Tuesday, December 6, 2016

BACKWARDS IN HIGH HEELS

F L Y I N G      F O R     T H E     A R M Y    A I R    F O R C E
B A C K W A R D S      I N      H I G H      H E E L S”
By Nancy Allyson Parrish
Director, Wings Across America

 “Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did,
but backwards and in high heels.”   Faith Whittlesey
_______________     

Up until America was thrust into a raging World War on December 7 of 1941, American women were not expected to do anything particularly significant, important or courageous.  Before that date, women were only expected to raise, teach and take care of the men who would do the significant, important and courageous.  Women were expected to do the housework, the cleaning and the dishwashing.  Women were certainly not expected or encouraged to go above and beyond in anything, much less fly airplanes for their country.

  World War II changed all expectations.  In fact, World War II forever changed the role of women in America, including military aviation.  Why?  With American combat pilots in very short supply after severe losses in North Africa, America desperately needed pilots—any kind of pilot!  Even a woman.

    All it took was one visionary, determined pilot named Jacqueline Cochran who, in 1939, had written to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and proposed the unconventional idea of ‘using women pilots’ in the non combat roles.  Add to Ms. Cochran one desperate and open minded General named Hap Arnold.  After she made several official proposals for a program to give women pilots the same training as the male pilots, the General finally gave her the opportunity to put her training program into effect.  That one decision eventually gave America the untapped resource so badly needed: courageous, patriotic young women pilots, committed to victory and willing to go where no woman had ever gone before: the cockpit of an American military aircraft. 

We all were  patriotic, and we all wanted to serve our country in some way.  People just were beating the doors down signing up for service, men, and, of course a lot of women, too.  And we were pulling together in a way that I’ve never seen since then, and probably will never see again.  
 WASP Marion Hodgson, 43-W-5
    With the Army Air Force’s promise of militarization, the first class of 29 raised their right hands, swore the oath and began Army Air Force flight training at the Municipal Airport in Houston on Nov. 16, 1942. Three months later the training program was moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas.  In just over two years, a total of 1074 trainees took the same 'oath' all military personnel take,  completed seven months of AAF flight training, graduated and, together with 28 WAFS (Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Service) became WASP, Women Airforce Service Pilots, the first women in history to fly America's military aircraft.
We worked like dogs in dirty, greasy coveralls.  We had to break down an engine, we had some tough ground school classes, but oh, the flying was so wonderful. WASP Doris Tanner, 44-W-4
From the first day of training to the day the WASP hung up their Army parachutes for the last time, everything the women pilots did was scrutinized, measured and recorded.   Their health, weight, strength, skill, stamina, patience and perseverance were tested.  Every time a WASP stepped into a new kind of aircraft, or flew a new kind of mission, it was a groundbreaking experiment on behalf of all women pilots. As every WASP knew, if one WASP failed, the whole program would be at risk.
  CO of Flight Operations, Camp Davis took a very dim view of women in the military and especially those flying airplanes. His welcoming words were, "Both you and these planes are expendable. Either accept that fact or pack up and go home."  2 WASP were killed at Camp Davis.   WASP Marion Hanrahan, 43-W-3
The WASP DID NOT FAIL.  In fact, they EXCEEDED beyond all expectations.  In two years, at 120 air bases across America, WASP flew over 60 million miles, in every type aircraft and on every type mission any male AAF pilot flew, except combat.  WASP attended Pursuit School and Officer Candidate School. They flew strafing, night tracking and smoke laying missions. They towed targets for air-to-air and ground-to-air gunnery practice, with gunnery recruits firing live ammunition. They ferried planes and transported cargo, personnel and parts of the atomic bomb.  They instructed, flew weather missions and test flew repaired aircraft.  WASP even flew aircraft that male pilots refused to fly, including the B-26 "Widow Maker" and the B-29 "Super Fortress," to prove to the male pilots they were safe to fly.
  
When we landed at Dodge City, the sergeant that met us drove us by what he called, ‘the bone yard’—four B-26s had ‘cracked up’ within the previous month, killing the entire crews.  And he said, ‘If you girls have any sense, you’ll turn right around and go back where you came from, because that thing is a killer.’  Well, of course, we didn’t do that.  And the Commanding Officer said, ‘if you stay, and if you pass, you will be the first women in the history of the Air Force to fly a bomber.’  So he left the room for us to talk it over.  And, of course, we all wanted to fly it.  WASP Sandy Thompson, 43-W-5

         They flew with an unwavering urgency and a passion for their mission: to free male pilots for combat.   WASP not only passed every test, they outscored their male counterparts.
They had so many airplanes and so few pilots.  We were just as busy as we could be all the time.  Just every time they came in, they’d have another airplane for you.  My favorite?  The P-63. It was quite an airplane.  I just loved it.  I flew as many as I could, as far as I could, as fast as I could.  WASP Betty Fernandes, 43-W-3

         Thirty-eight WASP were killed flying for their country.  Because they were officially civilians, their bodies were sent home in cheap pine boxes, their burial at the expense of their family or classmates. These heroic pilots were denied any military benefits or honors – no gold star allowed in their parents' window, no American flag for their coffins. 
 You either had a chance of doing it or go home. Those who wanted transfers went home!  We did what we were assigned to do...with no regrets!  WASP Ruth Thomason Florey, 43-W-4
Three weeks before a 44-W-4 trainee was to graduate, her mother received an official telegram from the country her daughter so proudly served. It simply said: "Your daughter was killed this morning.  Where do you want us to ship the body?" 

     On Dec. 7, 1944, in a speech to the last graduating class of WASP, General Arnold said, “You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. I salute you…We of the Army Air Force are proud of you. We will never forget out debt to you."

     With official orders ‘not to talk about their training or what they were doing,” the WASP stood helplessly by as  General Arnold's request to militarize the women pilots was defeated in the Congress.  On December 20, 1944, when victory seemed certain, the WASP were quietly and unceremoniously disbanded. There were no benefits and few ‘thank-yous’.  They hung up their parachutes and paid their way back home.  Their military records were sealed, stamped 'classified' and filed away in the government archives for 33 years.       Their military records were classified “confidential” and filed away in government archives, where they remained, unopened, for the next 33 years, unavailable to historians who wrote the official accounts of WWII. The AAF did forget -- and so did America.

    In November, 1977, under the leadership of General Arnold's son, Col. Bruce Arnold, USAF Ret., surviving WASP, and Senator Barry Goldwater, Congress narrowly voted to give WASP the Veteran status they had earned. WASP were not even invited to the bill signing. Their medals came in the mail.

 I think that’s important for young people today to realize that there were people before them that did things that were dangerous…but in order for this country to be free, that’s what it took.  And they did it without question.  WASP Deanie Parrish, 44-W-4  

It has been over 65 years since the WASP blazed their trail, but the history remains inspirational.  Backwards in high heels?  Not exactly.  But, with a slight nod to the beautiful Ginger Rogers who danced the exact same steps as Fred Astaire, the WASP completed the same training, flew the same planes and the same missions.  They did everything their country asked and more.   They paid their way to serve their country, paid to bury their fallen comarades, and they paid their own way back home. 


They never expected anything—except to FLY for their country, and that they did, with honor, integrity, courage, sacrifice, commitment, faith and patriotism. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Spirit of the WASP


What inspires you to do more than you thought you ever could?  What inspires you to dream bigger, strive harder, and reach higher than you ever could have imagined?   In trying to answer those questions and the all-important final question,  “What inspired you to DO what you DO?” I need to start with the WASP, beginning with the first WASP in my life, my mom.   

Imagine being around (or more appropriately surrounded by) a determined, dynamic, passionate, patriotic, smart, spunky, stubborn (but in the good way), amazing, opinionated, optimistic, encouraging, unstoppable woman — and I’m just getting warmed up!  I could go on.

Long story short, imagine meeting and  listening to 100 or more women with those same attributes?  Yes, all the WASP I’ve met are just like mom, completely, utterly and absolutely inspirational.


Once you meet a WASP, the one thing you do not want to do is to disappoint them, and you find yourself striving to exceed their expectations.   Why?  Because the inspiration that comes from the WASP is not just about flying.  It is about courage and patriotism, and about doing your absolute best while you are being scrutinized, weighed, measured and tested by some who just might be rooting for you to fail.  It’s about rising above the ordinary and doing the “extra” ordinary, about commitment, persistence, honor, sacrifice, service, faith, and living a life for the cause greater than yourself. 

It is contagious.

My mission to share the inspirational history of the WASP began with my big idea, “Mom, let’s interview a few of the WASP in Texas and share their stories online.”  “No,” said mom, “if you interview ONE WASP you need to interview THEM ALL.”  “Mom,” said I, “That’s impossible.”  She quickly shot back, “With God’s help, nothing is impossible.”  Guess she told me!

And so it began.  Our partnership and our journey across 19 states, 110 interviews, countless web pages, and outside the box projects later.   Almost twenty years have passed, and I am certain of one thing; I am still inspired by the WASP.  

Through it all, I have been guided by God’s hand, my mother, the WASP’ gentle encouragement and participation, and the spirit of the WASP. Needless to say, I have never walked alone. 

I’ve been uplifted by these American heroines, and by their stories, their service and their humility.  My wish for all of you is that the spirit of the WASP encourage you and inspire you to ‘fly' higher than you’ve ever flown in absolutely everything you do.  If you need help, ask a WASP!

God bless you all,

Nancy

Nancy Parrish is the Executive Director of Wings Across America a digital history project located just off the campus of Baylor University in Waco, Texas.  If you'd like to know more, visit wingsacrossamerica.org!



*originally published in the Women in Aviation Conference daily news blast  
March, 2015

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mother-daughter duo inducted into Women in Aviation Hall of Fame

Posted: Sunday, March 15, 2015 12:01 am

A local mother-daughter duo was recently inducted into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame for their efforts to preserve the history of women pilots in the military.
  • Nancy Parrish and her mother Deanie, a Women Airforce Service Pilot who served during World War II, were inducted into the Women in Aviation International’s Pioneer Hall of Fame.
Deanie and Nancy Parrish were recognized last weekend in Dallas for their work with Wings Across America, a nonprofit they established to chronicle contributions of Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, who tested military aircrafts and participated in domestic flight training exercises, freeing up male Army Air Force pilots for combat in World War II.

Deanie Parrish, 93, entered the WASP program in 1944, paying her own train fare from her hometown of Avon Park, Florida, to Sweetwater, Texas, for seven months of flight training at Avenger Field.
She served as a test pilot for new military aircraft at the Greenville Air Force Base in Mississippi and was later stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida, flying B-26 bomber planes and pulling white toe-tag banners male pilots used for target practice.
Nancy Parrish, a former producer for KWBU, started documenting her mom’s WASP experiences online, then proceeded to track down more than 100 WASPs to record their memories for a video history website.
The women also established a WASP museum in Sweetwater plus two traveling museum exhibits on the WASP program.
One traveling museum exhibit the Parrishes created is now part of a permanent exhibit at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan, while another was recently on display at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.
“My first thought was just that I was overwhelmed,” Nancy Parrish said of the honor. “To be put in the category with the women who have gone before in this particular prestigious hall of fame was unbelievable.
“Jackie Cochran, who started the WASPs, is in the Pioneer Hall of Fame, and some pretty remarkable women who have done some remarkable things are in the Pioneer Hall of Fame. It’s kind of mind-boggling. It really helped shine another light on the WASPs themselves.”
parrish4
World War II Women Airforce Service Pilot Deanie Parrish (center) poses with her daughters Barby Parrish Williams (left) and Nancy Parrish at the Women in Aviation International conference in Dallas. Deanie and Nancy Parrish were inducted into the organization’s Pioneer Hall of Fame
Other inductees included Priscilla Blum, co-founder of the Corporate Angel Network that provides free air travel to cancer patients to receive treatment, and the late Phoebe Omlie, who was the first woman to receive a commercial pilot’s license.
Peggy Chabrian, founder and president of Women in Aviation International, said the Parrishes are the first family members to be jointly inducted into the hall of fame. But all of the members of the nomination review committee ranked the Parrishes at the top of their lists, she said.
Making story known
“Starting 15 years ago, when at that point the WASP story wasn’t as well told, they were instrumental in helping make that story known,” Chabrian said. “The WASPs have gotten more recognition over the last several years, partially due to their efforts.”
Chabrian said the organization has a particular focus on the WASPs, since those were the first women to fly military aircraft. The group was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010 for their service.
parrish2
Nancy Parrish, left, and her mother Deanie, right a Women Airforce Service Pilot who served during World War II, were inducted into the Women in Aviation International’s Pioneer Hall of Fame.
“That hadn’t happened before, and now we have a lot of women who are members of Women in Aviation who are active-duty or reserve pilots in all facets of military aviation,” said Chabrian, a commercial pilot and former flight instructor. “They particularly look to the WASPs as kind of opening the door for them to be able to fly military aircraft.”
Nancy Parrish said she and her mom recently developed a free WASP app that includes the group’s history and a song Deanie Parrish wrote about the unit’s history.
Deanie Parrish is writing a book about her experiences, and Nancy Parrish wants to create more online content from the videos she produced interviewing the WASPs.
“Our goal is to just spread the inspiration that the WASPs bring to as many different groups as possible,” Nancy Parrish said. “We want it to touch kids, we want it touch grown-ups, we want it to challenge high school kids.
“We want to show them that the sky is not just the limit — it’s beyond the sky, you can do anything. And the WASPs did.”

Friday, February 27, 2015

WAI Announces Pioneer Hall of Fame Inductees for 2015

For Release 9 a.m. CST
February 27, 2015
Mother daughter team from Waco, Texas 
to be inducted into WAI Pioneer Hall of Fame

Waco, Texas — February 17, 2015 —Women in Aviation International has announced the induction of mother daughter team, Deanie and Nancy Parrish of Wings Across America; Priscilla (Pat) Blum, founder of the Corporate Angel Network;  and Phoebe Omlie, extraordinary aviation trailblazer, into the Women in Aviation International’s prestigious Pioneer Hall of Fame.

These “women who changed aviation history,” will be honored at WAI’s 26th Annual International Conference, held on March 5 - 7, 2015 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas.   The ceremony will take place at the closing banquet on Saturday, March 7, 2015.  

"Our induction ceremony is always the highlight of the closing banquet," says WAI President Dr. Peggy Chabrian. "These women and their accomplishments deserve to be recognized so that our members can thank those who came before them and initiated new undertakings or preserved the role of women's contributions throughout aviation history.”

THE 2015 HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES:

Deanie and Nancy Parrish’s selection honors their ongoing mission to educate and inspire America with the little known history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASP, the first women in history to fly America’s military aircraft.  The Parrish’s achievements include creating Wings Across America, a non-profit project at Baylor University; interviewing and digitally videotaping the oral histories of 105 WASP across the US; creating the comprehensive “WASP on the Web” website;  founding the National WASP WWII Museum; initiating and leading the 2009 campaign to award the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal  (the nation’s highest civilian award); initiating and leading the campaign to induct the Texas WASP into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame; writing/publishing WASP In Their Own Words, An Illustrated History; designing two traveling WASP exhibits (including the first interactive exhibit: Flygirls of WWII, most recently displayed at the Story of Texas Museum in Austin, Texas); designing the first WASP app: Flygirl WWII; and writing the first WASP rap song: We Got The Stuff, The Right Stuff.

Priscilla (Pat) Blum, along with Jay Weinberg, founded Corporate Angel Network (CAN), a 34 year old not for profit organization whose mission is to arrange free travel for cancer patients traveling to and from their treatment centers in the available seats on board corporate jet aircraft. In its first full year, 1982, a dozen corporations flew a total of 23 cancer patient flights. In 2014, 560 corporations signed on as CAN providers and an average of 220 cancer patients were flown each month for an annual total of 2550. The 47,000th cancer patient will be flown in Feb 2015.

Phoebe Omlie: Once one of the most famous women in America, Phoebe Omlie earned the first Commercial Pilot's License by a woman and became a successful air racer. During the New Deal, she held executive positions in federal aeronautics. During the 1920s, she bought a JN-4D and learned how to perform stunts with her future husband Vernon. She danced the Charleston on the top wing, hung by her teeth below the airplane, and performed parachute stunts in the Phoebe Fairgrave Flying Circus.


The Women in Aviation, International Pioneer Hall of Fame was established in 1992 to honor women who have made significant contributions as record setters, pioneers, or innovators. Special consideration is given to individuals or groups who have helped other women be successful in aviation or opened doors of opportunity for other women. Each year, the organization solicits nominations from throughout the aviation industry for the WAI Pioneer Hall of Fame.

The 2015 Conference celebrates 26 years of WAI Conferences. With the theme "Connect, Engage, Inspire," the WAI Conference will include professional development seminars, education sessions, tours, workshops, networking events, speakers, and a commercial exhibit area. The Conference concludes on Saturday evening, March 7, 2015, with WAI's annual banquet where dozens of scholarships are awarded and the four Pioneers are inducted.

Secure online registration is available at www.wai.org/15conference, and varied registration options exist. Student rates and military rates make the Conference more affordable. In addition, WAI offers an "Accompanied Child" rate. Conference attendees may register for a full package, a one-day package or simply for specific events. Onsite registration will be available as well.

Women in Aviation, International is a nonprofit 501(C)(3) organization dedicated to providing networking, mentoring and scholarship opportunities for women and men who are striving for challenging and fulfilling careers in the aviation and aerospace industries. For more information, contact WAI at 3647 State Route 503 South, West Alexandria, OH 45381, Phone (937) 839-4647; Fax (937) 839-4645 or through www.wai.org.

###
For more information on Women in Aviation
Contact:
Connie Lawrence
Women in Aviation International
937-839-4647 Phone
937-839-4645 Fax

###
For more information on Wings Across America
Contact:
Nancy Parrish, Director 
254-307-2717



Monday, May 27, 2013

A Small Miracle - - Memorial Day 2013

 Memorial Day is a revered United States federal holiday which occurs each year on the last Monday in May. It is a day for special remembrances of the men and women who died while serving their country as members of the United States Armed Forces. 

 When my first ‘WASP on the Web’ pages were published in 1996, they included an ‘Above and Beyond’ section-- with graphics and information on each of the thirty-eight WASP and trainees who were killed during WWII. Unfortunately, there were very few pictures of the trainees that had been killed, and some of the graphics were, at best, only sketches of their faces. 

 These same graphics were used in my 2010 “WASP In Their Own Words Illustrated History Book” and the ‘Above and Beyond’ sections of our Fly Girls’ traveling exhibit. 

This past December a young woman named Vicki Oldenburg was contacted ‘out of the blue’ by a woman who was digging thru photos in an old antique store near her home. The woman found a photo and a postcard that captivated her imagination, because the postcard was from a young woman named Margy Oldenburg who was in training to fly airplanes. As Vicki later wrote, “The fact that she found me is still a small miracle.” 

 Soon after, Vicki called to ask me for more information on Margaret, who had signed her postcard 'Margy.' Vicki’s father was married to Margaret when she was killed. He later remarried and started a family, but he never forgot his first wife, Margaret Oldenburg, who was in training in Houston to become a WASP. 

 Vicki sent me digital copies of the photo of Margaret and the postcard. When I finished hand tinting the photo, I felt like I was meeting Margaret for the first time. As with all WASP, there is a special twinkle in her eyes. What a beautiful young woman she was! 

 So, on this Memorial Day, I would like to introduce you to Margaret "Margy' Sanford Oldenburg, 43-W-4. Because of this small miracle, I have completely redesigned our “Above and Beyond” pages, which have now been published: http://www.wingsacrossamerica.org/in-memoriam.html 




 May your lives be filled with God's blessings of good health, loving family, special friendships and memories that continue to warm your hearts. Thank you for your service to our country and for your continued support for our mission: “WINGS ACROSS AMERICA.” 

v/r written and posted by Nancy Parrish  
with special thanks to Vicki Oldenburg

Sunday, March 10, 2013

SPIRIT OF THE WASP

Spirit of the WASP
by Nancy Parrish

A tribute to the WASP -- in honor of Women's History Month and the THIRD ANNIVERSARY of the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII.
    Early in October, 2012, a World War II air-to-air B-26 tow-target pilot cut a symbolic ribbon at Wings Over the Rockies Aviation and Space Museum in Denver, Colorado.  Just beyond the ribbon, high above the polished floor, overlooking the beautiful planes stretched wingtip to wingtip across the pristine hangar, is a  visually stunning,  factual, inspiring exhibit--a tribute to an unsung group of heroes: the Women Airforce Service Pilots -- for many years considered ‘the best kept secret of World War II.‘    On that special day, when WASP Deanie Parrish cut the ribbon for the “FLYGIRLS OF WWII EXHIBIT,” WASP’ history was no longer a secret at Wings Over the Rockies!

Volunteers and WASP Deanie Parrish at the FlyGirls WWII ribbon cutting:
Wings Over the Rockies Museum, Denver Colorado

    For sixteen years, it has been my honor to partner with this WASP, who served her country during WWII by towing a sleeve target behind her B-26 Martin Marauder as ‘green gunners’ in B-24’s ‘practiced’ firing live ammunition at that target.  This fearless, spunky lady pilot has always believed that, ‘With God’s help, nothing is impossible.’  I agree, and once my mother, the WASP, joined me on my mission to share the little-known history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots with America, we never looked back.
  
    The trailblazing WASP were the first women in history to fly America’s military aircraft. That is amazing, indeed!  Yet their unselfish contribution to the Allied victory in World War II is not just a story about women who flew American military aircraft.    The WASP history is a tapestry of extraordinary testaments of courage and honor, of patriotism, persistence, and faith, and it is a story of service, commitment, and sacrifice.

    The story began in 1939, when a visionary, spirited lady pilot named Jacqueline Cochran met with President and Mrs. Roosevelt and proposed the unconventional idea of training women pilots to fly military aircraft, should they ever be needed.  They agreed.   Jackie had the audacity to believe that airplanes didn’t know the difference between male and female pilots!  She then submitted her idea to Gen. Hap Arnold, Commanding General of the Army Air Corps.   

He dismissed the idea immediately. Who could blame him?  Consider, for just a moment, what the expectations were for women across America on December 6, 1941.   Up until then, American women weren’t expected to do anything significant or courageous.  They were expected to be teachers, librarians and secretaries; or wives and mothers who would raise their sons to do significant, courageous things.   That all changed on December 7, 1941.

During the early months of 1942, after severe losses of combat pilots over North Africa, Gen. Arnold became desperate for more pilots.  Jackie Cochran was passionate, persistent and well prepared.  She convinced the General to make the bold, historic decision to give qualified licensed women pilots a chance to serve their country.  That one decision eventually gave America the untapped resource so badly needed: courageous, patriotic, young women pilots, willing to go where no women had ever gone before: the cockpits of America’s military aircraft. 
 

“When the telegram came saying, “Your services are needed in the Army Air Corps. If interested, report at the Palmer House in Chicago,” I was amazed.  I could serve my country and fly. WOW!”    WASP Margaret Ray Ringenberg


“After my husband was taken prisoner at Bataan, I had gone into the Women’s Defense Corps.  I did the fire fighting, the life saving, the pistol shooting, and Air Raid Warden. Working in the daytime at the Adjutant General’s Office, I went out to Doc Hale’s Air School and learned to fly.”   WASP  Kay McBride D’Arezzo


  “I quit my job and moved to the airport.  I pumped gas, made sandwiches, and worked on planes.  My room was an old Army cot in an old shack.  I got my meals and one hour of flying time a day.”  WASP Penny Hall Halberg


When I heard about Pearl Harbor, I was horrified. I tried to donate blood. They said I wasn’t old enough.  Then my father told me about the WASP.   I thought, that’s perfect.  That’s why I learned to fly.  I had several boyfriends who were airline Captains.  I had excellent instruction!”  WASP Dori Marland Martin


With the Army Air Force's promise of militarization, the first class of 29 licensed women pilots raised their right hands, took the military oath, and began Army Air Force flight training at the Municipal Airport in Houston, Texas, Nov. 16, 1942.  


Jackie (Cochran) called me to her apartment.   She showed me a copy of a letter from the War Department to the Commanding Officer in Houston.  It said, “We know we have to give these women a chance to fly. We do not think they will ever be able to fly military airplanes.  Get rid of them as soon as possible.”  So, twenty-five of us went to Houston and beat the odds.  We became Class 43-W-1.”   WASP Geri Elder Lamphere Nyman


    From the first day of training to the day the WASP hung up their Army parachutes for the last time, everything they did was scrutinized, measured, and recorded.   Their health, weight, strength, skill, stamina, patience, and perseverance were tested.  Every time a WASP stepped into an aircraft or flew a mission, it was an experiment on behalf of all women pilots.  Every WASP knew if one WASP failed, the whole program would be at risk. 


“On our first day, the chief pilot told us: “It is up to you whether this entire Women’s Flying Training Program succeeds and opens the way for hundreds of pilots like you to fly military planes. Or you can fail, by acting like spoiled brats, by giving up because you don't like the food, or your flight instructor, or ground school.  It’s up to you.  You are the Guinea Pigs.”   WASP Byrd Howell Granger


    Three months later the program was moved to Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas.   In just over two years, 25,000 women applied for AAF flight training, a total of 1,830 were accepted, but only 1074 completed seven months of training and graduated.   In Aug. of ’43, the graduates, together with 28 civilian women pilots who had been hired by the Air Transport Command to ferry aircraft, were officially named WASP, Women Airforce Service Pilots, by Commanding General Hap Arnold.


    The program was not only an unprecedented success; it exceeded all expectations.  In two years, at 120 air bases across America, WASP flew over 60 million miles in every type aircraft and on every type mission any male AAF pilot flew, except combat.  WASP attended Pursuit School and Officer Candidate School. They flew strafing, night tracking, and smoke laying missions. They towed targets for air-to-air and ground-to-air gunnery practice, with gunnery recruits firing live ammunition. They ferried planes and transported cargo, personnel and parts of the atomic bomb.  They instructed, flew weather missions and test flew repaired aircraft.  WASP even flew aircraft, including the B-26 "Widow Maker" and the B-29 "Super Fortress," as experimental ‘morale boosters’ for male pilots.  


“When we landed at Dodge City, the Sergeant drove us by what he called, 'the bone yard'—four B-26s had 'cracked up' within the previous month, killing the entire crews.  He said, 'If you girls have any sense, you'll turn right around and go back where you came from, because that thing is a killer.'  The CO said, 'If you stay, and if you pass, you will be the first women in the history of the Army Air Force to fly a bomber.'  So, he left the room for us to talk it over and, of course, we all wanted to fly it.”  WASP Sandy Thompson

    The WASP flew with an unwavering urgency and a passion for their mission: to free male pilots for combat.

“The P-63 was quite an airplane.  I just loved it.  I flew as many as I could, as far as I could, as fast as I could.  There was one route where you’d have to take the lane West all the time, and the barn was on the left.  And if your barn was any place except on the left, you were off course. We always just had to fly by sight, for about, maybe a year.  Nothing, just go.  No radio.  No nothing.”   WASP Betty Archibald Fernandes

    The pioneering service of the WASP was not without sacrifice.  Thirty-eight WASP were killed flying for their country, their bodies sent home in cheap pine boxes, their burial at the expense of their family or classmates. Still considered civilians, these heroic pilots were denied any military benefits or honors, no gold star allowed in their parents' window, no American flag to cover their coffins.

     Three weeks before 44-W-4 trainee Mary Howson was to graduate, her mother received an official telegram from the War Department.  It simply said: "Your daughter was killed this morning.  Where do you want us to ship the body?"    AAF Telegram, 1944

    The WASP did everything their country asked them to do and more. When handed orders to fly a military aircraft, no matter what kind it was, what the mission was, what the weather was, or what the destination was, they never flinched.

“You either had a chance of doing it, or go home. Those who wanted transfers went home.  We did what we were assigned to do...with no regrets.”  WASP Ruth Florey


“P-39   I had never flown with a tricycle landing gear. The Instructor stood on the wing, showed me where the instruments were.  So I get in and I buckle up and he jumps down.  I said, "Well, where are you going to sit?"   And he said,   "Lady, it is a one seater, you’re on your own!"   And he looked like he didn’t think he’d ever see me again.”    WASP Rosa Lea Fullwood


“Two of the WASP are just as good as I am at this particular job, and hell, I think I’m the best in the Army!”    AAF male pilot, Camp Stewart, Georgia

    WASP paid their own way to serve their country and, after 60 million extraordinary miles of flying, they were disbanded.  Though disappointed, they simply hung up their parachutes and paid their own way back home.  

    In 1977, 33 years after the WASP were disbanded; they were finally granted the Veteran’s status they had been promised.  The bill gave them the right to be buried with an American flag on their casket.

    In 2010, the WASP were given an honor of extraordinary proportions by our nation, when Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award Congress can bestow, to the WASP of WWII. 

“Over 65 years ago, we each served our country without any expectations of recognition or glory, and we did it without compromising the values we were taught as we grew up, honor integrity, patriotism, service, faith, and commitment.  We did it because our country needed us… All we ever asked for is that our overlooked history no longer be a missing chapter in the history of World War II, the history of aviation and the history of our country.”  WASP Deanie Bishop Parrish


    As she spoke those words to the largest crowd ever assembled inside the capitol, I watched my mom, the WASP, and then the faces of the WASP in the audience.  Their eyes were sparkling, some moist with tears, but all shining bright with a contagious patriotic pride in a job well done.  


Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony, March 10, 2010
click photo to enlarge

    No doubt the WASP blazed the trail for women serving as military pilots today, but for me, discovering these remarkable women and their stories has always been about so much more than flying.  It is about living a life beyond what is expected, about being willing to risk stretching the boundaries and busting through the barriers.  It is about doing what you feel is right, even when no one is looking and ‘flying higher’ in everything you do.   That is not just history. It is inspirational history. 


        Today, more than ever before, we need that ‘can do’ spirit of the WASP to inspire us all!    Learning about the WASP inspires young boys just as much as it inspires young girls, because, ‘if a girl can do it, so can they!’ So, respectfully, from the walls of the Flygirls Exhibit in Denver and beyond, I pray you hear the WASP, whispering their encouragement to you all, and that you pass it on: 
“You fly the airplane, don’t let the airplane fly you. I think that’s the whole secret of life.  Take command of your life.  Get out there and do it." WASP Joan Michaels Lemley
“Life is a challenge! Live it!   Don’t let turbulence slow you down or keep you from your goals.” 
WASP Ann R. Holaday
“Don’t let people tell you you can’t. Don’t let people tell you you aren’t good enough.   Be good enough!”    
WASP Gayle Snell
“Put God first, family next and then whatever you want to do...  CAVU.  Pilot talk:  ceiling and visibility unlimited.”  WASP Marion Stegeman Hodgson
“Don’t ever put limits on your dreams.   Dream farther and higher than you can imagine.  I would never have flown if I hadn’t looked to the sky and beyond.”  
WASP Scotty Bradley Gough

"You want to be the next 'Greatest Generation?' Then return to the values that we lived by in 1942, 1944: sexual relations are for marriage, marriage is for life, there's a right and a wrong, you are responsible for your own actions...and a strong faith in God."  WASP Ruth Dailey Helm







And those final words still ringing true from mom:

“With God’s help, nothing is impossible.”   WASP Deanie Bishop Parrish



  Nancy and Deanie Parrish, March 10 , 2010

In honor of Women's History Month and the volunteer work Wings Across America continues to do showcasing the inspirational history of the WASP, please consider supporting this unique cutting-edge, 501c-3 digital history project at Baylor University through a gift in honor or memory of one of these incredible pioneers.  We are determined to continue our mission, but WE NEED YOUR HELP!

God bless you all... HAPPY WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH!
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Nancy Parrish is the Creator/Designer of the “Fly Girls Traveling WASP Exhibit,”  volunteer Director of Wings Across America at Baylor University, Author of “WASP IN THEIR OWN WORDS, An Illustrated History of the WASP”  and Creator of WASP on the WEB.

CSPAN'S VIDEO COVERAGE OF THE CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL CEREMONY
WINGS ACROSS AMERICA'S Congressional Gold Medal Photo Album


PLEASE SHARE THIS MESSAGE AND SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THE AMAZING WASP!