Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Llano, Texas honors their WASP

Millie Dalrymple is a true American hero, and an exceptional representative for the little town of Llano. She was born into one of Llano’s most celebrated families: her father was Roy Inks, the local merchant and mayor for whom Inks Lake, Inks Dam and the Roy Inks Bridge across the Llano River are named; her mother was Myrtle Moss, whose father, Aaron F. Moss owned a 30,000-acre ranch in southern Llano County. Millie’s great-grandfather was Matthew Moss, who fought with General Sam Houston and is the only San Jacinto veteran buried in Llano County.

Millie earned a journalism degree at the University of Texas, and married a handsome young airman named Bill Davidson, from Houston, in 1942. She worked as a secretary in the Austin Adjutant General’s office while Bill went off to war; he was shot down over the North Sea on February 4, 1943.

Millie had been interested in flying ever since her grandfather had chartered an airplane and taken her for a ride as a small child. About a month after Bill’s death, she saw an article in the newspaper about a women’s flying unit being formed as part of the Army Air Corps. With her friend Kay D’Arezzo, whose husband was also missing in action, she took flying lessons and joined the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) for training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater. They were two of the approximately four percent of applicants who actually “earned their wings.”

The successful applicants were sometimes in dangerous places or in dangerous conditions, and thirty-eight of the just-over-one thousand WASP pilots died during the year-and-a-half program. Millie’s usual job was to fly B-24 bomber’s around the U.S for “four or five hours” after repairs, to make sure that the planes were ready for combat service.

The WASPs were considered civilian employees, and did not receive military benefits. And when they were disbanded in December of 1944, all the unit’s records were classified, so the pilots received little or no recognition for their wartime service. After the war ended, Millie married another airman, a childhood friend from Llano named Edwin Dalrymple. Their first son, Dennis, was born on Millie’s 27th birthday.

Edwin got a job with the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, and their next two children were born up north (the youngest, Tom, is now a city councilman here in Llano and owns the building where Millie’s father once operated the local Ford dealership). The family moved to Houston when Edwin got a transfer in 1956, and then to Austin when he retired from the FBI in 1968. With her youngest in high school, Millie took a job supervising the Communications Center at National Western Life Insurance; after ten years there, she was asked to set up a similar system for the Texas State Legislature.

In the meantime, under the leadership of Col. Bruce Arnold (son of General Hap Arnold, an aviation pioneer and the only man ever to be a five-star general in both the Army and the Air Force), the WASPs fought the "Battle of Congress" in Washington, D.C. in 1975. With the important support of Senator Barry Goldwater, who himself had been a WWII ferry pilot in the 27th Ferry Squadron, the WASPs belatedly obtained recognition as veterans of World War II. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation granting the WASP corps full military status for their service. In 1984, each WASP was awarded the World War II Victory Medal. Those who served for more than one year were also awarded American Theater Ribbon/American Campaign Medal for their service during the war. Many of the medals were received by their sons and daughters on their behalf.

During that time, Millie took up the sport of tennis, another pastime in which she soon excelled. Playing doubles with a lady named Betty Mildner, from Lake Jackson, she worked her way up to a ranking of #4 in the nation by 2003, and was invited to play on the U.S. Seniors (over 75) team in the International Friendship Cup competition in Austria. Since 1997, she has been giving speeches about her time as a WASP.

After more than 60 years of marriage, Millie’s husband, Edwin, passed away in 2006. Millie moved into a retirement center called Westminster Manor, in Austin, but continues to lead an active life and make public appearances.

On 1 July 2009 President Barack Obama signed the bill to award the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal. Three of the roughly 300 surviving WASPs were on hand to witness the signing. Millie Dalrymple and apx. 300 other WASP will receive their medals in Washington, DC. Congress will set the date when the design and striking of the medal is completed.***

You can learn more about this remarkable “Llanite” by reading her memoirs (“Millie’s Milestones”), available at the Llano County Public Library.

*** Paragraph was edited for accuracy

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