Archives: Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)

Time Travel: Adjusting to life after WASP

February, 1946. Seventy years ago this month.


Post-war life settles into a steadier rhythm. Couple marry and forge a new life. Newborn babies greet the world. Veterans have returned, and America marches–scars and all–into a peaceful future.

But what about the WASP? How did each of them adjust?

Newsletters by and for WASP, archived by Texas Woman’s University, give us a glimpse. See the full newsletter here.

Pages are filled with snippets of highlights that hit the major points. Ann had a baby boy, Julia and her husband have settled in Chicago.

An impressive number kept flying with aviation-related careers–flight instructors, work at aviation companies. One WASP did double-duty as a WAVE.

But each page of the newsletter is soaked in longing for the skies. The WASP missed their adventures, if this publication is any indication.

One WASP had trouble letting go. “All you do is live in the past,” her admiring but concerned younger brother said. Her solution after that wake-up call? In a nutshell: keep busy, keep flying, and keep remembering to be grateful for the experiences she was fortunate to have.

Sounds like a good way to adjust to today’s life, too…keep busy, keep up our talents, and remember to be grateful.


Time Travel: Skipping Stones

Veterans’ Day. As Americans we celebrate their sacrifices and service every November.

For the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) of World War II, our annual celebrations didn’t include them until 1977. Over 30 years after their service, these women finally received the nod of acknowledgment from the U.S. government. They’ll tell you–the ones who still live today–that they didn’t do it for the recognition. But it’s right, just the same.

And in 2010, the WASP added Congressional Medal recipients to their status as veterans. They never imagined it possible. But it’s fitting, just the same.

These honors skipped decades. …But like stones skipped on a pond’s glassy surface and their ripples, the effects of the women who earned them are felt far beyond their lifetimes.

To hear their own words on that historic day in Washington, D.C., take a look at this five-minute news story:


Moving On

We’re in the middle of a big transition right now. And right now, I hate my stuff. All of it. Well, almost.

Okay, not really. It’s when things multiply in closets over the years that you start to eye those trendy Tiny Homes with new interest.

Do you think the ladies of World War II and the WASP had that issue? Just what did they have to keep up with during their moves?

Let’s take a peek at their living quarters, called bays. By the way, six cadets shared a bay, and two bays–twelve cadets–shared one toilet and one shower.

From the WASP WWII Museum website

From the WASP WWII Museum website

See those white lockers? Each cadet filled half of one. So, imagine your junior high school locker. Now imagine living out of it. Cadets could also have a smallish suitcase or footlocker, but that was it.

Not much to go on, but not much to have to keep up with, either, when living on the go.

It makes me appreciate anew the situations that they and all service people live in.

Time Travel: A Flight Line Easter

Happy Day-After-Easter! Did you have a good Easter Sunday?

Last week I played a little with my newest research toy, The Portal to Texas History, which I wrote about in this post. A great picture popped up. It shows four women “somewhere in Texas” on Easter Sunday, 1944.

Photo courtesy of 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum - Abilene, Texas

Photo courtesy of 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum – Abilene, Texas

I don’t know their story or where their rambling took them. I do know that it reminds me of the women in my current work-in-progress, Wild Blue Yonder. Here’s a sneak peek at the draft, where we find Josie and friends Maggie and Otto on a pensive Easter Sunday morning at Avenger Field:

Small clusters of cadets, officers, and other staff dotted the far edge of the flight line, mostly shadows in the bluing darkness. As they hurried to the crowd for windbreak, Josie glanced over her shoulder toward the east. Pink tinged the horizon. God was about to serve up another morning. She’d never grow tired of those sunrises, those sunsets. Especially the sunsets, when she felt more alive, more awake to enjoy it. She blinked, still bleary-eyed.

As they joined a small group of friends, she did a little jig, hoping to warm up. Before long the booming male voice of the chaplain broke the calm of hushed conversation. “Let us begin with prayer. Our Father…”

While his prayer droned, Josie sneaked a peek past the chaplain’s shoulder. The light kept coming from the land. It reached up and over the rolling, open plains. Stretched to the craggy hills off to the south. Kept climbing to the sky and out to her. Was this beauty what Mitch witnessed every day, in heaven? Did Jesus see a sunrise like this that first Easter morning? Despite rapid blinking a tear blazed a trail down her cheek. She let it fall unchecked.

Another thought invaded. Pete loved sunrises, the crazy rooster. What was he doing right now? Could he see this same sunrise? Great. More grief.

After a few minutes and during a hymn, those first bright rays seared the dark and jabbed her eyes. She had to clamp her eyes shut under its brilliance. But her nose warmed a smidgen, then the rest of her face. She joined the singing. Her face felt good with the exercise.

Their voices carried far across the flight line. The thawing of the land couldn’t make their breath invisible. She peered at the group around her, past Maggie, past Otto. With each exhale it looked like dozens of tiny steam engines sighing. She grinned. Trying not to appear conspicuous, she swung her gaze to the other side of the crowd. Warmth filled her. The crowed absorbed some of her hollow grief, just a little.

The hymn ended. As the last note faded into the golden sky, movement caught her from the corner of her vision. She jerked her head. There, hurrying away from the huddled group. Betts? Chill ran through her. What was that snake doing here? Then came the shame. What was it about her that set her off so easily? The mental list grew long, sure. But did it have to? She closed her eyes. At once a mind’s eye picture flashed. Betts scurrying away, but she didn’t walk alone. Jesus matched her stride, his comforting arm holding her steady.

She snapped her eyes open. So Jesus cared about even someone like Betts? She chewed on the thought for a moment. Her own unspoken words started to sound ridiculous. Of course Jesus loved “someone like Betts.” Her cheeks puffed with a blown breath and she shifted. It might take her longer to feel the same. She held too many sorrows in her heart today to make room for the unpleasantness of Betts.

“Thank you.” The whispered words in her hear jarred her thoughts and made her jump an inch.

Josie chuckled to herself and looked at Maggie. She knew what she meant and leaned sideways into her friend for a moment. “You’re welcome, Mags.” A few heads around them turned to frown their disapproval for the disruption.

The words of the chaplain’s sermon rose with feeling, warmth matching the dawning day. He held his notes loosely and gestured with them. Then a West Texas wind gust swooshed from the east and scooped his notes, scattering them like confetti. The chaplain and those in front grabbed in vain for the dozen or so papers. Otto couldn’t help adding a “Hee heee!” of delight.

Josie stood, transfixed, and watched the papers fly to freedom. The chaplain had held them in his possession. He had ordered them just so, as he wanted them. Then nature dallied with him, on its whim. Almost made a joke of his sham of control over this morning. His careful planning all for naught. Sympathy stretched from her soul toward his dance to grab what he could.

Josie watched as some of the papers remained in flight, out of the reach of the helpers. The strengthening sun touched a few of them just right. She looked down at the packed ground. Those papers cast shadows, here and there. It struck her as a beautiful chaos, like the paper tube kaleidoscopes she’d peered through at the Taylor County Fair. The breeze kept the dance going for a several moments, some staying far, some flying away. The shadows kept bearing witness. Josie felt odd. It would stick in her memory as one of the prettiest things she’d ever seen.

The chaplain gave up with a sheepish smile. He waved his arms to conduct the congregation in a final hymn.

How about you? Tell us about a memorable Easter you’ve had.

Related link: 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum

High Flying Christmas, Take Two

It’s a Grab Bag Monday! I’m re-posting “High-Flying Christmas,” a short story I wrote in 2011. Today’s version includes minor edits. We’ll see how Josie James, the heroine from my novel Wild Blue Yonder, spends a Christmas during World War II. Merry Christmas!

Christmas World War II

Come on, you Yellow Pansy!” Josie muttered at her parked Stearman biplane. Only when it didn’t cooperate, like now, did she use the canary-colored plane’s nickname.

She strolled around a few seconds to refocus, hands on her hips, then turned on a heel to face the propeller once again. With a swift motion she yanked with all her might. The plane chugged, sputtered in protest, then fell silent as if pouting. Frustration rocketed out of Josie. Her fist connected with the cold metal shell of the plane with a dull thud. The bitter chill of the wind magnified ache in her knuckles and the remorse for punishing her Stearman.

It was Christmas Eve, for Pete’s sake. Only two days off from WASP training. She shook her sore hand and glanced around the bare, rolling plains. Wind whipped her chin-length hair into her eyes, but she could still see far down the dirt runway in the mid-afternoon stretch of sunlight. Maybe two more hours of daylight. Maybe.

Hmmm. Only a few miles back to Avenger Field. Even so, Otto was long gone and daylight was burnin’. West Texas dust had trailed her truck after she’d dropped off Josie where the Stearman was parked on a family friend’s air strip.

She turned and sized up the plane once again while hugging her thin coat to herself. It had to start. She placed an open hand on the side of the plane as an apology for the punch. The faithful Stearman hadn’t deserved that. She shot a quick prayer skyward – part plea for help and part asking forgiveness for getting distracted from Jesus’ birthday. Taking a deep breath, she rounded the front and turned to the propeller once more. One more swift yank, one more burst of hope.

She shouldn’t have been surprised. The motor roared to life and the baritone whirrr warmed her heart. The last few months had taught her that nothing was impossible. Now, what was that saying? …Something about truth being stranger than fiction? She chuckled at the memories of the last month-and-a-half, yet wasted no time. Two seconds and she vaulted herself from wing to cockpit.

Mercy, it felt good to be back in her family’s plane. To grasp familiar controls. No cramming bushels of new information just to get airborne. She smiled and sped through the pre-flight check with expert precision. A quick touch to two bags at her feet and she was ready. She smiled with gratitude. Mama and Daddy had scraped together enough rationed fuel for this trip.

Within moments she rumbled down the airstrip, easing the controls in a firm, smooth motion to push away from the land.

She leaned into a steep bank from north to east. Oh, how she loved those turns. She surveyed the land and caught sight of Sweetwater on the horizon. Cold air turned her nose as red as Rudolph’s. After sailing by the sleepy town, she headed southeast. It was almost as if the plane could fly home blindfolded to the James family farm.

Home. The thought warmed her as she readjusted in her seat. Her weary body and mind rejoiced to be free from the rigors of training for a couple of days.

If only Johnny would be there with them. The sting of missing her older brother pricked her.  What would his Christmas be like? Leading a mission? Hunkering down in a chilly tent with a bunch of stinky fellows, all wishing they were home with their families?

Yet pride filled her as she thought of her brother’s service to their country, to the free world. He’d be home as soon as he could. In the meantime her parents awaited her return tonight.

Before that, though, she had a job to do. The time in the air would give her the chance to plan that she’d missed while working on the plane. She rechecked her bearings while noting the faint outline of Abilene to her left. Good thing she didn’t have to stare down the setting sun on her other side. Satisfied, she let part of her mind focus on the task at hand. The bit of money she’d earn would surely come in handy on the farm.

Now, she had to time it just ri–

“Yowww!!!” Josie yelped and jumped in her seat. The plane lurched off course. Confusion clouded her mind. She scrambled for the controls and tipped the wings level again.

Only then did she look down to see what pain gripped her thigh. Breathing hard, her eyes grew as big as Mama’s pecan pies when she spotted him.

“Confound it, Gravy!” The scared, crouching cat at her feet stared at her with innocent eyes while an outstretched paw hooked claws into her leg. “How in tarnation did you get here?” More stares.

Josie tore her eyes away to regain her bearings. Her thoughts raced and she shook her head. She dared a glance down. Yep, still there. Still staring at her.

That infernal cat. He’d almost been the death of her almost as soon as she’d set foot on Avenger Field.  Cats belonged in barns, earning their keep by mousing. This flea bag – she felt him climb onto her lap, gripping claws all the way – had made her dream her first week about warm Russian-style hats. She’d read about them in school. When she awoke one morning from the recurring dream, she’d heard purring. Jerking fully awake, she looked at her pillow only to see this lounging gray and cream tabby cat gazing at her, content. She’d shooed it off her cot and watched, still in disbelief, as it hopped on another one and out the open window.

Her five baymates–her friends–had only chuckled and ignored her attempts to keep him out. Liza, who slept closest to the window, would reopen it after Josie conked out every night. The routine repeated each day. Before long he’d taken on the name of Gravy, after the cream-colored fur on his soft belly.  Josie allowed a small smile.  Truth be told, she’d never slept better than when he warmed her head each night. Not that she’d admit that to anyone. She cleared her throat.

Quick scans around the cockpit floor confirmed her suspicion. Her canvas bag now gaped. Bits of fur decorated the opening. “Well, cat,” she glanced down at his closed eyes. How could he sleep up here in the sky, and so quickly? “I reckon Brown Betty will have a barn visitor for Christmas.” She laughed out loud, anticipating her mare’s whinny of displeasure. Brown Betty didn’t like cats any more than she liked swarming flies on a June afternoon.

Ugh. Josie clamped her mouth shut. She’d laughed too long and swallowed a high-flying bug. Her grimace continued through a coughing fit. Get it together, flygirl! She peered ahead and took in Buffalo Gap’s twin hills getting bigger. Shadows below were getting longer, too. Time was running out to finish her plan.

Now, where was the Kramer house from here? Mr. Olin, the baker in Sweetwater, had described it to her while handing a warm cinnamon roll over his counter. “It’s across the road from the church,” he said with a nod and a smile. “Red bench out front. My son-in-law built it himself. Can’t miss it.” The family had moved to Buffalo Gap two months prior. Josie asked Mr. Olin to hold the reward until after she’d completed her mission.

The glaring sunset chased her toward town. She leaned forward. Gravy stirred. Would she be able to find their home in time?

A few minutes later her hopes had faded with the light as she approached town. She couldn’t see the houses below in the gray dusk. Her pulse raced. Another quick prayer.

Her mind went blank as the town turned black. Faint lantern light flickering in a few windows offered now help. She sighed. An incomplete mission. She frowned yet stayed her course.

Just as she was thinking of how to explain it to Mr. Olin, a bright glow glimmered ahead. What in the world?

Then it dawned on her. The church’s Christmas Eve service. She smiled, tears trailing down her cheeks. Moment by moment the light grew. She began to make out the line of people streaming outside to the front yard, candles in hand.  The light grew so much as she neared that the glow spilled to the neighboring houses. Josie banked, circling over the neighborhood.  It just might work…

She frantically scanned the small homes and yards. Where was it? She dipped the nose of the plane lower.

The she spotted it. The red bench, tiny below. And a couple with a little boy perched on their laps, watching the candlelight service. She kept one hand on the controls and reached the other for her second bag, a round, burlap one cinched near the top.

Wait, wait….now! As she shoved the bag over the side, the painted red words on the bag “From Santa” rolled by her. She caught a glimpse of the surprised churchgoers as she pulled up hard.  The plane’s flyby extinguished some of the candles, and a few raised, shaking fists spoke of frustration. Others peered or waved. Gravy gripped her lap.

Had it made it? She had to know. She swung wide and returned.

She craned her neck and found the home again. Peering through the dark she spotted the parents kneeling over the open bag. Wrapped packages sat next to it. The little boy jumped up and down. Just before she passed out of view the parents looked up and smiled at her. Her own huge smile made her frozen cheeks hurt.

She didn’t care. Mission accomplished. Yellow Pansy veered east and headed home.