Friday, August 21, 2009

The Sky's the Limit

August 20, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

WASP Cuts the Ribbon at L 3

Cutting the ribbon: Gordon Collins with Rubb Building Systems, TSTC Waco President Elton Stuckly, Chamber President/CEO Jim Vaughn, Camber Senior VP of Economic Development Sarah Roberts, WASP Deanie Parrish, City Manager Larry Groth and Mayor Virginia DuPuy.

Waco, Texas Monday, August 17, 2009

A new ten-million dollar hangar was officially opened at a ribbon cutting ceremony today at L-3 Integrated Systems in Waco, Texas .

L-3 invited Waco resident WASP Deanie Bishop Parrish to cut the ribbon celebrating the official opening of their new hangar, —87, 000 square feet of state-of-the-art space, which will house four C130's or P-3 aircraft and many smaller sized aircraft. It was constructed by Rubb Building Systems of a composite fabric, allowing for faster construction at a lower cost and providing a very bright work environment. L-3 Communications is the 6th largest defense company in the United States.

L-3 Platform Integration President James Burkhardt presents WASP Deanie Parrish with the division’s president’s coin, a military style challenge coin awarded to high-performing employees and distinguished visitors.

Deanie has a unique 'historical connection' to L-3. She is one of 1100 pioneering female pilots of World War II known as WASP, Women Airforce Service Pilots, the first women in history to fly America’s military aircraft. As a WWII Army Air Force trained Martin Marauder B-26 pilot, Deanie trained to fly instrument on what she calls, "The Blue Box," which is an early flight simulator invented by Ed LINK. This "Link Trainer" was used to train ALL Army Air Force pilots during WWII, and is a colorful part of L3's long history in aviation, setting the standard in aviation training and flight simulation for 80 years.

During her visit, Deanie was also warmly welcomed to the USAF 661st Aeronautical Systems Squadron and was given an opportunity to meet some of the Air Force personnel attached to the squadron and share a short history of her service as a WASP during WWII.

USAF Captain Jeremy Smith welcomes WASP Deanie Parrish to the 661st Aeronautical Systems Squadron

As the result of recently passed legislation, which was signed into law on 1 July 09 by the President of the United States, more and more WASP are being honored across America. Public Law 111-40 will soon honor the service of Deanie and the other WASP with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award the Congress can bestow on a civilian. The medal ceremony will be held in the US Capitol, at a date to be determined, following the designing and 'striking' of the gold medal by the US Mint.

Links to more information:

respectfully submitted, August 20, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Honor for High Service--WASP Kathryn Miles

Appeared in print: Monday, Aug 10, 2009

News: Last Seven Days: Story

Of the nearly 1,200 women who first flew U.S. military aircraft in World War II, fewer than 300 are living. Eugene resident Kathryn Miles, 88, is among them.

Miles and her fellow servicewomen compose a group called the Women Airforce Service Pilots, known as WASPs, which will receive congressional honors after the Senate passed a bill last month to award the women the Congressional Gold Medal for their under-recognized service.

The women who joined the WASPs in 1942 and 1943 did so with the understanding that they would receive full military status and the benefits that came with it when they entered training. Under the direction of the U.S. Army Air Forces, they combined to fly more than 60 million miles on nearly every type of military aircraft and completed every type of mission except direct combat. Among their duties were ferrying new planes from factories to military airfields or towing targets used in anti-aircraft artillery practice.

However, they weren’t afforded active military status. The families of the 38 women who died in service had to pay to fly their bodies home.

“I just accepted that a lot of people had a prejudice against women,” Miles said.

WASPs weren’t acknowledged as a full-fledged military group until 1977, after which Miles struggled to obtain a Veterans Administration loan.

By the time she could have received the loan, she and her husband already had secured funds.

For Miles, the recognition from Congress is hardly too little, too late. The WASPs made a major contribution to generations of servicewomen, she said, and the honor is validation.

“It’s not just that we were successful, which we were, but we paved the way for the women who are in the armed services today,” she said. “It’s lovely that the Senate decided we should be recognized.”

Sen. Ron Wyden will visit Miles’ home on Tuesday to present her with a framed copy of the legislation awarding the medal to WASP members and a U.S. flag.

The awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., where the remaining women will receive their medals before Congress, hasn’t been scheduled yet, but Miles hopes it’s soon. When you get to be the age of the WASP women, you can’t count on how long you’ll be around, she said.

Two of Miles’ comrades — a close friend and one of her roommates from her service days — have died this year.

“It’s very painful when people die this close to the award,” she said.

Only one real medal will be made and it will be housed in the Smithsonian Institution. Miles said the women will receive individual bronze replicas.

Miles’ four children and some of her grandchildren also will attend the ceremony, she said.

After the war, Miles mostly retired from flying. She married in Alaska and moved to Eugene for the region’s natural beauty.

She worked as a teacher and counselor in the Bethel School District.

Miles has fostered friendships with a number of WASP members over the years. Of her winged sisters she said, “We all have a common purpose to inspire young people in aviation.”

65 years later, female WWII test pilots finally recognized

by Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio,
Nikki Tundel, Minnesota Public Radio
August 13, 2009

St. Paul, Minn. — When Elizabeth Strohfus looked into the sky above her hometown of Faribault, Minn., during the height of the Great Depression, she saw a future that didn't involve working at the city clerk's office and struggling in poverty. She saw the clouds and the open air, and she wanted to be up there.

"It began as a young gal trying to climb as high as I could," she said. "I had that feeling that I wanted to get higher."

Strohfus went to the bank, and took out $100 to join a local flying club. She left behind her bicycle as collateral, and headed into the air.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, she quit her job and signed up for the newly formed Women AirForce Service Pilots, where she became one of the first women in the United States to fly military planes.

The story of these women, known as WASP, remains largely unknown. They flew the biggest bomber planes. One of the planes they flew, the Martin B-26 Marauder, was so dangerous that it became known as "The Widowmaker." They even attached a long piece of canvas to the back of their planes to allow men to practice hitting targets -- with live ammunition.

A famous female pilot, Jackie Cochran, spearheaded the effort. The military agreed to create the program in 1942, when they realized it would free up male pilots to go to war. The WASP flew in the United States, since Congress refused to send them into combat or recognize them as official members of the military.

Last month, President Obama signed a bill to give the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award for civilians. President Carter had previously granted the WASP veteran status.

Strohfus and another Minnesota WASP, Mildred "Micky" Axton, will travel to Washington DC in a few months to receive their medals.

Sixty-seven years ago, Axton and Strohfus loaded up their suitcases, unsure of when they would return, and headed for Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. About 25,000 women applied for the program, and 1,800 were chosen.

Axton, 90, recounted her story on a recent afternoon at her Eden Prairie apartment, her walls covered with framed WASP-era photos, her carpeted floor blanketed with cardboard placards pasted with war memorabilia.

Unlike Strohfus, Axton had graduated from college with degrees in math and science. She vividly remembers her first flight as a licensed pilot in Coffeyville, Kan. Her great-grandmother insisted on being her first passenger.

"She said, 'Tip it over, Micky, so I can see better,'" Axton said, laughing. "I said, 'If I do that, we'll get killed.' That settled that."

When her brother left to fight in the Pacific front, Axton felt like she couldn't stay home. "There was no way to keep me from going," she said.

Axton and Strohfus left for Texas, where they lived in military barracks and wore uniforms discarded by male pilots.

"They were big," Strophus, 89, remembered. "Yank 'em up, roll up 'em, we didn't care. We wanted to fly airplanes."

The heat was sometimes unbearable. One night, Axton and her roommates decided to escape the stuffy barracks and sleep outside, but they quickly returned to the barracks after encountering a rattlesnake.

There were many close calls in the air. The WASPs acted as test pilots for aircraft that had been repaired after being damaged in combat. It was a job that didn't have many male volunteers, but the WASP agreed to take on any job that allowed them to fly.

Axton told a story of a time she was flying a repaired twin-engine B-25 bomber, with a male co-pilot who sat behind her.

"We took off and it didn't act right," she said. "I knew it was trouble, and I called the tower and told them I had to bring it in."

The engine was quickly failing, and ambulances rushed to the scene. The male pilot started crying. "He thought he was going to get killed," she said.

Axton managed to bring the plane in. "I was a little shook up, but I was tickled to pieces that I brought it in and didn't hurt anything. It was a nice landing."

Her co-pilot did not share Axton's glee. He was removed from the plane by a medical team and carried away in an ambulance, sobbing.

The military knew that the WASP would fly any plane, but male pilots had preferences. Rumors circulated about the dangers of certain planes, and the military asked the WASP to shame the men into flying them. If a woman could fly a particular plane, the thinking went, so could a man.

This was how Strohfus ended up flying a "Widowmaker," the B-26. The heavy plane had a short wingspan, which required pilots to land the plane at a dangerously fast speed.

"Taking off or landing it was pretty iffy," Strohfus said. "So you had to be careful. You could crash very easily, but I thought it was great. Once you got it in the sky, it was a great plane to fly."

In between flying, the WASP cultivated a unique culture, complete with their own mascot named Fifi, a female cartoon character sporting wings and blue flight goggles. On their way to the runway, the WASP marched through the barracks, singing.

At a recent air show, Strohfus stood behind a booth commemorating her service, and eagerly broke into song, to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy:

"We are Yankee Doodle Pilots, Yankee Doodle, do or die! Real, live nieces of our Uncle Sam, born with a yearning to fly. Keep in step to all our classes, March to flight line with our pals. Yankee Doodle came to Texas just to fly the PTs! We are those Yankee Doodle Gals."

But the mood was not always so upbeat. One night, Axton stood next to the runway, getting ready to fly, when she looked up into the sky, just in time to see a plane descend rapidly and crash a few hundred feet in front of her.

Several of the WASP started to cry, but they were ordered to fly that night, or else leave the program.

"We saw it happen," Axton said. "We were right there waiting to fly. Can you imagine?"

The pilot who died that night was one of 38 WASPs killed while flying. Another was Axton's close friend and roommate, Gertrude Tompkins-Silver. She took off in a P-51 fighter and crashed into the Santa Monica Bay in California. Her body was never recovered.

When WASP died, the military refused to pay to send their bodies home, or provide a military funeral. Instead, the women took up collections for the families to cover the costs.

"They never did get a proper burial," Axton said. "The families had to bury them themselves. That's how those men in Congress were then."

The military disbanded the WASP program in 1944, before the war ended, and sent the women home. Military officials said they had enough pilots, as fewer male pilots had died in combat than expected.

A letter sent to the WASP said, in part, "You have freed male pilots for other work, but now the war situation has changed and the time has come when your volunteered services are no longer needed."

Axton went on to have a successful career at Boeing, and eventually moved to Minnesota. The news hit Strohfus much harder.

"When I got out, no one wanted a woman pilot," she said. "I went to Northwest Airlines and showed them my credentials. I had sea plane, I had a commercial rating, and I had 1,000 hours of flying time. They were very impressed. They surely would like me in their front office. I told 'em what they could do with their front office."

The rejection stung. "I wanted so badly to be out flying that it kind of broke my heart, but that's OK, because that was the way it was."

After the war, "nobody wanted to hear about women pilots," Strohfus said. "They didn't even know we existed. I had everything in my closet, my uniform, my pictures, my books. I told the kids, 'When I die, put it in my coffin.'"

But when the Air Force allowed female pilots to start training in 1976, Strohfus started going to air shows and schools to tell her story.

When she was 72 years old, she asked the military if she could fly the F-16 as a co-pilot. Her request was granted, and she flew with a male pilot over the skies of Duluth. She took over the controls mid-flight.

"I said, 'I'll just do a gentle turn,'" she said. "I did 6 Gs. He said, 'Take it easy. I don't have a brown bag.' I said, 'You can take mine. I don't need it.'"

Strohfus said she's glad to finally receive recognition for her achievements, but then she paused, grinned, and said, "The award is nice, but heck, I just like to fly airplanes."

Pioneer of the Sky

About a month ago, Edith Beal of Bridgton got a call she never saw coming.

Beal, now 93, was a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II. They were the first women ever to fly American military aircraft. They took on non-combat missions, freeing up male pilots to fight overseas. They lost 38 of their comrades.

And now they were going to get their due.

On July 1, President Barack Obama signed a law awarding Beal and her fellow pilots the Congressional Gold Medal, which goes to individuals who perform an outstanding deed or act of service to the security, prosperity, and national interest of the United States. A ceremony will likely be held at the White House before the end of the year to honor the approximately 300 women who are still alive.

For Beal, it is a fitting honor. The Women Airforce Service Pilots were disbanded in December 1944 after Congress refused to grant them military status, a wrong that was eventually made right in 1977. The medal is another sign that their service will not go unremembered, Beal said.

"I thought it was a good idea," said Beal. "It took them so many years before they recognized us as veterans. We were civilians."

Numbering more than 1,000, the women pilots broke important social barriers in a time of war, much like the Tuskegee Airmen or the Navajo Code Talkers, said Nancy Parrish, director of Wings Across America, an organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Women Airforce Service Pilots program. Also, much like those groups, the women did it, not to prove a point - in this case that women could fly planes - but to serve the United States.

"They did something extraordinary that no one thought they could do, and they did it for their country," said Parrish.

Beal's journey into the skies and American military history began in western Massachusetts, in the Berkshires, where spurred by boredom, she went with a friend to learn how to fly.

"The war was on by then. This was in '43, I guess it was," said Beal, to whom the memories come slowly, but come nonetheless. "We were at loose ends to do things. Most of the men were in the service."

She was 27 at the time, taking lessons at an airfield in Great Barrington, Mass.

"Just a grass field, you know. My solo was on skis in the wintertime," she said.

She went on to train in Hamilton, N.Y., then once in the program, in Sweetwater, Texas, where they were taught to fly like military pilots by members of the U.S. Army Air Forces.

Just to get to Sweetwater, Beal had to prove herself. More than 25,000 women applied for the program, and only 1,830 were accepted. Of those, only 1,074 graduated from training.

Once in Sweetwater, Beal trained on a biplane as the primary aircraft, and the AT-6 when learning how to navigate with instruments. She remembers well her first flight at the Army base.

"When he first pulled me up in the biplane, he did a rollover. You just hope your seat belt holds," Beal said, smiling at the memory. She had her parachute, and she knew how to deploy it, but "I'm glad I never had to get out of it," she said.

Once trained, the women pilots were dispersed among 120 bases across the country. They were charged with flying aircraft from factory to port, transporting cargo, simulating missions and other non-combat duties.

In September 1944, Beal was sent to Eagle Pass, along the Rio Grande on the Mexican border, where she hauled targets so pilots could practice the accuracy of the guns attached to the P-51 Mustang, one of the Army's premier aircraft in World War II.

"I'd take a GI in the back, and when I got to a certain level, I'd go at a certain heading and the sheet would come out," said Beal. "These P-51s would come through and shoot live ammunition."

The women faced many hurdles along the way. They had to pay their travel expenses through their training. When tragedy struck, the pilots often came together to pay for funerals. They were not considered veterans, after all, and were not availed federal benefits. The Army did not allow their caskets to be draped with an American Flag.

They also contended with frequent doubts and even scorn from their male counterparts, said Parrish. In one instance, a woman pilot crashed because sugar had been placed in the gas tank of her aircraft. But the mission had to go on, and news of the cause of the crash would be devastating.

"They didn't tell anyone about it," said Parrish, whose mother flew in the program. "They just went out flying."

The program was disbanded just three months after Beal arrived in Eagle Pass, but it is a time she remembers fondly. She was, for a time, behind the controls of an AT-6, a "sweet plane," she calls it. The night flights, where she could see lights for miles, are still there for her to recall.

And it was during that time, while at a base in Kansas, that she met a flight instructor and fell in love.

Arnold and Edith Beal were married Feb. 10, 1945, beginning 53 years of marriage. They moved around a bit before coming in Maine, where Arnold's father was a school official in South Portland.

They settled eventually in Bridgton, building a house and a series of cottages near Sandy Cove Road, raising four kids along the way.

After leaving Eagle Pass and the Women Airforce Service Pilots program, Beal got behind the controls of a plane just once, after her and Arnold married and moved to Illinois. But, like other veterans of World War II in the time after 1945, the next step in her life was already on its way.

"I rented a plane once and flew for 10 or 15 minutes," said Beal. "But I was pregnant by then."