Margaret Peggy Kocher was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1921 to Willard and Margaret Grishkin Helburn. She was the youngest of three children – two sons Nick and Peter, and one daughter known as Peggy. She moved with her family to Cambridge, MA in 1923, where she attended Shady Hill and Buckingham Schools. In 1941, Margaret graduated from Radcliffe College (Harvard University) cum laude in biology while taking her private pilot’s license in her senior year as part of Harvard’s Civil Pilot Training Program.
Her first job was as secretary to her aunt, Theresa Helburn, director of the Theatre Guild in NYC. In 1942-43 she continued to work for the Theatre Guild as a casting director and stage manager. Ultimately being one of the assistant stage managers of OKLAHOMA! when it opened in 1943. Margaret left the theatre to join the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots in 1943. Upon graduation, she was assigned to the Training Command and served as a tow pilot for advanced glider pilot training. Later she served as commanding officer of the WASP at Eagle Pass AAF, where the women pilots towed targets for advanced gunnery school until the program was terminated in December 1944.
Margaret was one of the lucky WASP who was able to continue in aviation. She worked as a sales pilot for Republic Aviation in Farmingdale, NY, a flying reporter for Yankee Pilot, and an accident analyst for Cornell Medical School’s Crash Injury Research program.
In 1947 Margaret married Erick Kocher, who served in the Foreign Service for 23 years. During their course of tours in Brussels, Belgium; Kuala Lumpur, Malaya; Amman, Jordan; and Belgrade, Yugoslavia, the Kocher’s had 3 sons and 1 daughter. In addition to raising 4 children, Margaret simultaneously entertained monarchs, presidents, and foreign politicians in the Diplomatic Corps and used her biology skills to collect specimens for the Smithsonian and Roman Glass from ruins in Jordan.
After Eric retired, they settled in New York state where Margaret volunteered with the League of Women Voters, helped raise funds for various causes including Caesar Chavez and the agricultural workers, and even ran for office in the New York State Assembly. After an unsuccessful campaign, she chose to stay out of political office and decided the rest of her life should go toward improving the environment.
Celebrating the life of Margaret Peggy Kocher
The WASP Museum is celebrating the life and legacy of Margaret “Peggy” Helburn Kocher, 43-W-6, with a special exhibit on display through Saturday, April 15, 2023. The exhibit opened with Peggy’s children, Erik Kocher, Jr., Chris Kocher, and Debra Kocher in attendance. The Museum celebrated a wonderful Saturday with the family as they became acquainted with where their mother learned to fly military aircraft. The evening ended perfectly as visitors were able to listen to the Kocher’s memories of their mother. As always, the night ended with a toast for a woman who served her country well when it needed her most.
Ann Haub, Collections Manager for the Museum, states that, “Each WASP has a unique story, and it’s my goal to tell them all.”
Peggy Kocher’s story is more unusual than most. Unlike most of her fellow WASP, Peggy was able to make significant contributions in the aviation community until her marriage to Eric Kocher, a member of the U.S. Diplomatic Service, in 1947. After her marriage, she spent a lifetime supporting Mr. Kocher’s activities in four countries and five U.S. states. During those years she raised her family and continued to make a dramatic impact on all the organizations in which she was involved.
Written by: Ann Haub | Collections Director
Photos courtesy: National WASP WWII Museum Archives
Partner with the WASP Archive in achieving its mission to collect, protect, preserve, and provide access to materials that chronicle the WASP story, its legacy, and the personal and professional lives of its pilots. New artifacts are always welcome. Please call Ann Haub at 325-235-0099 or by emailing her at email@example.com.