Saturday, April 24, 2010


WWII woman, 92, pilot fulfills dream to pilot plane again

A World War II flier's wish came true after she was offered a chance to roll and solo in her favorite two-seater over the skies of South Florida

Tex Meachem, 92, went up flying again for the first time in decades in Fort Lauderdale Friday, April 23, 2010. A former Women Airforce Service Pilot from World War II, Tex (her given name) went up in an AT6 trainer aircraft like she flew in the 1940's. History Flight provided the plane and will be giving flights this weekend at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.


Two months into her 93rd year, Tex Amanda Brown Meachem ditched her four-wheeled walker, settled into the cockpit of a restored World War II training plane and flew into her past.
``I hope we do some aerobatics,'' she confided.
Meachem, a wartime pilot who lives at John Knox Village in Pompano Beach, wasn't disappointed. During a 30-minute joy ride with History Flight pilot John Makinson on Friday, she said she did ``two rolls -- one right and one left -- and a chandelle,'' a climbing/banking/direction-reversing maneuver.
``Super!'' she declared on landing. ``He let me solo.''
As a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots -- WASP -- Meachem flew dozens of AT-6 Texans, camo-striped two-seaters with a red nose and tail.
Friday's adventure fulfilled a wish that she expressed after the 300 surviving WASP veterans received a Congressional Gold Medal in March.
She wanted to skipper once more her ``favorite plane'' -- the AT-6 Texan.
Marathon-based History Flight, a nonprofit foundation, happens to own one, and brought it to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport so Meachem could fulfill her wish.
As she was boosted into the cockpit, the John Knox Village's 48-voice men's choir gave Meachem a rousing send-off.
``Off she goes, into the wild blue yonder,
Climbing high, into the sun.
That's our Tex, making our hearts grow fonder,
Let her fly, this should be fun!''
Which it was, especially for Meachem, who founded John Knox Village's chapter of the Red Hat Society: a nationwide social network for women 50 and older who vow to live with gusto.
Garbed in the society's signature purple outfits and scarlet headgear -- baseball caps to flower-bedecked sun hats -- two dozen Red Hats cheered on their ``Queen Bee.''
With her ``spirit and determination . . . Tex is a guiding light,'' said Red Hatter Martha Johnson.
When she learned to fly with the Civil Air Patrol after graduating from the old Florida State College for Women -- now Florida State University -- in 1938, the Tallahassee-born Meachem had nothing in mind but fun.
``Our idea was to fly to Daytona, which was the beach, instead of taking the bus,'' she said.
Although she held an economics degree, Meachem was working as a secretary at her alma mater when she heard the Sarasota Civil Air Patrol needed a bookkeeper.
With the war on, the air patrol ``was busy looking for [German] submarines in the Gulf,'' Meachem recalled. ``There were a lot on the East Coast, and we expected them to go around.''
She took the job on condition that she could fly.
In 1942, the WASP was created. Meachem recalls thinking: ``Oh my Lord -- that's for me!'' She joined immediately.
She met her future husband, navigation instructor John Meachem, at an air base in Hondo, Texas, where she was flying training missions for navigation students in a stripped-down commercial airliner.
During her two-year stint with the WASP, she picked up new planes at aircraft plants and delivered them to military bases, flew old clunkers to the salvage yard, chauffeured military personnel, towed targets for live-fire drills and once made an unscheduled landing in a North Carolina potato field.
The WASP disbanded in late 1944.
After the war, Tex Brown married John Meachem. They spent 33 years in Syracuse, N.Y., had three daughters and took up square dancing.
Tex joined the Junior League, and earned a master's degree in library science in her late 30s, said daughter Lucinda.
After they retired to South Florida, Tex told daughter Lucinda: ``I know I'm going to heaven because I did all those years in hell in the snow.''
Although 38 WASPs died in the line of duty, they weren't recognized as veterans until 1977. The 300 surviving WASPs were honored by Congress, on behalf of all the women who served, for their contribution to the war effort while ``the boys'' fought overseas.
John Knox choir member Ben McKinney was a Navy fighter pilot during the war, and said he could well have flown planes that Tex Meachem tested.
``I tease her about her [walker],'' said McKinney, 86. ```Hey Tex, you got your wheels and flaps down?' She's a good sport.''
Meachem was also an inspiration to a younger woman watching the festivities on Friday.
Chris Ponticelli flies helicopters for the Broward Sheriff's Office, and just happened to be at the airport. At 45, she's less than half Tex Meachem's age.
Said Ponticelli: ``You encouraged me and other women to fly.''

reposted from the Miami Herald online

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Florida female WWII pilot

Virginia Wise will be honored in Washington, D.C. as one
of the surviving members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Tallahassee, Florida - They had to pay their own way to Texas to take training. They received no military benefits and were trained with secondhand equipment. Thirty-eight of them lost their lives - and their fellow pilots had to take up collections to ship their bodies home. It took 35 years for the U.S. government to officially recognize their service to the nation.
But none of that bothered Tallahassee resident Virginia Wise. She loved being a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), a civilian women's pilot organization that ferried planes to military bases, test-flew repaired planes and trained male aviation combat troops during World War II.
Wise is one of 150 surviving WASPs who will receive the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
"I was grateful for every minute," said Wise, 88. "I very much was interested in helping during the war."
The WASPs were the first U.S. females to fly military planes - though their service was initiated grudgingly in late 1942 to free up more male pilots for combat duty. In 1979, U.S. Senator and former World War II pilot Barry Goldwater pushed through legislation that granted WASPs military veteran status. In 1984, WASPs received the World War II Victory Medal.
More than 25,000 women applied to be WASPs, which was founded and directed by famed female aviator Jackie Cochran. A total of 1,803 women were accepted with 1,074 graduating. Assigned to 134 bases in the U.S., they served until the program was discontinued Dec. 20, 1944.
Wise was one of three eventual Tallahassee residents to become WASPs. The other two, Connie Reynolds and Liz Bane, are deceased. Only an estimated 300 WASPs are still alive.
"I don't think they've gotten the credit they deserve," said Joan Denman, archivist with Florida State University's Institute on World War II and the Human Experience. "They had a very low accident rate and very low death rate, proportionately lower than the male pilots. They were just outstanding women who wanted to fly and wanted to help.
Wise took up flying as a teenager growing up in West Virginia, where her father was an airport manager. A nurse the first two years of the war, she joined the WASPs in March, 1944, in Sweetwater, Texas. On the crowded train to Texas, she met a young male pilot from Ohio also heading to military flight training, Warren Wise. The two soon became engaged and were married in 1946.
Graduating in October 1944, Wise spent the last three months of the WASP program at what is now Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. She flew B-17 bombers to train male military gunners, who shot at targets dragged by female pilots in accompanying planes. She had several "adventures, landing once when a landing gear malfunctioned and narrowly avoiding a train station during another landing.
But she adored flying: She and Warren Wise spent their honeymoon ferrying private planes to California. After the war, her application to be a commercial airline pilot was turned down, but she flew private planes into the 1950s.
"There is nothing like the experience of flying," she said. "Especially when you're up there alone."
Wise and her husband moved to Tallahassee in 1955 and in 1960 founded Wise Realty. Virginia Wise started the state's first multiple listing service and won numerous awards before retiring from real estate in 1977. Driven by the same energy that led her to the WASPs - "I'm not a stay-at-home person" - Wise was an avid traveler, who traveled all over Asia, Africa, South America and twice visited Antarctica.
Her husband died in 1989. Their son, John Wise, operates the family real estate company - and followed in his parents flying footsteps. He took up flying at age 14 and flew his own plane for more than 30 years.
"I've always been very proud of her," said John Wise, who will accompany his mother to Washington. "They were all amazing women."

Grand Junction honored for service as World War II pilot

During World War II, Annabelle Moss was a Women Airforce Service Pilot. She and other WASPs were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in March.

By Melinda Mawdsley
Saturday, April 17, 2010

During her lifetime, Annabelle Moss has fulfilled both her biggest dream and experienced her worst nightmare.

Not surprisingly, Moss, 88, prefers to talk more about fulfilling her dream of becoming a pilot in 1944 during World War II.

The Grand Junction woman spent nearly one year as a Women Airforce Service Pilot, or WASP. During that time, Moss was one of 1,200 American women who successfully passed an aptitude test to be a domestic pilot, freeing male pilots to fly abroad in combat.

As a WASP, Moss flew officers from the U.S. Army from base to base in a single engine AT-6 trainer plane. She was among the first women in history to fly American military aircraft.

“It taught me I could do anything,” Moss said.

Well, almost anything.

Moss spent the better part of her life loving the skies, particularly flying and traveling. However, within the past year, Moss has begun to lose one thing she treasured as a pilot: her eyesight.

“I had perfect eyesight,” Moss said of what she feels is a nightmare. “The one thing I didn’t want was to be blind.”

She needs help cooking and reading, and she definitely doesn’t drive. She has friends and family to support her. She is thankful for that.

But failing eyesight can’t erase the fond memories Moss has of her time as a WASP. In fact, all Moss’ memories flooded back in early March when she went to Washington, D.C., to be honored along with other women who graduated from WASP training in the early 1940s.

An estimated 300 women who were part of WASP were still alive at the time of the March 10 ceremony, Moss said.

Ann Craft (Moss), 44-W-2
Nearly 200 of those women, including Moss, attended a ceremony to accept the Congressional Gold Medal. It is one of the highest honors civilians can receive for courage, service and dedication.

“There were a lot of wheelchairs,” Moss joked.

About 2,000 family members and friends of surviving and deceased WASPs also were in attendance. Moss had 15 family members from all over the country who were there, including her daughter, Marcia Sadler of Grand Junction.

Sadler accompanied her mother to the nation’s capital, a visit that included a stop at the World War II Memorial. There, the magnitude of Moss’ service “really hit me,” Sadler said.

Growing up, Sadler heard her mother share stories about being a WASP. Moss went to WASP reunions in California and displayed pictures and books about the WASPs.

“I grew up thinking that’s just what mothers do,” Sadler said.

It wasn’t until March that Sadler finally understood that what her mother did was unheard of at that time. Women weren’t called on to fly planes because men did it. But women were needed during World War II, and her mother wanted to help in the best way she knew how.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said in 1942: “This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and every weapon possible. Women pilots, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used.”

After Moss graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1943, she began training to become a WASP, saying the country was so patriotic at the time it never occurred to her to do anything else.

She was 22 at the time, and she had an edge. She had earned her pilot’s license in the summer of 1942 while on break from college. In the summer of 1942, the U.S. government was offering to teach boys how to fly. One girl out of every 15 boys was extended the same courtesy.

“I didn’t have anything to do that summer and got my license,” Moss said.

It came in handy in 1943 when she decided to become a WASP. She needed to have a pilot’s license and then train for six months in the same way men had to train.

“We flew all kinds of planes in all kinds of conditions, including target practice planes so men could practice shooting planes down out of the sky,” Moss said.

The WASP program only lasted from 1943 until 1944 when it was disbanded toward the end of World War II.

After the war, Moss moved to Michigan to teach kindergarten for one year and then began to have her own children. She had three daughters and never returned to teaching.

She and her husband moved to Grand Junction in 1955. Pictures, books and even a quilt recognizing the WASPs are in her Grand Junction home.

The March ceremony in Washington, D.C., was a validation for her service, but the medals and compensation were never necessary, Moss said.

She would have flown for free.

“I loved to fly,” she said. “I needed to fly ... It was a wonderful experience and an adventure.”

(class photo added by Wings Across America)

Reprinted from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel