Monday, March 24, 2008

Remember the WASP of WWII

Laura Jane Cunningham, WASP
"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
every weapon possible. WOMEN PILOTS,
in this particular case,

are a weapon waiting to be used."

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1942

March is Women's History Month.

From my couple of years working for Sally Ride, the WASP have become living deities in my mind. Representing Sally's company, Sally Ride Science, at the annual Women in Aviation International conferences, I was lucky enough to meet a few of the surviving WASP. All the most amazing women of their generation.

During World War II, a select group of young women pilots became pioneers, heroes and role models. They were the
Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASP, the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft.

Their stories are amazing. And every now and then, by pure coincidence and via the wonderful world of the Internet, I have the chance of meeting another WASP, whether it be virtually or in the flesh.

One of my favorite stories is that of Bucky Richards and the case of the missing trunk. You can read that story courtesy of BubbaGirl.

But just the other day another WASP came to light. I happened to be e-mailing Sea Kayaker magazine’s editor Chris Cunningham on an article I was writing for the magazine, when he mentioned his mother had been a WWII pilot. I asked Chris whether she was a WASP, and he was surprised that I had heard of them.

Chris’ mum was Lora Jane Harris (nee Cunningham). Lora Jane trained in Sweetwater, Texas. She flew the Stearman trainer, got her multi-engine licence and flew a B-17. She was in one of the last groups training toward the end of the war. When the WASP were disbanded she joined the Red Cross and went to the Marshall Islands.

Chris wrote me, “Of course as a boy the coolest thing was the time she got in the tail gun of a B-17 and shot at rabbits in the desert. (At least that's what I remember.) She also told of going out on the runway when it was blowing hard enough to bring landing planes almost to a standstill while airborne. The WASP would grab the wings and pull the plane down out of the air. Her buddy Velta Benz was too short to qualify for the WASP, so she hung upside down from a tree and actually got an inch and a half taller, tall enough to get in.”

Chris also recommended watching the History Channel and its program on the history of beverages. “On the popularization of coffee during WWII, they have a shot of a babe serving coffee in a mess hall in the South Pacific. The babe turned out to be mom. My little sister happened to be watching the program and about fell off her chair. Her best known customer on that gig was Tyrone Power.”

Sadly, the WASP are slowly passing away, Chris’ mum being one of them. But we should never forget.

1 comment:

Cathy Gale said...

Nice to see the WASP being remembered. Thanks!