Congressional Gold Medals are proposed for World War II work by Women Airforce Service Pilots
12:00 AM CDT on Friday, March 27, 2009
Corpus Christi Caller-Times
CORPUS CHRISTI – Looking out the windows of her 14th-floor apartment at Trinity Towers reminds Maxine Flournoy of her cockpit view from World War II military aircraft.
"I loved flying," Flournoy, 87, said, while fingering a diamond airplane brooch on her collar, "even that twin-engine trainer we called the bamboo bomber because it was fabric covered."
Flournoy is one of 300 surviving Women Airforce Service Pilots who soon may be recognized for their efforts during World War II. In all, 1,102 female pilots served.
"Their service paved the way for all women who serve valiantly in the military today," said U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who recently introduced a bill, co-sponsored by all female members of the Senate, to award the women the Congressional Gold Medal, which is awarded for exceptional service to the United States. The U.S. Mint designs and creates each medal to uniquely represent the individuals being honored.
"Each of these women are fascinating," said Deanie Bishop Parrish, one of the female pilots and associate director of Wings Across America, a group that has compiled interviews with about 100 of the women. "They're all different, but each has the can-do, just-get-out-of-my-way-and-let-me-do-it spirit."
Unlike their male counterparts, the women were civilians and had to complete pilot training before being considered for the program. Flournoy completed a pilot training program in early 1941 at a junior college in Joplin, Mo.
Later, while working as a grinder at a defense plant making dies for bullet-shell casings, she learned about the call for female pilots. She quit her job and took a bus to Kansas City to volunteer.
Once accepted into the program, (--added for accuracy--SHE COMPLETED OVER 5 MONTHS OF ARMY AIR FORCE FLIGHT TRAINING) she was taken by train to Hondo, where she lived in a barracks with other female pilots while working the next year and a half flying a variety of aircraft. Sometimes, she did training flights for male navigation cadets. Other times, she flew in short spurts to break in engines, she said.
After the war, the women paid their own way home. Families of 38 of the women who died in the line of duty bore the costs of transporting their bodies home and conducting funerals.
It was 1977 before the women were granted status as veterans.
After her service, Flournoy said she "wrote to every address I could find to continue flying." And that's how she came to Alice, where she lived for nearly 60 years. She landed a part-time commercial pilot job there in early 1945.
"They didn't pay me as much as a they would a man," she said. "But I was happy."
She met Lucien Flournoy there. He was a petroleum engineer in 1945 for an Arkansas company that her boss's drilling company was working with.
"My boss asked if Lucien wanted to meet his pilot," she said. "He was surprised I was a gal, and he didn't waste much time asking me for a date."
They married a year later and during the next 20 years raised three daughters before she flew again.
In the mid-1960s, Lucien, who died in 2003, bought an airplane for a charter service he launched.
"While it was for the business, he told me it was mine," she said. "So I called it mine whether it was or not."
She flew to annual Women Airforce Service Pilots reunions until about 1985, when an oil-field recession required selling the airplane, she said. She hasn't piloted since.
"I was sorry to let it go," she said. "I had to take an airline flight to my next reunion, and it wasn't the same."
Corpus Christi Caller-Times