Posted: Sunday, March 15, 2015 12:01 am
A local mother-daughter duo was recently inducted into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame for their efforts to preserve the history of women pilots in the military.
Deanie and Nancy Parrish were recognized last weekend in Dallas for their work with Wings Across America, a nonprofit they established to chronicle contributions of Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, who tested military aircrafts and participated in domestic flight training exercises, freeing up male Army Air Force pilots for combat in World War II.
Deanie Parrish, 93, entered the WASP program in 1944, paying her own train fare from her hometown of Avon Park, Florida, to Sweetwater, Texas, for seven months of flight training at Avenger Field.
She served as a test pilot for new military aircraft at the Greenville Air Force Base in Mississippi and was later stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida, flying B-26 bomber planes and pulling white toe-tag banners male pilots used for target practice.
Nancy Parrish, a former producer for KWBU, started documenting her mom’s WASP experiences online, then proceeded to track down more than 100 WASPs to record their memories for a video history website.
The women also established a WASP museum in Sweetwater plus two traveling museum exhibits on the WASP program.
One traveling museum exhibit the Parrishes created is now part of a permanent exhibit at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan, while another was recently on display at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.
“My first thought was just that I was overwhelmed,” Nancy Parrish said of the honor. “To be put in the category with the women who have gone before in this particular prestigious hall of fame was unbelievable.
“Jackie Cochran, who started the WASPs, is in the Pioneer Hall of Fame, and some pretty remarkable women who have done some remarkable things are in the Pioneer Hall of Fame. It’s kind of mind-boggling. It really helped shine another light on the WASPs themselves.”
World War II Women Airforce Service Pilot Deanie Parrish (center) poses with her daughters Barby Parrish Williams (left) and Nancy Parrish at the Women in Aviation International conference in Dallas. Deanie and Nancy Parrish were inducted into the organization’s Pioneer Hall of Fame
Other inductees included Priscilla Blum, co-founder of the Corporate Angel Network that provides free air travel to cancer patients to receive treatment, and the late Phoebe Omlie, who was the first woman to receive a commercial pilot’s license.
Peggy Chabrian, founder and president of Women in Aviation International, said the Parrishes are the first family members to be jointly inducted into the hall of fame. But all of the members of the nomination review committee ranked the Parrishes at the top of their lists, she said.
Making story known
“Starting 15 years ago, when at that point the WASP story wasn’t as well told, they were instrumental in helping make that story known,” Chabrian said. “The WASPs have gotten more recognition over the last several years, partially due to their efforts.”
Chabrian said the organization has a particular focus on the WASPs, since those were the first women to fly military aircraft. The group was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010 for their service.
Nancy Parrish, left, and her mother Deanie, right a Women Airforce Service Pilot who served during World War II, were inducted into the Women in Aviation International’s Pioneer Hall of Fame.
Nancy Parrish said she and her mom recently developed a free WASP app that includes the group’s history and a song Deanie Parrish wrote about the unit’s history.
Deanie Parrish is writing a book about her experiences, and Nancy Parrish wants to create more online content from the videos she produced interviewing the WASPs.
“Our goal is to just spread the inspiration that the WASPs bring to as many different groups as possible,” Nancy Parrish said. “We want it to touch kids, we want it touch grown-ups, we want it to challenge high school kids.
“We want to show them that the sky is not just the limit — it’s beyond the sky, you can do anything. And the WASPs did.”