Finally tonight, we celebrate a hero on her final mission. She wanted to fly before she could even drive and soared right into history. She's America strong.
Over the skies of eastern Tennessee, a first, the missing man formation flown entirely by female fighter pilots. All in honor of Navy pilot Rosemary Mariner, call sign Viper, the first woman to fly a tactical fighter jet. Says Cmdr. Stacey Uttecht, U.S. Navy Fight Pilot, "It's really awesome to be part of an all-female crew. Something that the Navy has never done."
Mariner died January 24th, at the age of 65, after fighting cancer for 5 years. Throughout her career she fought to break barriers and open the cockpit door to women. In 1973, she was one of eight women to get her wings from the Navy, the next year she became a fighter pilot. It was just the first of her many firsts -- the first woman to land on aircraft carriers, she flew in desert storm, and was the first woman to command a squadron.
She was a shining beacon for the female pilots who followed in her footsteps, including those flying over her funeral today. "There was never a question in my mind whether I could fly combat roles in today's Navy, and more doors are opening every day, says Lt. Cmdr. Paige Blok, U.S. Navy Fight Pilot.
Mariner always wanted to fly. Her father, an Air Force pilot, died in a plane crash when she was just 3, but that didn't stop her. She washed planes to pay for flight lessons, later serving her country while also piloting women's rights in the military.
Mariner retired as a captain in 1997. She logged 3500 military flight hours, but her impact in the skies and on the ground is immeasurable. "Her real goal became not to be exceptional, but to be the first person that opened the door, but left it open for others to follow her through," said Tommy Mariner, Rosemary's husband.
Tonight, we honor the legacy of Captain Mariner.