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.
Duane A. Laverty / Waco Tribune-Herald
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.

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!