NASA Headquarters Oral
Edited Oral History Transcript
of the WASP
Women Air Force Service Pilots
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Cocoa Beach, Florida – 19 July 1999
Helen Wyatt Snapp, 43-W-4
Marjorie Popell Sizemore, 43-W-5
Doris Elkington Hamaker, 44-W-2
Mary Ann Baldner Gordon, 44-W-9
Mary Anna "Marty" Martin Wyall, 44-W-10
Teresa D. James, WAFS
1942, the Army Air Forces created the WASP, the Women Air Force Service
Pilots. Twenty-five thousand women offered their services for this
program. Of this amount, 1,830 were accepted, with 1,074 graduated
with training. Today, on July 18, 1999, we are honored to have five
WASPs and one member of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, the
WAFS, gathered today to share some of their experiences. This is part
of the NASA oral history efforts. We are in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
I'm Rebecca Wright, and interviewing with me today is Carol Butler.
We welcome all of you here, and thank you so much for taking time
out of your busy schedules to share your experiences with us and those
who will very much welcome your stories for many years to come. We'd
like to start today by asking each of you to introduce yourself, and
if you're a WASP, tell us which class you were in, and to just give
us a brief synopsis of how you found out about the WASP and how much
you enjoyed doing that. So we'd like to start with Helen. Would you
name is Helen Snapp, and I'm one of the few WASPs that was married
at the time, so I tried to keep my maiden name so people knew who
I am. So I go by Helen Wyatt-Snapp. I started in the WASP after I
heard about—well, I didn't think I would be eligible because
I didn't have as much flying time as was required in the beginning,
but they lowered the requirements, and when they did, I was eligible.
I was interviewed by Jacqueline Cochran at the Mayflower Hotel in
Washington [D.C.]. Of course, I was delighted. My husband, meanwhile,
had been sent overseas, so it was timely as far as my being able to
enter the group. But anyway, we were one of the first class that went
to Avenger Field. We were the first class, rather, and that was considered
the all-woman flying field. From there, of course, I took my training
and then ended up towing targets.
fine. Thanks. Teresa, would you share with us?
James: I was
instructing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when I got a telegram from
Nancy Love. Now, I couldn't figure out the telegram; I couldn't figure
out the signature. It was a request that they were going to use women
pilots in the Army Air Force. This is September of 1942 that I was
requested to proceed to New Castle Army Air Base for a flight check
if you had the following. [Pauses] There goes the cells again. [Laughter]
So then you had to have 500 hours' flying time, 200 hours of cross
country, 200-horsepower rating. There was 28 gals who had those qualifications
that arrived during the month of September. I was number nine to arrive.
Most of those girls—well, they were all commercial pilots, and
maybe 12 were flight instructors, of which I was one. The signature,
the "Love Baker-End," was under the command of Nancy Love
of the Ferrying Division of the Air Transport Command, and she was
our commanding officer. This is before the WASP was even—Cochran
was in England at the time the WASP was—
[Laughter] We started ferrying immediately after a short term of how
to learn to fly the Army way, and the Army way was, we had to fly
a flight pattern, a definite flight pattern, around all the Army bases.
They checked us out on navigation. The first airplane we checked out
in was a Piper Cub, a small 65-horsepower. And they checked us out
in the PT-19, which is more horsepower, 85-horsepower rating, and
we started ferrying airplanes immediately. We continued on until,
as Helen said, they started the Houston thing by Jackie Cochran, the
WASP program. When did you come in? In '43.
was in February, but they had been flying in Houston for several months.
You mean while we went?
first class. One. Class one.
was November when we first started in Houston.
class were you in, Helen?
Snapp: I was
in the third class, but the third class they opened up an Army Air
base and phased out all the men pilots there. And as they phased out,
they moved more women in, so I was in the first class there. As a
matter of fact, when I left Washington, I thought I was in Houston.
[Laughter] I thought I was where all the other women were, and I kept
looking for some friends and they weren't there. Then I realized that
it was a different training place.
(To James) Finish up.
Love, we had been flying, I think, for about nine months to a year,
and there was some—I don't know how to put this. Jackie Cochran
and Nancy Love, they never—
not get along.
not get along.
were not great friends.
So although Nancy Love still remained the commanding officer of the
Air Transport Command, that's historical, but it's not written down
in anyplace at all, so I thought I'd better tell you about that before—but
she remained as the commanding officer in the Ferrying Division, and
Cochran ran the school, but she had nothing to do with the Ferrying
Division, although we became WASP. We were integrated into the WASP
program. But the WASP program was different from ours. We started
ferrying immediately. We didn't go through any training at all, because
they were all commercial licensed pilots.
yes. Well, I was in the next to last class that graduated from Sweetwater
[Texas], 44-W-9. My father was an Air Force officer, and he was stationed
at Scott Field, Illinois, and that's where I decided I wanted to learn
to fly. So I went to a local flying field and got my 35 hours, and
applied for the WASP program. So it was a great experience, and I
was very crushed when it was all over after only six weeks of actual
My father was a pilot in World War I.
that is probably why I got interested and thought I could do it, too.
He stayed in service in the National Guard [an infantry company],
and then when World War II came along, he was…[transferred to
the Air Force]. That's why we were at Scott Field, the whole family,
and that's when I decided to do that. I can't imagine why I was selected,
when there were so many girls that weren't, but it might have been
my military background.
Marty Wyall. I was in the very last class, 44-W-10, but I was first
assigned to W-9, but because the flight surgeon didn't send in my
medical, and I'd already left Indianapolis to spend Easter weekend
with a boyfriend in Bartlesville, because he was in the Air Force,
I got the telegram that my papers were not in order and that I would
not be accepted in the 4-49, which just crushed me, because I thought,
you know, "What in the world is wrong? I've got everything together."
I got back to Indianapolis and I called up the flight surgeon, because
they had since sent a letter and said what was missing. I said, "I
took this test, and there's no reason why it shouldn't have been sent
He said, "I don't believe that women should be in the military,
so therefore I just let it sit on my desk."
And that just blew my top. I was so furious. I wasn't screaming; I
was being very calm, but I said, "You just ruined my whole life.
I had to quit my job and now I have no job and no money because I
spent my money on the train ticket. Then I had to come back."
And he said, "Young lady, you don't speak to colonels like this."
And I apologized. He said, "But I will send in your papers."
So I'm very fortunate that I got in the last class, because at the
time it didn't look like it was going to end so soon.
But as a result, I feel like I had just as good a training as the
early girls. In fact, I think they kept improving on the program,
and we each got 210 [hours] in…trainers [40 hours in each phase].
At that time we were flying the Stearman and then the basic trainers,
which was our instrument training, on the BT-13s. Then we went to
advanced training on the AT-6s, and we got lots of aerobatics in the
Stearman, which was the primary trainer, and quite a bit of aerobatics,
maybe 10 or 20 hours, in the AT-6, which was more fun than the Stearman.
But we had lots of cross-country, because we were not given gunnery
or any kind of formation flying… So they concentrated our training
on cross-country delivering of airplanes. Not only did they deliver
airplanes, but they carried personnel. And then they did a lot of
other kind of training, such as towing targets and things that you
needed to have a lot of precision flying. So they more or less honed
in on our training to be precision pilots, and we were very, very
well trained when we graduated.
name is Doris Hamaker, and I was in class of 44-W-2, which was really
just about the middle class. I became interested in airplanes at an
early age when my father took the family down to Dearborn, Michigan,
to see the Ford Trimotor. I thought that was a fantastic airplane,
and I still do. There's one in Pensacola, Florida, at the museum there.
I was in junior college, and I learned that they were having a program
called Civilian Pilot Training, CPT, and that I was eligible to take
it if I could get my parents to sign. Well, I took the chit home to
my mother at noon one day and told her how wonderful it was going
to be, and thinking she would immediately sign it. Well, she didn't.
I begged and pleaded, and finally she said, "All right, but your
dad's going to give me a fit."
Well, I took it back that afternoon and was enrolled. When my dad
came home, he had a fit, but afterwards he was very, very proud of
me. We had at least 35 hours of flying in CPT, in the ground school.
Then when Jacqueline Cochran started the WASPs, I was informed, and
I was a little like Marty. I went out to Selfridge Field for my physical,
and I kept calling Washington [D.C.] and saying, "Do you have
my physical yet?" And they didn't. So I finally went out to Selfridge
and picked it up, and went on the train from Detroit to Washington,
to the Pentagon, and handed it to them, and they handed me my orders.
I don't know, maybe it was another colonel that didn't like women.
Wyall: I guess.
there were three of us that left from Detroit to go on to class 44-W-2,
and unfortunately—well, one of them resigned because she was
married and didn't want to be away from her husband that much, and
the other one washed out, which crushed me. In our class we had 112
enroll, and we graduated 49, which was really cutting.
When we were in instruments, we were all sure we were going to be
washed out. I remember one night in the bay where six of us were sleeping,
so-called sleeping, one of them started to cry, then another one,
another one, said, "I know I'm going to wash out tomorrow. I
know I'm going to wash out tomorrow." We all passed, which was
But after we graduated, I went to Stockton, California, to an advanced
training base, where I tested the airplanes after they came out of
the maintenance, and flew them before the cadets could fly them. I
enjoyed it very much, loved the flying. I still do.
My name is Marjorie Sizemore. I was in class 43-5, and I first got
the inspiration to fly, I think, when I lived in Miami at the time
and worked for Pan American Air Ferries, which was a wartime division
that Pan Am had set up to ferry lend-lease aircraft to South American
and then over to Africa and from there on someplace, finally to the
Russians. So being a brand-new division, I mean, they didn't hire
me as a pilot at that time, even though I thought I had the potential.
I was secretary.
But they had really scraped the bottom of the barrel as far as men
pilots were concerned, because, of course, if they weren't in the
military, if they weren't a civilian instructor for the military,
they were mostly—I don't know, barnstormers, you know, and so
on. They had a hired corps of good, older pilots, but a lot of them
were kind of crazy. [General laughter] Don't you think so, Teresa?
Anyway, I, of course, had a ball. This was the most fun I had in my
life. But after seeing them flying and being around in that close
a contact with them, it's not like an office in an airline now, you're
here and the pilots are someplace else and so on. Everybody was around
in one office.
So I never had been up before. I always thought I'd like to go up,
but I never had. So I decided one day, "I think I'll go take
a ride," which I did, and I got down, I thought, "Gee, that
really is fun," but I can't say that looking back on my life
to when I was a young teenager, that I saw the airplanes flying overhead
and I thought, "Oh, I have got to do this." I mean, it wasn't
that type of inspiration.
So anyway, I finally quit my job so I could get more time in, and
got my 30—well, I had 70 hours, I think, and got my license.
Then after graduating from Sweetwater, we were sent to Dallas, to
the Ferry Command. Well, then we had quite a lot of problems there
at the time. I didn't realize these problems had been going on before
we ever got there, of instructors, of check pilots, you know, washing
girls out. But anyway, so when it happened to me, this friend, I said,
"There's something wrong here," because you know if you've
done something well or if you've screwed up, you know. I definitely
felt we hadn't—at least I felt I hadn't.
So I called Jacqueline Cochran, and within days there was somebody
there from the IG [Inspector General] office looking into this, and
I thought, man, she really paid attention to me, you know. For years,
all these years, I thought that till Byrd Granger's book came out.
I was in contact with her about this, and come to find out, this had
been in the works, this getting somebody to investigate what was going
on. It had been going on for months and months, I guess, before I
got there. And all those years I thought, gee, I really did something.
[General laughter] But anyway, it all worked out for the best.
Then we went to the Training Command, and that's when we got to go
through Randolph flight instructor school, and I instructed basic
training for the cadets. That was really the high point, as far as
I was concerned, because we had terrific training and so advanced
from anything we'd had before. I mean, it wasn't even like we knew
how to fly before that, you know, even though we were pretty sure
pilots. [General laughter]
Really hot, yes. So that's about it. I sat out the rest of the war.
me ask most of you, and all of you, Doris had mentioned that her mother
knew her dad was going to have a fit, so that was one reaction. Share
with us some of the reactions from your friends and family when you
told them that you were stopping your life and whatever you were doing,
or the plans that you had made now, and you were going off to war.
Women weren't supposed to do that. We had all kinds of reactions,
I think. I never even told my family I was learning to fly, when my
sister and I both started. We all had experiences along the way that
were negative, but most of them, I think, were positive.
mother was very much against it. In fact, she said, "It's not
ladylike to do what you're doing," and she didn't even want me
to wear slacks, you know. She was very, very quiet when I mentioned
anything. I was talking to my dad. My dad was a World War I veteran.
He said, "There's nothing better than serving your country,"
and he was really backing me all the way, but when it came time for
me to leave, Mother stayed home and Dad took me to the train, and
she never wanted to say goodbye, because she said, "You're not
coming home." And that was kind of hard for me to understand
why she was so negative, but I think that the way the older generation
thought of women, this was not our cup of tea, that we shouldn't be
doing this, and that was her attitude. My dad wrote me every day,
and my mother maybe wrote me two letters.
She still, even after I got home and had my own airplane, she went
up with me twice, and she's like this, holding on to both sides. She
didn't want to see or hear or anything. So she just never did get
into flying or could understand why I was.
Ann, you had the World War I dad that was a pilot.
was. He was stationed in France. I think he flew reconnaissance and
was always very disappointed he didn't get in combat. Then he joined
the National Guard. I think it was during the Depression so he could
get some extra money. But when the Guard was called out in 1941, and
then war was declared, he was transferred back to the Air Force, and
it was at Scott Field, where I learned to fly. There was no objection
from my folks. I don't remember that they thought it was a little
mad or anything; they just knew I wanted to serve.
I'd been working in Civil Service as a secretary, and I managed to
get my flying time in and applied for the WASP, and I can't imagine
why they took me, but they did, with 35 hours.
all I had.
Snapp: I think
in those days there were so few pilots anyway, and when a woman was
flying, most people just didn't—it was just inconceivable. I
know I was working for the government, and I had gone flying with
a friend that had just gotten his license. Of course, it wasn't very
bright of me to have done that, but he invited me to his home for
lunch, which was in Virginia, and I was working in D.C. at that time.
On takeoff, he crashed the plane. Well, I called work and said, "I'm
sorry I'll be late." I was on an evening shift, working for the
Census Bureau. "I've been in a plane crash." I think they
thought I was a liar. No one ever believed that I was in a plane crash.
[General laughter] But, see, I walked away from it. You could do that
in a small plane.
I don't recall anybody in the family, any reaction from them particularly,
other than they thought it was all right and so on, but I think probably
it was because I was the oldest girl. There was seven children in
our family. I had two older brothers and I was the oldest girl. I
was used to telling them what they should do and what I was going
to do, so I don't think it occurred to any of them to question the
fact that Marjorie is flying an airplane, you know. [General laughter]
They probably thought they'd be whacked beside the head or something.
did many of you learn about the WASP? Was there a global announcement
somehow throughout the country? How did you find out that this program
was being started and that you could become a part of it?
James: I knew
that the program was going to start because Betty Gillies—I
belong to the “99’s”—Women Pilots Association—and
in one of their publications, Betty Gillies and Nancy Love had gone
to Washington, D.C., to find out how many pilots there were with commercial
licenses. That is how this thing started. They sent telegrams to the
girls that held licenses, and the 29 responded that met the qualifications
and requirements. That's how the WAFs program started.
think the WASP did the same thing. They found out who had licenses
and contacted them.
else they individually would call her or contact her. There wasn't
a lot of publicity about it.
because they didn't want any publicity about this thing.
were contacted through the CAA, I guess, license.
Yes, you might have been, the ones who had their license, but those
that didn't, like myself, the only reason I started flying—not
the only reason I started flying, but the only reason I could see
any future in it was the fact that I could earn some money, because
I didn't have enough money to have an airplane, and I knew that there
w[ere] some women instructors and so on.
But I found out through pilots at Pan American that had heard about
this program possibly coming up. It wasn't a sure thing at that time.
They said, "Even if you don't, you can always get a job instructing."
In fact, then my instructor, my first instructor in Miami was a woman
who went in just a class ahead of me. So once I found that out—
that Dottie Lewis?
—I took a chance. Yes.
there was a Civilian Pilot Training program, which was actually started
to train men pilots. I think a lot of us were able to take that. My
sister and I both took that, and you had to be enrolled in a college
before you could—in a particular college, it didn't matter,
and I enrolled in two, to be sure I got in the program.
Then after I finished the program and I did real well, and my sister
did, too, the head of the engineering at George Washington University,
he was in charge of the whole pilot training program for the Washington
area, and he would not assign women. They were supposed to assign
one woman for so many pilots.
men and one woman.
wouldn't assign a woman pilot. My sister and I both tried to talk
to him, but he just said that women had no business learning to fly,
and what would you do with it anyway.
was a lot of prejudice.
I was sort of a cute kid in those days, and he said, "Look at
you. What business do you have?" I said, "Well, maybe I
could instruct." And he said, "No. What man is going to
be paying attention to the controls and not look at you?" [General
laughter] So the next time I went for an interview, I put my hair
in a bun and I wore a baggy dress, no makeup, and even went to see
Cochran that way.
So anyway, when he was forced to do it again, I had to take the ground
program all over again. So I took it twice, and the next time I was
assigned a slot to learn to fly, and my sister also.
took one woman for every ten men they took in, in the college program.
Snapp: I don't
know what the ratio was.
Wyall: I just
wanted to say that actually the WASP program was an experiment, and
it was an experiment that nobody knew whether it was going to be successful
or not, so they did not hope to have a lot of publicity, because then
it would just turn into a circus. so they decided, "We'll keep
this down low key as much as we can. There will be no advertising."
I think, as a result, people didn't even realize, even twenty years
later, that there was a program where women were flying military airplanes.
But I learned about it when I was in my senior year in college, and
it was only just a little squib in a magazine. We were having a spread
one evening, and I was going through the magazines because I didn't
take any, and I noticed. So I wrote down the address. You write to
this address in Washington, D.C., Jacqueline Cochran, attention,"
and that's how I found out about it. She immediately sent me all the
information of what I needed. I needed 35 hours of solo. I had to
be 18—it was 18 ½ then. They had reduced it from 21 years.
Then I immediately told my dad I wanted to quit school and start flying,
and he said, "No, you're going to finish school." So I had
to wait until the next summer before I could start in. But I did get
my 35 hours, barely.
it was good enough to move on. You were accepted and went on to the
greater town of Sweetwater, Texas, Avenger Field. I'm sure many of
you have memories from those times that you spent together out there.
Would anyone like to start and tell us what your first reaction was
to arriving in Sweetwater?
Wyall: A shock.
we were the first ones to arrive, and actually they didn't even have
a barracks for us, so we stayed in town at the old Blue Bonnet Hotel,
which I think burned down, has burned down since then. Then to move
us back and forth, they used what they called cattle cars, and they
were these long—it was almost like a trailer attached to a cab,
with just long seats on the side. I don't think it even had windows.
back end had windows.
back end had a window. It was very interesting at that time because
we had so many restrictions. Unbelievable. It would be unbelievable
in this day, these days. We were told we were not supposed to talk
to any of the media at all. When we went into town, we were told to
dress properly and to—
very good. In those days it meant—actually, I think Texas was
“dry,” so there was no problem. The first groups were
older, probably, than the group that Marty was talking about. They
were younger, actually a couple of years younger. We started out requiring
about 500 hours, plus you had to be—well, it was over 21. Between
21 and 35, I think it was. So there were some women that were older.
I had a woman in my bay who was in her early thirties. I think the
youngest one was 21, and I was somewhere in between.
As the men phased out, we were not even supposed to sit with them.
They had what they called a little lounge, like a little cafeteria.
Not cafeteria. Almost like a little coffee shop. But we were not supposed
to sit with a man. We were not even supposed to have any contact with
them, but, of course, women and men always find ways.
So the barracks were back to back, a few feet apart, and at night
when we get in the rooms, all the windows would be down, and the men
and women were talking back and forth. To this day, I don't know how,
some of these women managed to have boyfriends. But they did. I know
that one of my friends actually married one of these cadets, and I
thought, "Well, how did she ever get close enough to him or even
able to talk to him too much?" But eventually they kept in touch,
and she married one of the cadets later on.
got a funny story to follow up on that. I was giving a talk in Chicago
at an organization of the Retired Officers Association, and I was
saying that I was in Sweetwater. He interrupted everything. He said,
"Well, I was one of those cadets when you girls were sent in,"
and he said that, "We also had blinds, but we were surprised
because the girls were always the ones that wanted to come over and
get acquainted. They were the ones that were the aggressors, and we
were trying to stay where we were supposed to be." So it wasn't
always the guys' fault.
Well, to hear them tell it, anyway. [General laughter]
Ann, you were from Ohio. What was your reaction, going to Texas for
I went to Texas, that was from Scott Field, when my father was stationed
there. But the town I grew up in, Xenia, Ohio, was very close to Wright
Patterson Air Force Base, which I think probably stirred our interest
in planes, and the fact that my father had been a pilot and he was
Texas didn't scare you, with all the horned toads and the rattlesnakes?
don't remember all the horned toads and rattlesnakes. I remember the
storms we had, and we'd all have to rush out and hold down the planes.
they'd sound the alarm and we'd rush out and hold down the Stearmans
while we were pelted with sand from the runway.
Snapp: I might
say that the townspeople were just wonderful to us. They just invited
us for a weekend, invited us for lunch or dinner, and—
They were just happy with us. I don't know whether they were happier
with us than they were with the men, but they were very gracious.
lady adopted several of us, and they had a ranch, so they took us
out at the ranch and we rode horses. We'd borrow cowboy boots. I think
I mentioned that my husband and I were married in Sweetwater, Texas,
while I was in training.
that where you met him?
We knew each other at college, and he went into the Navy and had been
in the Atlantic. He was being transferred to the Pacific, so he stopped
in Sweetwater on his way. He had three days' travel time! And at 6:30
in the evening he said, "Let's get married tonight." So
this kind lady, townslady, arranged the whole thing. We went to the
courthouse. She called the lady to come and get us a license, and
she called the church. The church people were having a duck dinner
in the basement, and they asked if they could come up. So my flight
was able to come, and we had all the congregation there also. So we
were married in the church at nine o'clock that evening. So he was
there for three days while I flew and went to ground school, and then—
would be hard to do.
was able to spend the nights with him. Then he went on to the Pacific,
where he went out to a carrier which was sunk off the Philippines.
But he came back to flight training just after I got out of the WASP,
and every night he'd come home and I'd say, "What did you do
today?" At first he'd tell me, but then he got a little tired
of it and he said, "I've been having it all day. I don't need
it all night." [General laughter]
you're still married?
been married 55 years.
Air Force had to make our base off limits because they had too many
forced landings from somebody, some of the cadets in there. There
were air fields all over, and there were a lot of forced landings.
Of course, they'd come and buzz the field whenever they could.
Convent. [General laughter]
In the bay next to mine there was a former stunt pilot, and our class
also had a Powers model in the group, so we had all kinds of interesting
people. Then there was one woman who had been a dancer, a child dancer
in film. Of course, she'd grown up since then, but had become a pilot.
We had a lot of movie stars that—I'm trying to think who landed
there. I don't know whether it was Bill Holden or—but anyway,
there were a couple of them that landed there to see these people.
So we had some interesting times and days, little breaks in our—
had all the fun out there all the time.
Wyall: I had
one naval cadet that was in college with me, and we were writing back
and forth, and he couldn't land at Sweetwater, but he was ferrying
Grummans from the East Coast to the West Coast. The closest he could
get to me was to stop at Love Field [Dallas, Texas] and go to the
Red Cross shack. They had a great big wall that was a fireplace. He'd
stick notes in between the stones and write notes to me. I was going
into Love Field one time, and he kept saying, "If you ever get
to Love Field, go to the Red Cross shack. I've left you lots of notes."
Sure enough, I got to the Red Cross shack one day, went in there,
and there were three notes. It's just like finding a treasure.
this time he was in the Pacific, so I couldn't return any notes to
Well, I was sort of a city girl. I never lived in a small town or
anything, so it was a little bit of a shock. But ever since then I've
always loved small towns. I've tried to stay in them as much as possible.
When I went out, I took the train from—funny thing, I don't
even remember getting to Texas. All I remember is I took the train
from Dallas to Sweetwater, and I mean it was really Wild West then.
mean when you arrived. [Laughter]
It was. But, I mean, you'd see cowboys all over the place, with cattle,
running them and so on. So that was really intriguing to me, because
I had never seen anything like that before. In fact, I'd been a lot
of places in the East, but I'd never been west of the Mississippi.
In fact, I didn't hardly know where the Mississippi was.
But what struck me about Sweetwater, whenever I've traveled, food
always is one of my mainstays. I'm always very interested in anything
that goes on, a restaurant or the food they serve or anything. And
something that I learned then that I just thought was the most gross
thing I ever saw, but I still do it today, a stack of pancakes and
fried eggs on the top, and a lot of butter and syrup and everything,
and then they'd take and they'd cut it all up like this, until it
was all a mess. [General laughter] I can still—I know I sat
there just bug-eyed, watching it. But what I do, I go so far as the
pancakes with an egg on top, and a little syrup on the side, and I
carefully cut it up as I eat it, you know, and it's delicious like
come for breakfast some morning.
did serve us wonderful food there. At least I thought it was great.
they kind of—the cooks there were very solicitous. They loved
us and they treated us very nicely. They had wonderful food. We all
gained a few pounds, I think. We worked it off.
worked it off.
had carrots every day because of the night flying. Raw carrots every
day in some form or other.
we hated night flying. At least I did.
Wyall: I loved
it. You'd get the Mexican music on the ADF.
a girl in our class got killed at night flying, none of us cared much
for it after that.
don't know what cooks you had, but in our class we all hated the food.
It seemed to me that they would open up these huge cans of lima beans
in water, and heat it and put it out there. I remember our flight,
which was half of the class, went to lunch one day, and we marched
in, and a gal who was leading us said, "Lima beans again,"
and we all did an about-face and walked out and went into the little
cafe there. So after that, they closed the cafe when there were meals.
lost a lot of money that day.
caught on to you, that's what they did.
food, I don't remember it as being—
food got scarce.
was scarce. I mean, everything was scarce in those days. We had all
the goodies. We had fried chicken.
Wyall: I know.
I can remember, though, they served us beef, cut. It was supposed
to be KC beef, steak, and it was so hard that I would wrap it up and
put it in my pocket, and then when I got in the plane, I'd gnaw on
it. [General laughter]
want to give it back, you know. Wanted to keep it. Couldn't eat it
know your days were full, because you were there to train. Tell us
about the parts that you enjoyed with the training, and then, of course,
I'm sure there were areas which you didn't enjoy. Would somebody like
to start with giving us examples of what a day was like in training?
it was hot in the summertime, and we had to wear these—what
are they called?
they were always size 44 to 46.
looked like it in the pictures, too.
they looked really wonderful, and so you'd roll your sleeves up, but
we had to button it up to the top. We could roll our sleeves up to
our elbows, but we could not roll our pant legs up because that would
be "unladylike." But we never wore anything under it, so
the breeze would go through. [General laughter] It was wonderful.
After all, it wasn't really that hot.
But I can remember one time when we were at the little auxiliary field
in our Stearman, and a blue norther came in, which was a terrible
storm, and it just stirred up all the sand, so it was impossible to
fly. So we were stuck out there. It divided it up into three, and
the ones that went home had already gone. We were supposed to bring
the planes home. The cattle truck took the rest of them. So there
was just a third of our group that had the planes with our instructor
to take back for the last of this day.
We were stuck out there, and it got dark because the storm was still
blowing. So one of the instructors said, "Well, let's go over
in the corn field and have a corn roast." So we went over and
got some corn and started a fire, and finally—we had to ditch
the planes because it was a little Stearman and there's no way you
can fly at night. So the cattle truck, finally, about 10:00 or 10:30,
came over and picked us up. They figured we weren't coming in. But
that was a fun night. The wind always blew. It was always windy.
barracks were hot, and the wind seemed to blow the wrong direction.
So we would pull our cots out at night and it would be so unbearably
hot in the barracks. You'd pull your cot outside and you'd have to
have blankets over you, and then you'd sleep and then pull them back
in the morning.
No air-conditioning in those days, among other things.
we had one bathroom that had eight—six?
on either side, and 12 people to one bathroom. The bathroom was in
between. And in shifts. Sometimes you might get your shower very late
at night or not at all. They didn't have any curtains.
it had two showers and two johns and two wash basins.
women are pretty modest. No curtains or anything. So this was built
for men, not for women. We made do.
All we had for heat was a little gas furnace in each room, a little
tiny thing that you lit, and everyone stayed in bed as long as they
could, hoping someone else would get up and light the fire. But we
had to get up and be out of there at a certain time.
had to march every place we went.
But I want to tell you something, though, girls. We never had it so
good. When you think about the magnificent money that we made.
know she's kidding.
And the flying.
got to fly.
And so on, I mean, we made $1,500 a year.
Snapp: A year.
Fifteen hundred dollars a year?
was something like $100 a month.
Wyall: A hundred
dollars a month, and they took out our board and room, which we had
to pay for, and also we had to buy war bonds.
Fifteen hundred dollars a year? I think that must be wrong.
we got about $37, maybe.
had to pay our own way out there.
you're lucky. We always averaged about 9 to 11 dollars a month.
you probably had laundry service.
But then when we hit the big time, you know, after we graduated, why,
then we got 3,000.
thousand dollars a year.
you still have to pay for your room and board as well?
room and board came out of that. But we were delighted. We would have
done it for nothing. How else would we have flown those wonderful
did not have any insurance, either.
had no insurance whatsoever.
worried my mother terribly.
what I understand, no uniforms? What was issued to you for uniforms
while you were there?
Cochran designed our uniforms, and she paid for them.
wore regular men's uniforms in the beginning. After we finished our
training, we wore—they called them pinks and greens. I think
that they were sort of a pinkish slack and the green top. We cut them
down to fit us. We went to the post exchange, I guess, to buy them,
and put our chicken feed on there. We wore those until the uniforms
were designed. But we paid for them.
Did we pay for our uniforms?
Or were the uniforms issued?
we were issued a certain—I think one of each or something. If
we wanted more, we bought more.
That was our formal uniform.
men, the same way. I think in the beginning they were issued a certain
amount, and then after that they bought them. At least the officers
WAFs had their own uniforms, gray greens. They were beautiful. And
we had overseas caps. But a tailor did ours. Of course, the first
28 women, they called the tailor from downtown New Castle in Wilmington,
Delaware, and he come out to measure us. You ought to [have] seen
the in-seam measurement on the girls. He'd go so far up there, and
he guessed. [General laughter] And the result was, we had to take
the trousers back about three or four times. Some of them hung—you
could put watermelons in there. But we paid $300 for our topcoat,
our two gray-green uniforms, and that was a lot of money back then.
people didn't make that much in a month.
We made per diem, but, see, we started ferrying right away, so we
were big time. We got $260 a month and $6 a day per diem when we were
we were considered officers at that time. We went under all officers'
rules and regulations, and we were not supposed to fraternize with
the enlisted personnel. A good friend of mine, she was a sergeant
there, and she managed to go out at night. Three of us had a car we
bought together. So if they wanted to go anyplace, they had to be
very quiet about it and go off. So they ended up getting married,
and she was dismissed right away.
married an enlisted man?
Snapp: A friend
I didn't know that story. When I married Dick, he was a—
husband was an officer, too, so I didn't have any problem. That happened
all the time.
Dick went overseas, he stopped at Wilmington, Delaware, and God bless
Betty Gillies, she gave me a two-day pass to spend my honeymoon in
the Passion Pit in Wilmington, Delaware, in a hotel. [Unclear] Wilmington.
See, these girls had a great time, because they were in the train
doing all this stuff, and I got stuck in Wilmington, Delaware, for
27 months. So they had all the fun going through all this, when we
were out sweating you know what.
happened, wherever you based, they had different duties. She's talking
about Wilmington. I think she was stuck, even though she was a more
accomplished pilot than us, she was stuck with flying these small
planes, which were the PTs [primary trainers] and the [Piper] Cubs.
Is that correct?
for four months, and then we went on to the big stuff.
they were transferred out for more training.
James: I didn't
go to training. I checked out myself in pursuit aircraft.
just a book?
a single. That's it.
put you in a plane in those days and tell you to read the manual and
take off. You weren't even supposed to fly a twin-engine airplane
without a co-pilot, but that happened, too. They said, "If you
can find a plane, go ahead."
that's true. Should I tell them that story about my C-60?
the co-pilot thing?
it up a little. [General laughter]
you don't have to tell everything.
about a transition, two other gals and I flew C-60s and became known
as the "snafu airlines," where we used to pick up pilots.
But I got orders to pick up a C-60 and take it to a naval station,
Patuxent Naval Air Station. I'm thinking, why am I taking an Army
airplane down to a Navy base? It was in Baltimore, Maryland, surrounded
by five airports. We just had radios at that time. We didn't have
all that high-tech equipment except the one little radio.
We left Wilmington, Delaware, and went up to Mitchell Field in New
York to pick up the C-60, me and my crew chief, this guy, sergeant.
So before I left Wilmington, I was into the coffee, about four cups
of coffee. I get up to Mitchell Field and the plane wasn't ready.
There was something wrong, just a short wait, so I went in the coffee
shop and coffee'd up some more. At that time there was no such thing
as a ladies' room; there was just a thing with a door on it, you know,
a combination. If you had to go, somebody stood outside and would
say there was a lady in there, when you had to go. So I avoided that
and I thought, it's just a short flight from Mitchell Field down to
So about halfway there, the kidneys started acting up, and I was pushing
on the rudders and pushing on the floor and moving around and strutting
around, and I noticed the sergeant looking over at me, and I'm thinking
to myself, "I'm never going to make it. I'm going to right here."
So I pushed the throttles on to get a little more juice out of that
thing, to go a little bit faster, and I get over Patuxent and I keep
calling the tower, and I hear all these crazy, "chicken in the
rough, chicken in the rough." I can't get any response. Every
time I'd call, I'd get something like, "Angels 1-point-5. Fly."
So I was ready to declare an emergency. I was going to get in, down
one way or the other. At that time they said, "The Army airplane
in traffic pattern, descend and call me on the down wind." So
I went in combat descent, and that's exactly what I did. When I say
"combat descent," I just kept the power on and I landed
way down the runway, the closest to the base operations.
So I turned off, and I even passed up the [unclear], but I thought
[unclear]. I cut the engines, jumped out of the airplane, and I ran
in to operations, and the guy's on the phone. I says, "Where's
the ladies' room?"
And he says, "The head's on the upper deck."
I says, "Pardon me?" I says, "I'm looking for the ladies'
He's muttering something about up the stairs, first door to the right.
And I go flying up there, about ten stairs, and I went in to the door,
the first door to the right, and I had my zipper down. There was one
stall and a whole bunch of urinals on the wall. So I'm in that stall
for at least five minutes, deflating the you know what. I heard the
door open. I thought, well, maybe another gal wants in.
I was thinking about those urinals at the same time. So I opened the
door and I'm pulling up my zipper on my flight suit, and here's a
guy relieving himself at the urinal. I looked in. He smiled, and I
said, "I thought this was for ladies only." He said, "So's
this, but I just want to run a little water through it." [General
I flew out that door and down those stairs, and I said, "Oh,
my god, I forgot the memorandum receipt," which you have to have
signed that you delivered the airplane. So I went out, and my crew
chief was talking to one of the linemen. I asked the lineman, I says,
"What's all this chit-chat I heard about angels 1-point-5 and
the chicken and the rough stuff, take it around?" It was the
Navy practicing carrier landings.
So I got my memorandum receipt, went back in to operations, opened
the door, and who in the hell's behind the counter but the operations
officer. He looked at me, said, "If it ain't the headhunter."
[General laughter] There's a guy standing back there, said, "Well,
change my oil. If it ain't a gal." And, you know, I was about
to go through the floor with embarrassment.
Wyall: I didn't
know you could do that.
me, I'm shy, really.
the operations officer said, "Well, how about me taking you and
your co-pilot to lunch?"
I said, "I don't have a co-pilot."
He says, "You mean you're flying a twin-engine and no co-pilot?"
I said, "No."
He says, "Who's your commanding officer?" So I told him—Colonel
And the next day, the directive came out that there would be no more
twin-engine flying without a co-pilot. That's what brought this story
to mind. So I guess he heard about my little urinal problem. [General
laughter] He didn't take kindly about that either.
had to be the most exciting part of your life as WASPs, was flying
those airplanes. Let's talk about those. Did you have a favorite plane
that you enjoyed more than others?
think we all loved the AT-6, which was North American, 650-horsepower,
retractable landing gear, and when you'd take off and give it the
gun and pull up the wheels, you really felt like you were flying.
a big noise, too.
I instructed in AT-6s then, basic training in South Carolina, till
we were deactivated, I guess, so probably about the best part of a
Snapp: I think
that's a favorite of most pilots because it's very maneuverable, and
even to this day it's quite a collectable airplane.
can remember them telling us that that airplane cost $50,000, and
don't wreck it. [General laughter]
James: I had
a chance to fly practically the whole Air Force inventory, but I liked
the P-47 and the P-51. Those are my two favorites of all the aircraft.
James) but you’re wearing P-38s in your ears [earrings].
I flew 54 types of aircraft, and I tried to get a job in the airlines
when I come out, because I was flying a C-47 then, and they said public
opinion wouldn't permit it. I couldn't get a job in the airlines.
I wrote to all the airlines. So I went back to flight instruction
when the war was ending, and nobody was learning to fly then, so I
went back to the florist business and designed wedding bouquets.
Cochran contacted all of us afterwards, and she gave us a list of
jobs that were open to us. As I recall, they were—
traffic controller instructing, and a CAA inspector, I guess it was
instructor. None of those suited me at all, so I wasn't interested.
I think a lot of us just flew for fun, and I just flew for fun.
Wyall: I was
contacted in January, after we got home in December, from the RFC,
Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and they were asking for military
pilots to come to the depots where they had all these—
a trainer. And you were to pick them up and take them wherever they
were to be sold.
was very dangerous.
You're telling me.
it was fun at the same time because they had taken all the identification
off, so if you goofed up or did something real stupid, nobody could
report it, because you had no number.
James: I happened
to get hold of an A-25. Now, this is before we were deactivated. I
picked it up in South Carolina, and it was going to Maryland. I had
more trouble with that airplane, and it took me about five days—
get it there.
On my final—I can't remember the name of the airport. However,
I had to call in for an emergency landing on the final, and I flew
the last fifty miles with the hatch open because the exhaust was coming
up. I told them all the trouble I had with this airplane. They said,
"Well, no wonder. You have a Class 26 airplane." And I says,
"What's a Class 26 airplane?" And they're going to take
it. What's the name of the field?
in Baltimore. Famous, famous. Anyway, what they were doing is running
bombing practice on this airport, and they'd take the airplanes that
come in and the pilots come by and drop the bombs. So that was my
Class 26 airplane. So we were flying, at the end, war-weary airplanes,
and we didn't know whether they were going to get us there or if you
ever got to where you were supposed to be going all in one piece.
Even when we left, most of the women were flying pursuit, all the
pursuit aircraft. I don't know whether you all knew that or not, but
most of the—all of the pursuit aircraft was being moved by women.
At Republic Aircraft, there was 57 P-47s, new ones, that they wanted
to have moved. They said, "Why are you getting rid of the girls
when they're the ones that was doing it?"
they didn't even test-hop those airplanes before they left the factory.
In other words, they came off the line. It was dangerous, too, and
you never knew what would happen in the delivery. At the bases where
we were towing targets, we had all the rejects, planes that had been
used for all kinds of things, maybe sent back from overseas. They
called it red-line. So when you'd get in the plane, you'd look to
see what was wrong with the plane, and you could refuse to fly it
if you wanted to, if it was what you considered dangerous.
You could fly it on a red-line, but if it was red-crossed, you wouldn't.
Snapp: I can
remember getting in to go up on a mission many times and the oil would
be coming all over the windshield so you couldn't even see out. I'd
go around the field and come back and say, "I'm not flying this
airplane." Staff sergeant would say, "There's nothing wrong
with it, just a little bit of oil." And I'd say, "I'm not
flying this airplane." So a lot of the men refused to fly, too.
There were men doing the same thing there with us, but most of them
were not even commissioned. They were what you called flight officers
[FO’s—they were enlisted sergeants]. They never quite
finished or made their—or considered officer material, I suppose,
because they were made what they called flight officers. They got
their commissions later.
But you always had the option to refuse an airplane that you considered
unsafe. So that was fortunate, if you knew enough to do it.
But the trouble was that most of the time, looking at those forms,
if they were too technical, you didn't know if it was safe or not.
It's like reading a car engine manual, at least to me. I mean, I can
read all this stuff, but—
you had the option afterwards, after you made a flight, to write up
anything that you found wrong with that plane, and supposedly they
were supposed to check it out before it was flown again.
they didn't. Well, a lot of them didn't.
But, you know, getting back to these planes that they were selling
to—who was it?
Anyway, that they were selling to civilians, a lot of civilian—
were buying up these—
—operators at the airports bought them, and I was in California
at the time and I ferried several of them from Arizona up to Oregon.
When I look back on it now, I think, gee, how stupid can you get?
You didn't know anything about them. They'd been sitting out there
in the desert for who knows how long.
graveyard in Arizona.
I remember one flight vividly, because we were in Stearmans, you know.
They're open planes. You have the goggles and the whole bit, sitting
out there in the weather. Always, there was always several in a flight
that would go. But, of course, always a man was the flight leader,
and you're supposed to follow him. He took us right straight across
the Grand Canyon, wind blowing like hell in our face, so it took us
forever to get across. Then it started to snow. Anyway, we finally
got to Montana, Helena, Montana, I think, and I was so mad by the
time we got there, I told him about it and I told the rest of them,
"I don't know what the rest of you yo-yos are going to do, but
I'm going by myself if I have to." I said, "No telling where
we'll end up." Which we did. Several of us then went and told
him to kind of get lost, you know. But we did do those foolish, stupid
know, too, that I happened to be the flight leader on a flight—and
this is March of '43, 1943—where six of us were to go up and
pick up PT-26s and take them to Jackson, Tennessee, because they couldn't
use them. It was too cold up there in that area. Somebody—we
had trouble with them on the way to Jackson, Tennessee. We found out
somebody had put sugar in the gas tanks, and we had to stop and they
had to take all the gas tanks off and clean them up. That's the first
and only incident I ever heard.
We almost had forced landings. Florene Miller and Nancy Batson and
I and all of those, they were excellent pilots, and the engines would
keep cutting in and out. They'd go down. I thought, "Somebody's
going down for a forced landing," and it would catch again. So
then when we got into one of the bases—I don't remember which
one we landed—to find out what was happening, we knew there
was something happening to the engines, and here they found sugar
in the gas tanks. Can you believe that?
least one of the WASPs was killed.
Snapp: A girl
was killed at my base, at Camp Davis, North Carolina. We were training
for tow targeting, and supposedly sugar was put in the gas tanks there.
Now, I don't really know whether there was a rumor or whether anything—what
actually happened, but they attributed that something did happen,
and they didn't want to frighten either the men pilots or the women
pilots when anything like that happened. They would just keep it quiet.
was nothing said about this at all.
was sabotage everyplace during the war, at the factories, and they
found incidents where brake lines were cut, and things like that,
and I'm sure things did happen.
it deliberate because of the WASP or was it—
had to be deliberate when you have six airplanes, all with sugar in
their gas tanks. You had to have them drained. That's how they discovered
the sugar content. And fortunately this was after about 300 miles
of flying, where we—I know it must have been around 250 miles
of flying, where one of the girls would think the engine was going
to quit and then it would catch again, then somebody else. I thought,
"Boy, if we make it to the first airport, that's where we're
going," and that's what they found out. And fortunately that
we all made it and we didn't have a forced landing and somebody didn't
get killed. But I was shocked when I found that out. Of course, that
report went in when we got back, but I don't know what ever came of
it. There was no hearing on it or anything.
there were 38 women that were killed in flying accidents, and I've
also heard there were 38 accidents where they had injuries. Some of
the women were not able to ever regain their health. In fact, one
girl was inverted in training and she fell out of the little open-cockpit
plane, and her parachute opened, she made a good landing, but the
wind was so strong—this was close to Sweetwater—that it
drug her over the rocks, and she injured her back.
But she was so intent on finishing her program that she didn't want
to get washed out, so she didn't really complain that her back was
bothering her, but she really had a serious injury. When she got to
AT-6 training in the advanced course, she could not lift the gear.
She couldn't do anything with one arm because it really hurt her back.
So she eventually did wash out from that injury. But that was not
recorded, and she had a lot of problems after the service that was
never paid for.
When the women were killed, their parents paid for their funeral.
for the trip home.
body was sent home, but then that was the end of it.
never got any compensation at all. In fact, I don't know whether—who
was the first—Cornelia Fort, she was the first one killed. One
of the girls out of Sweetwater, they had to take up the collection
to get her body back home.
they did that a lot.
were women had trouble with their ears, too, because we flew high-altitude
missions. There was one girl at my base, and she had loss of hearing
and they were about to wash her out. I mean, to dismiss her. But I
don't know how she managed to hang on, but she managed to hang on
till the very end. But to this day she had trouble, and she never
was able to get any compensation until we were militarized, which
was in '79, and I was on Capitol Hill at that time.
got a flag.
I did some of the—helped out as far as talking to congressmen
and that kind of thing. So she finally was able to get some compensation,
got hearing aids, but never—
James: I didn't
know about that.
Snapp: A couple
of women did that.
paid for them?
Actually it was for testing. They were testing some new hearing aids,
and the word got out, and some of these women found out about it,
so they'd get these terribly expensive hearing aids, which cost anywhere
from 5 to 10,000 apiece, but I don't think that you can do that now.
You might be able to get some compensation, but not—
had a funny experience. I was flying a twin-engine airplane in testing,
and I had another WASP as a co-pilot. We lost an engine, and we were
quite close to the field, so we called in and asked for a straight-in
approach to the field. Well, the tower went berserk, the only two
women on the base and we had a lost engine. They called the CO and
the OD and the fire trucks and ambulance, and when the air finally
became quiet, we heard this little voice that said, "A woman's
place is in the home." [General laughter]
was your fault.
were the reactions when you were ferrying those aircraft and you popped
out and all of a sudden—
James: I had
a great time in mine, because I was the first WAF out on the coast.
I delivered a PT-17 for that WAF film, "Ladies Courageous."
Loretta Young played it. I never did see that movie, but they said
it was a dog, so I don't know. But they went gaga over that uniform.
Man, I was wined and dined Hollywood style, and they gave me a week's
leave from New Castle Army Air Base.
that where you got your picture taken with Bob Hope?
Bob Hope, yes. He introduced me to a lot of the stars, especially
I was looking at Marlene Deitrich with those—legs and shirt
from a million bucks, and I'm looking at those gams and thinking to
myself, what's a million dollars? [General laughter] I met a lot of
stars. The Hollywood canteen, where the movie stars were entertaining
all the Army and Air Force personnel, and the Navy, they were having
a great time. And I'm thinking, "My husband's out there."
He was going through cadet school, and he said he was going to the
Hollywood canteen. I said, "Oh, boy, there you go, James. You
Snapp: I think
that people didn't know how to take—what to do with us, because,
in the first place, they'd never seen the uniform. There were several
women who were arrested for impersonating an officer. I'd fly into
a base—and this is in the beginning. I don't know what kind
of troubles some of the ferry pilots had. But the commanding officer,
they didn't know what to do. They didn't know whether to salute you,
ignore you, or what. So we were told in the beginning, if anyone salutes
you, salute them back, regardless who it was. So we did that. But
I can remember flying into a field and having the commander officer
sending out his car to meet us, take us into town, and bring us back,
and then being completely ignored at another field. There was no—
there were no facilities for us at all.
go to stay at a base and there was no place to stay. If they had nurses'
quarters, you were usually allowed to stay there.
where we stayed.
if you went into town, and you were on a trip and you were weathered
in—I was weathered in one place, delivering an airplane to be
serviced, and you were not allowed in restaurants in slacks in those
days. Women were not permitted. There was no way to buy anything.
We may not have even had the money to carry with you.
was no wash-and-wear. [General laughter]
them about your shirt, that you were gone how many days?
James: I had
orders to take a P-47 to the modification center in [Evansville],
Indiana. I was supposed to come right back, and all I had was my—we
didn't have no WASP uniforms at that time. I had my WAF uniform, just
my slacks and a tan shirt. I didn't have any blouse, because I'm supposed
to come right back. When you're flying pursuit aircraft, you don't
have room for anything anyway, except your map case, and that's about
So when I get to modification, Evansville, Indiana, I delivered early,
and they said, "We have orders for you to take a P-47 to Long
Beach, California." I wouldn't dare say I didn't have any clothes
with me. All I had, I think, was my lipstick and that was all. So
anyway, I went over. I had to go to—there was a little store
at the mod center, so I went over and bought a tiny little comb and
toothbrush and toothpaste. I come back, and so instead of going out
the next morning, there was something wrong with the airplane. I was
there for four days. I was ready to go.
Now, in this tan shirt, Betty Gillies (WAFS Commanding Officer) said,
"If you get to a place, take off your trousers." We didn't
call them slacks. "Then lay them out flat and put them in between
two mattresses." Well, if you could get into a place with two
mattresses, you had to knock, you know.
However, after four days I rinsed out that tan shirt to hang it up,
and you know what cotton looks like when you just hang it up, all
those days, before wash and wear.
those days. So, four days later the airplane's ready to go. The weather
socks in. So I'm there for four more days until I finally get out
of there, and when I finally get to Long Beach, California, I said,
"I'm happy I'm going back to the base." They gave me a set
of orders to take a P-51 to Fort Myers, Florida. I says, "I've
never flown a P-51."
And they said, "Well, read the tech orders and shoot three landings."
That's how I checked out in the P-47, a single-engine, you know.
it's a single-seat.
single-seat. So it was early afternoon and I went and got the tech
orders. I went out and sat in the P-51, and the P-51 is a real lighter
aircraft. Forty-seven is a 2800-horsepower and it's a real heavy airplane.
When it sits, it sits, you know. But the P-51's lighter, with a 15-
to 1800-horsepower, which is a much lighter aircraft.
So I had heard the pilots talking about how fast the fog rolls in
out there on the coast. Well, this inspector from the CAA said, "If
you ever want to find out how an airplane flies, take it upstairs
and land it," and that means you just go up and slow the aircraft,
drop the gear, drop the flaps, and pretend you're landing, and then
try to stall it to see what the landing stall speed is. So I did that,
and all of a sudden I look at the fog rolling in.
Before I took off in the P-51, I set the gyro compass to the heading
of the runway, because it didn't precess, you know, the time I was
up there, might change two or three degrees while I'm up in the air.
So I got down in a hurry, and it's a good thing that I had that compass
set on—so I come right down the runway as the fog was just closing
in there, and I had too much flying speed. I remember I jack-rabbited
right down that runway and I couldn't get it to sit down, because
getting right out of a 47.
To make a long story short, the next morning I went over and I told
them I was there to shoot my other two landings. He said, "Oh,
you didn't need to. You got up and got down. Here's your orders,"
and off I went to Fort Myers, Florida. Did I get back to the base?
No. They had an AT-9 going to Oklahoma.
many days had you been gone?
James: I was
gone thirty days.
the same clothes.
days and looked like—
Wyall: I bet
the thing stood alone. [General laughter]
should have seen the knees here. It just looked like they had cantaloupes
in them. The bulge, you could put a cantaloupe in each leg. And you
should have seen my hair, if you want to see a scraggly-looking mess
after thirty days. I said, "I hate this Army." I never believed
them from that day on when they said, "You're coming right back
off a trip."
When you would fly pursuit aircraft, you know, you need 26 maps because
of the weather, you know. We didn't know what the weather was going
to be, whether you were going to fly the northern route, the southern
route, or whatever. Your map case and maybe a shirt, but you always
took your blouse with you. I could have had an extra pair of trousers,
but traveling—oh, man, what a mess I was when I got back. Never
trust the Army.
many miles that you all flew, but then on December 20, 1944, they
disbanded the WASP. Where were you at that time, and how did you find
out that the organization that you were so proud to be a part of was
no longer going to be?
we knew in advance that things were not just quite right, and we knew
that we were supposed to be militarized at one time, but it never
happened. Then we all—I think we had mixed feelings about it.
I wasn't too concerned, because I understood that if we were militarized,
it didn't mean that we would continue flying, it just meant that we
would be militarized.
I had mixed feelings about it.
James: I don't
know about that. Cochran said she didn't want to be under [Oveta Culp]
Hobby. That was the reason we were demilitarized, because if she wasn't
the head of the WASP—
the WAC [Women’s Army Corps]. She was the head of the WAC. Hobby.
we didn't want the WACs.
she told the press in Washington, Cochran says, "Then demilitarize
them or get rid of them." That's exactly what she said. "Get
rid of them."
I think she was angry at that point because she had so much controversy.
she had so much controversy at that point.
she didn't want to be under Hobby, and that's exactly where they wanted
to put us.
I don't think very many of the women, at least the ones that I knew,
were a bit interested in going into the Army under the WACs, because
we wouldn't be flying, and you would be—
she would have been under. She would have been under Hobby, and she
wouldn't take that. She had to be over the whole thing.
was that way, too, and she didn't want Cochran over here.
yes. But Cochran said something about Hobby didn't know—
didn't know her rudder from her [General laughter]
rudder from an udder?
I know that in 1977 the WASP were recognized by the Congress. Could
you give us a little background about how that happened?
really went back to about 1975. We had a reunion in Little Rock, Arkansas,
and it was one of those incredible weather patterns where we couldn't
even leave the hotel, it was just such terrible weather, that it worked
out fine for us because we all got better acquainted. It so happened
that Nancy Batson Crews was our president, and she's a WAF. Also Bruce
Arnold was there, who was the son of "Hap" [Henry] Arnold,
who was really the one that sponsored and took better care of us because
he made sure that the women were going to be in the military, and
if it hadn't been for his enthusiasm, along with Jacqueline Cochran,
this never would have come about.
However, he got up at our business meeting and he said, "You
know, my father really felt badly that you were never militarized.
He was in Europe, and it was a bad time for the war zone at that time,
and he could not be over to come back to Congress and to push the
bill." He said, "I think it would have happened had he been
available, but there was too much backlash on some of the instructors
that were going to be drafted and they wanted the women out of there
so they could get our jobs," which never did turn out, but that's
what they thought.
However, he said, "I will do everything I can. I have an office
in Washington, D.C., and I will be your liaison between Congress and
whatever we need to do to get you militarized." So that set the
wheels turning, and it went on and on. By the time 1976 and '77 came
along, we had a wonderful organization and our president at that time
was Bea Haydu, and she used all the women in the Washington area,
and Bruce Arnold acquired the Navy Club, I think they called it, downtown,
in Washington, to use as part of their office. So all of the files,
all of the phone numbers, and everything went through Bruce Arnold.
He backed us all the way.
We had a big newspaper campaign where they came in, and every newspaper
and large city in the country had an article about "We need to
militarize the WASP. They have done so much for World War II, and
they've been ignored." And this kind of woke up the public.
So it got the ball rolling, and, sure enough, [Jimmy] Carter was President,
and in 1978, in October or September, I think it was, he signed the
bill, so we were militarized. However, by that time we got no benefits
except our burial benefits. We could be buried in the national cemeteries
all over the country as veterans, and we could have the wings on our
gravestone. And that's just about it. But it was worth the effort,
because we were now recognized.
started back in the sixties with Barry Goldwater.
Barry Goldwater, he was one of the sponsors of the Senate bill, and
Patsy Mink was the first one.
Mink was the one that introduced it in the House, and then Cokie Roberts'
mother was also in the House. Tell me, what is her name? Oh, you know.
Unidentified: She took
over after her husband [J. Caleb Boggs] died.
took over after he husband was killed and became his part in the—it's
terrible that our brains won't come up with it. Anyway, she was the
one that also sponsored our bill in Congress, so we had both the Senate
Heckler. But that was another one; that wasn't Cokie Roberts' mother.
all the women who were in Congress at that time were helpful and helped
push the bill through. But actually, a lot of this started when they
started talking about the first military women pilots, you know, and
that upset us, because we knew we were the first women military pilots,
but we were never recognized. So I think that that kind of—
they came out and said that the first military women pilots are trained
at the Air Force Academy and whatever, and we just said, "Oh,
no, you're not." And that's how we got really in with the young
women pilots, because they knew about us and they were very grateful
that we were recognized, so they've been our best friend and we sponsored
everything they wanted to do.
we were always told never to talk to the press. In other words, they'd
have an open house maybe at one base and take a lot of pictures, and
they're the official pictures that people are using now. We were told
never to talk to the press without permission. So there's so many
people never even heard of us.
that's why we're here today, because Eileen Collins was one of those
women that has always looked at us as being her mentors, and we just
think she's great. That's why we want to come see her blast off tomorrow.
of the Air Force women pilots I've met recently, she was so delighted
to meet me and I was so delighted to meet her.
a mutual affection.
actually, a lot of our organizations have merged or we've made new
ones where they include both the WASP old military pilots and the
new ones, and it's a real thrill to see these young women be able
to do what they're able to do today.
meet on the even years. They meet on the odd years. So they're having
their convention in Las Vegas in October of '99, and I would say a
good number of them will be WASP that will be attending.
in 1947, I believe it was, when the Air Force became a separate service,
we had word from Jacqueline Cochran that we could join the Air Force
as officers if we wished.
great many did. But they could not fly. They were officers, but they
could not fly. I thought it was rather amusing because my husband
was flying, and I had two little children, and I told him he could
take care of the children and I'd go and join the Air Force. [General
were given a commission, and we were commissioned according to our
experience. So most of us would go in as second lieutenant and then
work our way up from there. But you couldn't go—I was offered
a commission, too, but I found out I couldn't because I had a small—I
had an infant, and you could not have dependents, so I was never able
to. But there are some women that did go through and ended up being
lieutenant colonels. I don't know if anyone ever made colonel, but
they did make lieutenant colonel. And didn't you have a commission?
all mentioned earlier, you talked about how you got involved in WASP
or WAF program, but what got you interested in flying? Had it been
a passion or not been a passion? What prompted that?
James: I never
wanted to fly. I was terrified of flying. It's a crazy story how I
got into flying. My brother joined a club in Pittsburgh where four
guys owned an airplane. So one weekend they decided, the three of
them, they were going to take the OX-5 open-cockpit airplane up to
my uncle in Detroit. They were leaving Pittsburgh and were going by
way of Cleveland so they wouldn't go over the lake. I didn't know
it at this time what happened, but anyway, they crashed. My brother,
he was seriously injured and they thought they might have to amputate
So by the time he got out of the hospital, his leg got better, and
he couldn't drive. He asked me—I didn't even have a driver's
license at that time—to drive him to the airport. I said, "You
must be crazy to even think about going back to flying if you almost
So I would take him to the airport and then he would call on the phone
and tell me to come pick him up, and he'd go over there with the cronies
and they'd talk about whatever they would talk about, flying and whatnot.
They were discussing buying a new airplane.
So at that time the pilots and their girlfriends or wives would pack
a basket on Sunday and fly someplace. They didn't even have airports
then; just strips. They would either play cards or play ball or something
and have their picnic, whatever they took with them, sandwiches and
stuff. Then they'd fly back home again. Well, they did this all during
So the one time I took my brother over, this plane pulled up and I
looked at the airplane because it was a real snazzy-looking airplane,
and out jumps this guy, the best-looking thing I've ever seen. Of
course, I was telling my mother about this. She said, "Well,
I've put up with this all through high school. You were in love with
your male teacher, this one or that one." I had all these crazy
affairs everywhere. Love affairs. I mean, they didn't even know that
So when my brother introduced him to me, he said, "You know,
I heard about your picnic thing here." He said, "Would you
like to go along next Sunday?"
And I said, "No, I don't think so." I could feel my heart
pounding. I just went bananas over this guy.
So apparently he took some other chick with him, because my brother
told me about this when he come back. So the next time he asked me,
I went. I was—"terrified" is not the word. My legs
kept going up and down like this. That's how nervous I was, sitting
there. I'd peek out, you know, and pull my head back real quick. I
was so stressed out by the time I got to where the picnic was, and
then I forgot about it and what we were doing, what activities there
were. Then I started getting the sweats, knowing that I had to get
back in this airplane.
I think I went on about five or six picnics with him. One day I showed
up for the picnic and they said, "Bill isn't here. He took a
job in Chicago. He got a flying job." And, of course, I was heartbroken.
This guy didn't even know I had this terrible crush on him. He had
no idea. So one of the guys who owned a brand-new airplane, he was
fresh in from Clark's Air College in St. Louis with his license, and
he was trying to date me, and I just ignored him. So after Bill left,
he told my brother, he said, "How about bringing your sister
over?" He said, "I don't think she's interested in coming
over here." And he says, "Well, what I was going to ask,
why doesn't she learn to fly and surprise Bill when he comes back?"
See, that was the lure that he used on me.
So I started. He'd always fly early, either Saturday or Sunday mornings,
when it was so still. The airplane could really fly itself. At that
time there was no brakes on the airplane and there was no instrumentation
except the auto gauge, and that was it. The gas gauge was a bobble
stick that bubbled up and down. The lower it got, the lower you got
on gasoline. So I learned to fly off a field 1,500 foot one way and
it was uphill and downhill, surrounded by trees and wire. It had a
tail skid, like I said, no brakes. After you landed, the skid would
dig in and stop you. When I think about how I even taxied that thing,
it was really something else. But however.
He showed me how to use the controls, and I knew, because I watched
Bill's feet, you know, the pedals going, doing this and that. So I
must have been learning something about flying when I was flying,
the short time I was flying with Bill. But Harry would holler and
he would use a swear word at me. "Get the nose up, get the gear,"
blah, blah, you know. And, "Get the wing down and get it up,
and you're not following the horizon." He's shouting into the
wind, you know.
The only way you could judge your flying, see, is you listen to the
wires singing. This is a biplane. When you landed, you taxied up,
then take off right down the way you landed again. So I did this for
about, I guess, about six weeks, but just short hops.
year are you talking about?
talking '34 now.
got that figured out?
Wyall: I do.
knows it. No secret. And one Sunday morning we had shot two landings
and he said to me—oh, after we landed, he got out and picked
the tail of the aircraft and put it so it would be facing down where
you just landed, and he said, "Oh, you're okay. Take it around."
Well, I took off, and oh, my god, the airplane jumped in the air.
On takeoff I had this spot to go around this big tree here and then
I'd go around to the two corners of the highway, then come around
to the country club and come in. Well, I had to have 200 feet here
at the first checkpoint, and I jumped at 400 feet. I was always 200
feet higher. I used to watch the guys slip the airplane down to get
it down to lose altitude.
Well, I don't know to this day how I got that airplane down. All I
know is, I couldn't control this leg going up and down. [General laughter]
I got that thing down, and they told me I slipped the airplane. I
don't even remember that. I just pulled up and I cut the switch. I
got and I said, "Never again. I won't go near an airplane."
I was scared to death.
So then the guys started needling me, and they said, "Bill's
coming back, and, boy, he'd be happy," you know. What a bunch
of "who shot Nellie" I was getting. "Get back in the
airplane." They said, "All you need is some more instruction
and flying time." So I said to heck with that. That was it.
So they said—they dropped the hint that Bill was coming back.
So I did. I went back. I soloed four hours and thirty minutes. No
wonder I didn't know anything. I didn't do absolutely nothing. So
I took some more flight instruction, and on the second time I soloed,
I was a little more comfortable, but at least I knew that I got up
and down with it one time. They kept saying, "Tracy, you got
it up and you got it down. All you need, you have to have more confidence,
because you can really fly that airplane." And I didn't even
know whether I was even flying that thing, because I thought Harry
So on my second solo flight, I guess I didn't get back for a month
or so. So when they finally wheedled me into going back, it was in
the spring. So there was a pilot there who was a stunt pilot. He said,
"Tracy, why don't you go in one of my airplanes. I'll show you
how to do stunts in this airplane." Because he was going to air
shows and he was telling me how much money he made at these air shows.
So I said, "Really? That kind of money?"
So we started out with hammerhead stalls and loops and wingovers and
whatever you could do, and I used to love to spin an airplane. I don't
know why. I think when I was dancing I used to spin around on the
floor when dancing. Then he showed me how to spin and pick out the
objects that you can stop on an eighth or a quarter turn. So I learned
how to do all these stunts.
There was a flying circus in town, and he says, "Teresa, why
don't you go over and do that." At that time I was doing twelve
turns in a spin.
I got up to twenty-six and a half turns, and that was my specialty.
However, I made fifty bucks that weekend on that stunting exhibition.
I took this home. I says, "Mother, look how much money I made."
And she says, "Fifty dollars?" She was all thrilled for
me, you know, but she wasn't too happy when I got into flying, on
account of my brother, you know.
So I started getting booked at air shows, and then I started hauling
passengers in an exaggerated trip around the field, two bucks. I'd
give the guy a buck and I'd keep the dollar. And then I'd take my
mother and dad. They thought this was fantastic. So I'd put them in
the front seat and go to the air shows on Saturday and Sunday, and
then they'd fly back with me. My mother says, "Wow! I can't believe
you make that kind of money."
old were you?
how I learned to fly.
She won't tell her age.
do you know, it was great, when I started instructing, I remember
taking students up and they would pull in from a turn or something,
and it made me a better flight instructor, all the stuff that I went
through, because I could pick up the fear in somebody immediately.
I used to tell them, "Listen, hey, I absolutely got out of the
airplane," and I told them how terrified I was of flying. I says,
"It's a natural fear." And I mean, that really did something
for my flight instruction. I drove to Buffalo Aeronautical and got
my flight instructor's rating in 1940, then my secondary to teach
aviation cadets inverted flying, and they were fascinated with that
twenty-six-and-a-half-turn spin. Everybody came to the air show feeling
I'm going to kill myself.
Then Walter Beech came to the big show in Pittsburgh and said to me,
"Teresa, if I were you, I wouldn't do the spin anymore. You're
going into a flat spin and you may never come out of it." Of
course, that OX-5 just floated around. I used to just sit through
and count the turns.
was getting flatter and flatter?
did, but I never went into a—I always pushed the stabilizer
all the way forward, and I watched the nose, you know, how it's reacting.
But I thought, "This is great," until I got into instruction,
you know, and air shows, and I was making money like an old country
At that time, all these cadets were being trained, and airplane operators—I
at one time, on one weekend I got fifty telegrams offering me jobs
at $300 a month, I'm thinking, and my room and board, all over the
whole United States. I had my pick of anyplace to go and instruct.
But then along came the telegram from Wilmington, Delaware, and said
that they were organizing the Woman Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron out
in Wilmington, Delaware. So that's when I reported in. I thought that
would be great to fly and look out at that star and see that big old
Army star out there on that wing and say, "Oh, boy."
what happened to your boyfriend?
that's right. [General laughter] Oh, what happened was, he went off
and married some schoolteacher, never did come back. At that time
I was looking at some other guy.
whatever reasons you all chose to go into this field, we certainly
appreciate the fact that you did and the sacrifices that you made.
[You] have led such lives that have been role models for people like
[STS-93 Commander] Eileen Collins to follow, so that she can go past
the stars like you all wanted to do.
We thank you for giving up your Sunday afternoon to be with us and
visit with us, and I know that we could sit here many more hours and
never hear the same thing over. There are so many more things to tell
But we thank you and we wish you the best, and we all know that our
thoughts will be good thoughts sent for Eileen and her crew and hope
she has a successful mission. Thank you again.