pilots, giving them full veteran status.

After the war, Jean couldn't find a job that allowed women in aviation, so she went back to teaching physical education, which she also loved dearly. She obtained her M.S. degree from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. During her academic career, she held faculty positions at several colleges, including Park College, West Chester State Teachers College and Ball State Teachers College.

Her last faculty post was at her alma mater, San Diego State, where she held the position of Assistant Professor of Physical Education from 1968 until her retirement in 1979, when she was awarded the status of Emeritus Assistant Professor of Physical Education.

In 2015, she was awarded the SDSU Alumni Association's prestigious "Monty" award from the College of Health and Human Services in recognition of her contributions to SDSU and the country.

In retirement, Jean spent six months of the year at her home in El Cajon and six months at her Boundary County vacation home. At age 98, she was living independently and sharing her experiences as a WASP. She moved to Lantern Crest in 2017.

A film about Jean's life, "She Wore Silver Wings," received five regional Emmy Awards in 2009. Books about her life have also been published.

Jean loved all animals and was a big supporter of animal rights.

Jean is survived by nieces Daylene Landis Polich, Sharon Landis and Dana Landis, nephews David Polich, David Landis and Noah Landis, several great nephews and nieces, and lifelong friends Carmen Moreschini and Gail Tissier.

A plaque in her memory will be added to the Veteran's Memorial on Mt. Soledad.

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