Frances Buford Pullen

September 12, 1921 - February 22, 2023

Frances Buford Pullen

Frances Buford Pullen (101 years old) took her final flight on February 22, 2023, surrounded by family in the home she and her husband Don bought in 1947 in the Tahoe Park neighborhood of Sacramento. Born on September 12, 1921, on a farm in Florin (now part of South Sacramento), Frances May Buford was the youngest of five kids of Chelsea Clay Buford and Gertrude (Rosek) Buford: four girls and one boy. This earned her the nickname by which many family members still refer to her: “Babe.”
She was interested in planes and flying at an early age partly due to her brother helping a family friend stage model airplane contests. As a sophomore in high school, she built model planes from balsa wood and microfilm as well as gas-powered model planes. Most of her English papers in high school were about planes, flying, lift, air flow, and similar topics. She talked about how that surprised both her classmates and teachers in the late 1930s. So it was no surprise that, after graduating from McClatchy High School in 1939, she got her pilot’s license before she had a driver’s license.
Her first job was at the Kress 5 & 10 store, working 9 hours per day, 6 days a week, for $15 per week. A boy she knew was taking flying lessons at the old Sacramento airport. He took her there and she started taking lessons — $8 for an hour … $4 for half an hour if she didn’t have enough for an hour. She continued to fly and to ride horses, her two favorite activities. In 1943, Frances heard that women were being recruited to fly non-combat missions for the military. She applied – one of 25,000 women who did – got an interview on March 19, 1943, and was selected for training with 1,877 others. She was told to report to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, on April 16, 1943 … at her own expense. Of course, she did, taking a train from Sacramento to Sweetwater. (She said her Mom thought she was crazy and was not at all happy that “Babe” was leaving home to fly military planes … she didn’t say what her Dad thought, but presumably the same.) She graduated in class 43-W-6 on October 9, 1943, to become part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, known as the WASP (for military history buffs, the WASP was created in August 1943 by the merger of the Army Air Forces Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS)). Frances was one of 1,047 women who earned their WASP wings and served our country during WWII.
After flying various trainers, she was selected for multi-engine flight training. She eventually flew the B-24, B-17, and B-29. But her favorite was the B-26 Marauder, a twin-engine bomber. She towed targets for live fire exercises, ferried planes, and flew other non-combat missions at various bases across the country. Frances simply loved that she got paid to fly. But, as the war wound down and men returned from overseas, the WASP was disbanded in 1944.
While the WASP were officially civilians during the war, they were finally accorded veteran’s status in 1977. The ultimate honor was when all the WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010. Frances was thrilled to be part of the ceremonies in Washington, D.C., and was always proud of her WASP service. But her greatest joy was family.
She returned to Sacramento after the WASP was disbanded, where she worked in her Dad’s electrical contracting and appliance store business. But she also flew tourists over Sacramento in a bi-plane for “Brownie” who had a flight business at the old airport. Neither job lasted long, as she had met Don Pullen while she was at the B-24 base in Pueblo, Colorado, during WASP multi-engine flight training. They were married on September 12, 1946.
Frances and Don bought their Tahoe Park house in August 1947, where they raised four kids – Jennifer (1948 – 2007), Chris (1951 – ), Pete (1957 – ), and Melanie (1960 – ). Frances also gave many, many hours of her time to All Hallows church and elementary school, including tending to the school and convent lawns and gardens long after her kids had moved on to high school and college. And her child “raising” didn’t stop with her four kids. She started caring for a friend’s baby girl Melissa in 1980. Then she cared for another family friend’s son Ryan and then his sister Cara a few years later. She ultimately cared for Melissa’s daughter Dakota. These “grandkids” adopted Frances. They and their parents continued to come see her right up to the end. Frances was thrilled and proud to share in the lives of all her kids, their kids, and then their kids’ kids. Her “adopted” families were part of all family events and provided immeasurable assistance and support during Frances’s “senior” years.
After Don passed in 2002, Frances kept up the habit they had started together… walking the mile or so from her house around Tahoe Park. She had started carrying dog treats, befriending the park dogs (whose names she always remembered and talked about years later) and their owners. She made sure to carry both small and large treats for small and large dogs. By the time she needed a walker when she was in her 90s, she put the treats in the bags on each side of the walker. Her park dog friends would see her coming and would approach the side of the walker that held their size treats. Frances continued her walks until she was over 100.
When we threw her a parade on her 100th birthday, complete with police car and ambulance lights and sirens and with local TV coverage, the biggest contingent was all her neighbors and park dog friends. Dozens joined the parade to honor Frances for her service and for reaching 100. Many expressed their gratefulness to her for being a great friend to the neighborhood but also their admiration for her “being an inspiration.” When several park friends told her that years earlier, her response was “Psshhh! I’m just walking and didn’t do any more than all the other women in the military.” Her response when she passed 100…”Well, I guess I am an inspiration.”
And she was an inspiration…to several generations of female pilots and to young girls who saw that there are no limits on what you can do if you really want something and are willing to work for it. And she also inspired all her family, friends, and neighbors who could not believe that she made that mile walk almost every morning for so many years, as well as taking care of her garden well into her 90s. No matter what, she was always there for family. She always will be an inspiration and won’t be forgotten by her many kids, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Services will be held on March 20, 2023, at 11:00 a.m., at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Sacramento, in the Holy Family crypt area.
With thanks and gratitude to all who were touched by our Mom and who returned the love…
Chris Pullen
Pete & Elizabeth Pullen
Melanie & Costas Hatzakos

Committal service

Monday, March 20, 2023
11:00 AM

St. Mary’s Cemetery
Holy Family Crypts
6509 Fruitridge Rd
Sacramento, CA 95820


Monday, March 20, 2023
12:00 PM – 3:00 PM

St Mary Cemetery and Funeral Center
6509 Fruitridge Rd
Sacramento, CA 95820