Waco woman amoung WWII Pilots to be honored
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Waco resident Nancy Parrish fought for over a decade for her mother Deanie’s place in the history books.
Now, thanks to a bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas., Deanie and her fellow WASPS can receive Congressional Gold Medals honoring their service as World War II pilots. The bill passed both houses of Congress and now awaits the president’s signature.
The Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) were a group of more than 1,000 women who served during World War II when the Air Force was short on pilots. WASPs were even stationed at Waco’s Army airfield.
“WASPs flew every type of mission the male Air Force pilots did within the continental United States and flew every type of airplane, from the fastest fighters to the heaviest bombers,” Deanie Parrish said.
During her service, Deanie Parrish flew a B-26 twin engine plane nicknamed “the widow maker” on account of its dangerous record. She helped test planes after repairs and flew missions to help train gunners for combat.
WASPs were the first women allowed to fly military aircraft.
“The WASPs proved airplanes don’t know the difference between men and women,” Nancy Parrish said.
Though the WASPs served equally and were sworn in identically to their male counterparts, they did not receive the same awards and recognition.
“These ladies raised their right hands and swore to protect the country, but if a woman pilot was killed, since they were still considered civilians, they had to take up a collection to pay to ship their bodies, and they couldn’t have the flag draped over their coffins,” Nancy Parrish said.
In addition, the WASPs’ military records were sealed and classified in 1944 after Congress voted not to militarize the group.
“We disbanded on Dec. 20, 1944, with no honors, no rewards and no benefits. We simply hung up our parachutes and paid our own way home,” Deanie Parrish said.
In 1977, the U.S. Air Force Academy issued a press release saying 10 women would be graduating as the group’s first female pilots.
Outraged, WASPs fought to get their records opened and win the recognition they deserved. With the help of Sen. Barry Goldwater, the WASPs were able to achieve their goal, Deanie Parrish said.
However, Nancy Parrish was not satisfied with the public’s general lack of knowledge of her mother’s accomplishments.
“These women were pioneers for all the women flying today in Afghanistan and Iraq. The WASPs did it first,” she said.
Nancy Parrish owes her existence to the WASPs, as her father, a former military pilot, met her mother on a training mission.
Nancy Parrish formed the nonprofit group Wings Across America with assistance from Baylor University to share the history of the WASPs.
From her Waco base, she worked full time with no pay to interview 100 of the approximately 300 living WASP members and record their history.
In 2003, Nancy Parrish founded the WASP museum at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, the location of the WASPs’ training facility.
She also displayed a WASP exhibit in Baylor’s Mayborn Museum in 2007. An expanded version of this exhibit is now in the Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.
For Nancy and Deanie Parrish, the congressional medals are a platform to help them educate Americans about the contributions the WASPs made to society.
“I don’t want a medal, I want to educate America,” Deanie Parrish said. “The medal helps people learn about this missing part of America’s history. I want it to be taught in classrooms from history books.”
Because Nancy Parrish has dedicated years to proclaiming her mother’s heroism, Deanie claims Nancy should receive equal acclaim for her work.
“Nancy has volunteered for the last 11 years without pay. She’s been a liaison between us and the legislators. Without her, no one would be getting a Congressional Gold Medal,” she said.
Currently, Deanie Parrish is working on a book profiling 10 of the most interesting WASPs, and Nancy Parrish is finishing a documentary.
“We were the first females to fly military aircraft. Whether you like it or not, we’re a part of Air Force history,” Deanie Parrish said.
For more information, visit www.wingsacrossamerica.us.
Staff writer Chad Shanks and Cox News Service contributed to this story.