The Last Jump: Chapter 63
Wichita, Kansas – December 19, 1944
“I am not afraid. I was born to do this.”
Joan of Arc (1412 – 1431)
December 19, 1944
I hope this letter finds you well. I must confess I find myself missing you. I’m writing from Wichita, Kansas, which has been home for the past few months. Boeing has a plant here that builds the new B-29 Superfortress. Dora and I are members of the Engineering Flight Test Unit for Boeing. We’ve also been learning how to fly this monster. My God, Derek, it is such a beautiful airplane. It’s twitchy because it has some teething problems, little things like engines that are prone to catch fire, but it’s a dream to fly.
It’s funny how it all worked out. This officer, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, was in charge of training up a special bombing unit but his men were hesitant about the B-29. It had a bad reputation as a widow-maker when it first came out and the men were nervous. So Colonel Tibbets contrived a plan and checked out Dora and me on the plane. After much patient and exacting instruction and encouragement from the colonel, we ferried a brand new B-29 from the Wichita plant to Wendover Field, Utah, where the colonel had his training unit. You should have seen the looks on the faces of those pilots when Dora and I popped out of the crew hatch. Their jaws dropped when they saw that we were just two little old girls who could barely reach the pedals. The colonel had no more trouble convincing his men the plane was “safe and reliable” after that. No more complaints. I don’t know what his mission is but he seemed desperate and his ploy worked! When the Air Staff found out about his little trick, they forbade any more WASPs from flying the Superfortress. But we continued to fly them on occasion anyway under the covers. In fact I’m scheduled to ferry one out to Fairmont Army Air Base, Nebraska, this afternoon.
Derek, this is the best job I ever had. I even got to fly a Jap Zero and an early-version Bf-109 Messerschmitt. Who else could ever get a chance to do that? Right now we fly three-quarters of the planes ferried in the States with a lower accident rate than the men. We also do other jobs the guys won’t do. Our gals tow target planes and get shot at. The ladies are also test pilots in repair depots to make sure repairs were done properly. Others were assigned to Training Command as flying cadet navigators and instrument instructors. Some fly experimental planes for evaluation because the more senior of us have nearly 3,000 hours in the cockpit and know damn well what the hell we’re doing!
But it’s all going to end soon. The WASPs will be officially deactivated tomorrow – that’s why I have to ferry this plane out today. It seems we’re no longer needed like we once were. Combat pilots coming home want the ferry jobs to help them get the hours they need each month to make flight pay. And there are higher-ups who never accepted women pilots from the beginning. So, the WASPs will officially cease to exist tomorrow. It’s a sad day for me. But maybe we advanced the cause of women’s aviation by our contribution in the War. Just maybe they’ll be aviation jobs for us after it’s over. If not for us, then for our daughters and granddaughters because they can never deny what we did for our country when she needed us most.
I’m not complaining. It will be the same for all the women who joined the WACs or WAVEs or picked up a welding torch or a rivet gun and did a man’s job while their men were off fighting. We’ll all be expected to go back to the kitchen, to raise our families while the jobs go to the returning veterans. It may not be fair but that’s the way it will be. Some women will do it happily. Others, like myself, would rather still be flying. I think we’ve earned that opportunity.
Nancy Love is my inspiration and my idol. Along with Amelia Earhart, who as you know I met when she was an aviation advisor at Purdue. I’m proud to have been among the 28 pilots Nancy recruited to demonstrate women could contribute to the war effort. She calls us her “Originals”, a nickname I accept proudly. She also has been trying to get all us women pilots into military status so we can enjoy the same benefits as servicemen. So far she has been unsuccessful but she is determined never to quit. Not many people know what we have been doing so Nancy gathered some startling statistics and shared them with us. In our 28-month life, the WASP organization attracted over 25,000 applicants; 1,830 were accepted, 1,074 won their wings, and 38 were killed in their duties, 11 in training and 27 on active duty. We ferried more than 12,000 aircraft of 78 different types more than 60 million miles, served without military benefits, and were paid two-thirds as much as the male civilian ferry pilots who we replaced.
I know first hand that we frequently endured the worst kind of discrimination, yet I also know many of the girls would gladly continue ferrying aircraft for no salary at all. So would I. We would do it just for the love of it and the opportunity to be respected for what we can do. Perhaps someday we’ll even be treated as equals. Where do we find such strong and loyal women?
But no one will be able to deny the contributions of American gals to this war effort. They can make us go back home to the kitchen but they can never take away what we did. Things will never be the same in this country, ever again, thanks to these brave women. I’m so proud of all my sisters in America, especially the WASPs. We ‘dames’ proved we could get the job done; make guns and ammo, build ships and tanks and planes and fly them too! It will make a big difference to all the women in this country, if not today, then someday in the future.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Boeing has offered me a job and…
Roxie Rawls looked up from her letter as Dora Dougherty stuck her head in the door of the small bedroom. “Gotta go, Roxie. You’re gonna be late, dearie.”
Roxie screwed the top back on her fountain pen and gently placed it on the incomplete letter still attached to the writing pad. She softly closed the cover of the pad. “Thanks Dora, I’ll finish it when I get back.”