Wednesday, September 30, 2009


U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer presents Mary Nirmaier of Columbia, left, and Rose Ross of Moberly with framed copies of remarks he entered into the Congressional Record on behalf of their being honored with the Congressional Gold Medal. Both women were Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II.


Mary Burch Nirmaier had a different reason for joining the Women Airforce Service Pilots than her friends had.

“My roommates joined because there were a lot of boys around, not because they were interested in flying,” she said. “I was interested in learning to fly. To heck with meeting boys.”

Her interest paid off. Nirmaier, of Columbia, and fellow WASP veteran Rose “Penny” Ross of Moberly were recognized yesterday by U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., for being among 300 surviving members of WASP. This summer President Barack Obama honored members with a Congressional Gold Medal.

Nirmaier was a secretary in Washington, D.C., when WASP was created in 1943, a consolidation of female pilots flying for the Army Air Forces. Her brothers were in the military, and she wanted to play her part. “I said, ‘I’ve just got to go,’” she recalled. “So I did.”

After joining an airplane club and accumulating the required hours of flying time, she went to the Army’s flying school in Sweetwater, Texas, and graduated in 1944.

Nirmaier and Ross were among a select few to do so. According to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, more than 25,000 women applied for pilot training, of which 1,830 were accepted and fewer than 1,200 graduated. The pilots flew noncombat missions, freeing up male pilots for combat service.

The women also challenged their male counterparts. The WASPs flew demonstration flights in the B-26 and B-29 bombers to prove to men that the new planes were easy to operate, according to the museum.

Nirmaier flew B-25s for two years during the war.

The son of a World War II veteran, Luetkemeyer praised the women for their service, saying they played a key role in war efforts.

“I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to be able to help the United States,” Ross said.

“I second that,” Nirmaier added.

Ross landed for good after leaving the WASPs, but Nirmaier continued to be interested in flying. A couple of years ago, her son bought her a flight aboard a small aircraft.

Getting inside the plane, Nirmaier said yesterday, “It all came back. It was all I could do to not take the control. But” the pilot “didn’t ask me to, so I didn’t.”

“Good girl,” Ross quipped.

Reach Janese Heavin at 573-815-1705 or e-mail