Monday, May 31, 2010

Hattiesburg man recalls wife's WWII service as pilot


HATTIESBURG — Jim Bishop was an Army Air Corps pilot when he met the woman who would become his wife of 63 years, Edna "Kitty" Hines.
Like her husband-to-be, Hines also flew military aircraft stateside during World War II, one of only 1,100 women nationwide that graduated into the an elite service known as WASP.
For decades, the Women Airforce Service Pilots were considered a civilian outfit until they were given their due in the late 1970s and officially brought under the military's umbrella.
Earlier this year, to honor the contributions of WASP, the federal government awarded the women the Congressional Gold Medal - the nation's highest civilian honor.
Fewer than 300 WASPs are alive today. Kitty Hines Bishop died in 2007.
But Jim Bishop said he knows what she would have thought about the package that arrived a few weeks ago at the Hattiesburg home they shared.
"She would have been very proud," Bishop said of the large, circular medal on display in a living room already speckled with pictures and other mementos of his wife's days as an aviator.
"And we were proud for her."
During the medal ceremony on Capitol Hill in March for the surviving WASP members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the former pilots they had blazed a trail for other women in the military.
The WASP, which existed from September 1942 through December 1944, was created to free male pilots to fly in the European and Pacific theaters. The women shuttled military personnel from site to site, ferried new aircraft from factories to bases and carried out training missions.
Fewer than 2,000 of the 25,000 women who applied for the Women's Flying Training Detachment were accepted into the program. Fewer than 1,100 graduated into the WASP.
After earning her wings in April 1944, Kitty Hines Bishop was first stationed in Long Beach, Calif., and then after stops around the country, landed at Camp Stewart in Hinesville, Ga., and was stationed at Liberty Field.
"It was a tow-target squadron field," Jim Bishop said. "They flew missions for anti-aircraft training. They flew with targets that came out of the back of B-38s. There'd be about 2,400 feet of cable and in back of that, these great, big, cloth targets. The anti-aircraft folks on the ground would try to hit those targets.
"They also flew night missions for searchlight training."
Though the WASP never flew in combat, 38 women died while flying for the Army Air Corps.
Bishop said while he and his future wife were stationed at Camp Stewart one of the tow planes was hit by anti-aircraft flak during a training run.
"The woman flying it, when she got back down, she went over and chewed them out," he said.
The couple met at Liberty Field. He was a Mississippian, she a native Oklahoman, who grew up in California.
Bishop said Hines logged 200 hours flight time before applying for the WASP. After graduating with the Class of 1943-44 in Sweetwater, Texas, she flew about another 800 hours for the military.

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