Pan American Airlines was there for the fall of Saigon and Operation Babylift that evacuated orphans at the end of the Vietnam War.
The now-defunct airline has been at the center of many historical events while it was in existence for about 64 years until its bankruptcy in 1991. It represented prestige in flying as its planes shuttled customers in luxury around the world. The ABC fall television series "Pan Am" revisits the airline's glory days in the mid-1960s. But there are still people around who remember what it meant to work for the airline during its heyday.
Beaufort resident Rebecca Sprecher was a Pan Am flight attendant in the mid-70s. She teamed up with fellow stewardess Paula Helfrich to write a fictional account of their time in the sky called "Flying: A Novel."
Sprecher explains how she ended up as a part of Pan Am history.
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Question. How did you end up working for Pan Am?
Answer. I graduated from college at Chapel Hill (N.C.). My mother made it clear that I needed a job. I had no idea what I wanted to do. The women's movement had been going on. Instead of doing the normal thing, which was get engaged and settle down, I wanted to do something else. I thought, "I never had a chance to travel." I looked at the route structures of these airlines and felt that if I had to work on these airplanes all night I might as well do it while flying to Paris.
Q. What was your first flight?
A. Paris. Pan Am owned InterContinental hotels, and the one in Paris is one of the most opulent in the world. Everything was gold and mirrors, and I walked in and said, "Oh my goodness." The real interesting stuff started in the '70s. That's what our book is about. It was a tumultuous time. We had plane hijackings. We had three crashes in 18 months all on these little islands in the middle of the night. These approaches to these little islands, you'd have to wake up the guys in the tower because they'd be asleep. We evacuated people during the fall of Saigon; we had the Iranian revolution going on.
Q. How is the book similar to your lives?
A. We have two women from different backgrounds. You can probably guess which one I am. One grew up in the "Leave it to Beaver"-type neighborhood. My co-writer, Paula Helfrich, is from Illinois but was raised in Burma after World War II. So you have these two people with different views of the United States and different views of the world.
Myself, for example, we flew soldiers on R&R (during the Vietnam War). They were very quiet. You could tell the war had taken a terrible toll. For someone like me, who'd protested that war, to turn around and see another side of it was quite thought-provoking.
Q. What do you think of the show?
A. I'm glad the TV show came out and introduced Pan Am to another generation. Besides, it also gives all of us flight attendants an excuse to get together again and reminisce a bit.