Friday, April 29, 2011
Texas Gov. Ann Richards once said that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only she did it backward and in high heels.
That sentiment certainly resonates with Nancy Parrish, whose mother, Deanie Parrish, was a member of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots. These female aviators flew noncombat missions within the United States during World War II, freeing male pilots to fight the war. And they did it without the benefits their male counterparts enjoyed.
Nancy, a former Public Broadcasting Service producer/director, was the guest speaker at the Operational Test Command Women's History Month observance Thursday, bringing her mother along as a special guest. Hosted by Operational Test Command's Aviation Test Directorate, the WASP program was the brainchild of Ronni Parsons, a test directorate operational research systems analyst.
"It was a very different time in America before World War II," Nancy said. "American women weren't expected to be leaders; they were expected to be mothers, housewives, maybe secretaries.
"If they went to college, they didn't take classes in avionics, politics or debate. They took typing and stenography."
But Dec. 7, 1941, (the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor) changed everything, Nancy said.
"Our innocence was shattered, and for the first time in our country's history, women were invited to help in the fight," she said. "And the campaign in North Africa cost us a lot of pilots."
All the services started recruiting women, Nancy said, and it wasn't long before America's foremost female aviator, Jacqueline Cochran, had the idea that women could be trained to fly weather, ferrying, target-towing, flight training and cargo transport missions. Cochran was able to convince Gen. Hap Arnold, the Army Air Corps commander, that her idea would work, and the program got under way at the Houston airport in 1942.
Twenty-five thousand women applied, but only 1,830 were accepted into the program. They came from all walks of life, Parrish said, and they did it because they wanted to serve their country and they loved flying. By the time the last class graduated in 1944, she said, WASP had flown more than 60 million miles.
"These women went through the same flight training as the men," she said. "They flew dilapidated planes; they flew every kind of aircraft, and they flew every kind of mission except combat. Initially, they had to provide their own uniforms.
"When the WASP disbanded, these women had to pay their way back home," Nancy said. "Thirty-eight of them were killed, but because they had no benefits, the women had to take up collections to get their bodies back home to their families."
WASP military records were sealed, stamped "classified" and filed in government archives for 33 years, and it wasn't until 1977 that Congress voted to give WASP veteran status.
"They were the best-kept secret of World War II," Nancy said. "They weren't even invited to the bill signing and received no official thank you from then-President Carter."
Finally, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Tx. and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., sponsored bipartisan legislation in 2009 to grant Congressional gold medals to WASP. At the ceremony in 2010, Deanie Parrish was among the 175 WASPs who received the honon (and accepted the award on behalf of all the WASP).
"For me it was both an honor and a privilege," Deanie said. "I have always believed that with God, all things are possible."
Presenting commander's coins to both women, Brig. Gen. Don MacWillie, Operational Test Command's commanding general, said he was at a loss for words. "I can't imagine what kind of human being it takes who looked at all the challenges and said, 'I'm going to overcome that.'"
More information about WASP is available at www.wingsacrossamerica.us .
More on Deanie Parrish
More on Nancy Parrish
"WASP In Their Own Words, an Illustrated History," by Nancy Parrish
Monday, April 4, 2011
Waco woman to be recognized for WWII service...By Regina Dennis
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Monday April 4, 2011
A Waco woman who has worked to spread the history of civilian* female pilots who served during World War II will be inducted into a prestigious group of aviation pioneers this June.
Deanie Parrish will be one of 14 aviators inducted as Eagles by the Gathering of Eagles program at Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala.
Parrish was among the 1,102 female pilots trained as Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, to fly U.S.-based training missions during World War II.
Waco resident Deanie Parish will be inducted as an Eagle by the Air Command and Staff College for her contributions as a WWII Woman Airforce Service Pilot.
The 30th annual event, to be held May 31 through June 5, recognizes veteran aviation pioneers and connects them with Air Force officers who are graduating from the college’s yearlong leadership training program.
Past honorees include astronaut Neil Armstrong and President George H.W. Bush. Parrish is the 18th woman and fourth WASP to be inducted as an Eagle.
“It’s become an interaction between the seasoned and future military leadership so we, the future leaders, can learn from their lessons learned and some of the different events and historical moments that they went through,” said Air Force Maj. Kristi Beckman, who will graduate from the program this May.
Beckman traveled to Waco on Thursday to meet Parrish, whom Beckman selected as her personal Eagle for the awards ceremony.
Beckman has produced a video documentary of Parrish’s accomplishments and will interview her for a Q&A session with the college’s 508 graduating officers during the Gathering of Eagles celebration.
Parrish spent more than four hours Friday signing her name to 400 copies of a lithograph painting that portrays this year’s 14 Eagles. The lithographs will be sold to raise money for the nonprofit Gathering of Eagles.
Parrish said she was surprised to be selected for the award, noting that other honorees this year include a Tuskegee Airman, the current NASA administrator, a former CIA director and a Tactical Air Party Controller who had 80 percent of his body burned by a bomb in Afghanistan but chose to continue to serve.
“When you see what all this group has accomplished, I don’t know how they chose little old me,” Parrish said with a smile.
But Beckman said Parrish’s determination to learn to fly and serve her country paved the way for other women to do the same.
“If it wasn’t for women like her, the WASP, I don’t even know what the Air Force would look like for women, and I don’t know if we’d even have these opportunities,” said Beckman, who has been in the Air Force for 14 years. “To read about her story is just inspiring, because she didn’t care what anyone told her.”
Learning to fly
Parrish was working as a teller at a bank in her hometown of Avon Park, Fla., when the Army Air Force started an aviation school in town to train new male pilots in advance of the impending Word War II.
“There were all these good-looking flight instructors coming in every week to cash their checks,” Parrish said, laughing. “And then I started to see the cadets, and I thought, ‘They’re my peers, they’re the same age I am, and they’re learning to fly airplanes. . . . Why can’t I learn to fly?’ ”
Convinced she should be a given a chance to fly, Parrish persuaded one of the instructors to train her to fly in his private plane.
Parrish later learned about a civilian flight training program to prepare women for at-home flight missions while male pilots were sent to fight overseas. She paid her own way to travel by train to Avenger Air Field in Sweetwater in 1944 to enter the program.
After completing the seven-month training, Parrish was assigned as a test pilot at Greenville Air Force Base in Mississippi to fly newly repaired planes before they could be used by male instructors and cadets for training flights.
Parrish’s next assignment was at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla., where she trained to fly the B-26 “Martin Marauder” planes. She flew the twin-engine bombers as a tow-target pilot, pulling a white banner behind her that gunner pilots shot live ammunition rounds at for target practice.
Parrish stayed at Tyndall until the WASPs were disbanded. She married Lt. Bill Parrish, who served in her unit at the base.
“It was a job that needed to be done, and it was for my country and that’s what I did it for,” Parrish said. “And when it was over, it was over, and I went on with my life.”
Parrish has spent the past 15 years working with her daughter, Nancy, a former producer for KWBU, to chronicle the WASPs’ history. The duo have put together a documentary of interviews with 115 WASPs, created a traveling and permanent WASP exhibit, and helped found a WASP museum in Sweetwater.
“I think the need is not just for the history,” Nancy Parrish said. “I think people are hungry these days for pillars, for role models, for people they can look up to who have the best-lived lives, people who seemed to go above and beyond.”
The WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010, the highest honor for civilians, for their service. Deanie Parrish accepted the award on behalf of the fewer than 300 remaining WASPs at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., last spring.
MORE ABOUT DEANIE PARRISH
CSPAN VIDEO GOLD MEDAL CEREMONY
WINGS ACROSS AMERICA
WASP ON THE WEB
LINK TO ALBUM
photos of Major Beckman, WASP Deanie Parrish, Regina Dennis and the WACO experience
* WASP were considered civilians until 1977, when they were awarded their honorable discharges and veteran status, by act of Congress.
Thank you to the Waco Tribune Herald, for publishing the original article. This has been most respectfully posted and linked online so that our many, many visitors around the world can read it. Thank you, Regina, for doing such a great job!