WOMEN PILOTS OF WWII

When the United States entered World War II, the top brass, including General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF), had doubts about women’s ability to pilot large aircraft. In the summer of 1941 even before the United States entered the war,

Jacqueline Cochran
Wikipedia

two famous women aviators Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran and test-pilot Nancy Harkness Love had presented separate proposals for women pilots to be used in non-combat missions. Meantime, the British government asked Jackie Cochran to recruit American women pilots to ferry aircraft for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, the first organized group of American women pilots to serve in the war.

Finally, after lobbying by Eleanor Roosevelt and the military’s realization that there were not enough male pilots, in September 1942 Nancy Love gained permission to recruit women for training in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) at New Castle Army Air Base in Wilmington, Delaware. Soon, Jackie Cochran returned from Britain to win appointment as director of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) headquartered at Houston’s Municipal Airport (present Hobby Airport). The new recruits were classified as civil service, not military personnel.  Calling themselves “guinea pigs,” the Houston WFTD were housed in motels and private homes and transported to the airfield each day in trailer trucks. They had no life insurance; there were no crash trucks or fire trucks on the airfield, and they had no uniforms. Since there were no facilities for changing clothes they wore the same gear—GI coveralls in the standard size 52, which they called “zoot suits”—to ground school, to drill, to fly, and to march to and from the mess hall.

Training Class, 1943
Photo by WASP member Lois Hailey
Wikipedia

When they were moved in early 1943 to better quarters at Avenger Field—the only all-female air base in history—at present Sweetwater, they had to pay their own way and pay for their room and board. If they washed out of the program, they had to pay their fare back home. After the WFTDs and the WAFS merged in August 1943 to form the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS), Jackie Cochran became the director of the program and Nancy Love headed the ferrying division.

Jackie Cochran recruited women from all over the country but excluded black pilots claiming that since the program was new, innovative, and not very popular, including black pilots might endanger the service’s status. More than 25,000 women applied, fewer than 1,900 were accepted. After seven months of military flight training, 1,074 earned their wings to become the first women to fly American military aircraft—a rate comparable to male cadets in the Central Flying Training Command.

The WASPs were all pilots with a minimum of 100 hours when they entered the service, but they were trained to fly “the Army way.” Their program followed the same course as male Army Air Corps pilots except for no gunnery training and very little aerobatic and formation flying. The women received 210 hours of flying time divided equally between PT-17s, BT-13s, and AT-6s.

The WASP flew sixty million miles ferrying 12,650 aircraft from factories to military bases and ports of embarkation. They towed targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice and flew simulated strafing missions, even dropping tear gas and other chemical agents during the training of ground troops. They accepted the very dangerous task of testing damaged airplanes. As part of bomber crew training, WASPs flew the aircraft while male combat trainees practiced as bombardiers, navigators, and gunners.

When the AAF reached a surplus of male pilots toward the end of 1944, it was determined that the WASP was no longer needed. By the time the WASP was disbanded on December 20, 1944, thirty-eight had been killed in accidents—eleven in training and twenty-seven during active duty. Since they were not considered military, the dead were sent home at the family expense and did not receive military honors. Even their coffins could not be draped with the U. S. flag.

In her June 1, 1945 report, Jackie Cochran wrote that WASP safety, accident, and fatality rates compared favorably with male pilot records. Despite her report, WASP records were classified secret and sealed, not to be released for thirty-five years.  Ironically, Colonel Bruce Arnold, son of General Hap Arnold who had originally been opposed to women pilots, began lobbying in 1975 to have the WASPs recognized as veterans. With the help of Senator Barry Goldwater, who had served as a WWII ferry pilot, Congress passed the G.I. Bill Improvement Act of 1977, granting the WASP corps full military status for their service.

On July 1, 2009 President Barack Obama signed the Congressional Gold Medal into law and the following May 10th the 300 surviving WASPs came to the U.S. Capitol to accept the Congressional Gold Medal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional leaders.

July 2009, President Obama signed WASP Congressional Gold Medal into law.
Wikipedia

The National WASP WWII Museum is located in Sweetwater near Avenger Field.

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BRITS LEARNED TO FLY IN TEXAS

In March 1941 the United States and Great Britain agreed on a secret operation under the Lend-Lease Program to train Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots in six civilian U.S. aviation schools. The plan was instituted in order to locate the RAF pilots out of danger of constant aerial

Courtesy, British Flying Training School Museum, Terrell, Texas

attacks during their training and the scheme remained a secret because of the United States’ neutrality laws.

Terrell, a town of 10,000 just thirty miles east of Dallas became the first and largest British Flying Training School. Local residents were so delighted to take part in this patriotic mission by allowing the pilots to train at the site used by their small flying club that Terrell’s town

Young British Cadets receiving their BFTS uniforms.

council offered to install all the facilities at no cost. The young, future pilots were flown to Canada where they were discharged from the RAF, given a six months U.S. visitors visa, civilian clothing, and then flown to Terrell where they were welcomed with open arms.

One account says the pilots had some difficulty understanding “Texas talk.” For instance, when they visited in local homes, which they did frequently, the residents often said as the students left, “Y’all come back,” which resulted in the young men turning on their heels and returning immediately. After some explaining, the pilots understood that no one meant for them to return that instant. The expression was intended as a welcome for future visits. Many of the Brits had not even learned to drive a car before they arrived in Texas to learn to fly airplanes and they knew nothing about Texas. They wore wool clothing, which they quickly abandoned. They expected cowboys and Indians and were surprised to discover ordinary folks.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the United States entry into World War II, the training was no longer kept a secret. The young men donned their blue RAF uniforms and continued training. The two-year program was compressed into about seven months, which required flying seven days a week from five A.M. to ten P.M. Upon completion of the course, the pilots returned to Great Britain and another class took their place. By August 1945 when the program ended, more than 2,000 cadets had earned their wings and established many life-long friendships.

More than one-third of the graduates were killed in combat. Twenty died during the training exercises and Terrell residents, who adopted the young men as their own sons, buried them in part of the Oakland Memorial Park Cemetery, which is maintained by the Terrell War Relief Society. Terrell’s No. 1 British Flying Training School Museum, the largest of its kind in the United States, displays log books, training materials, WWII memorabilia, and uniforms.

The Royal Air Force in Texas, Tom Killebrew

The Train to Crystal City

A book written by Jan Jarboe Russell and published in 2015 by Scribner relates a chapter in Texas history that I have just discovered. I believe it deserves special attention at this time when our country is again roiling in fear of immigrants. The arrest and internment of Japanese

The Train to Crystal City, Jan Jarboe Russell

The Train to Crystal City, Jan Jarboe Russell

Ten-foot tall barbed-wire fence with guardhouse and horse patrols.

Ten-foot tall barbed-wire fence with guardhouse and horse patrols.

Americans during World War II has been well-documented, but nothing until now has been published about the program to arrest and repatriate to their country of origin German, Japanese, and Italian families.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed an executive order authorizing the arrest and incarceration of Japanese, Germans, and Italians who were declared “enemy aliens.” Our country also orchestrated and financed the removal of thousands of these same families from thirteen Latin American countries. They were brought to the internment camp in Texas.

In her book, The Train To Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II, Jan Russell documents the lives, the fierce patriotism, and the resilience of some of the 6,000 civilians held in the Crystal City Enemy Detention Facility. The vast majority were loyal to America. They were forced out of their homes, lost their businesses, and were never charged with any crime. The men were allowed to have their families join them in prison if they agreed to take part in a repatriation program with Germany and Japan. Although their children were born in this country, they were exchanged for other Americans––soldiers, diplomats, businessmen, missionaries, and physicians––who were being detained behind enemy lines in Germany and Japan.

The wives and children, wearing family ID tags around their necks, were shipped on trains with the curtains drawn to Crystal City, to rejoin their husbands and fathers in the dusty South Texas town that boasted the friendly moniker, “Spinach

Spinach Capital of the World

Spinach Capital of the World

Capital of the World.”

The 290-acre camp was enclosed by a ten-foot high barbed-wire fence, anchored by six towers manned by guards with long rifles. Men on horseback patrolled the perimeter, and the night searchlights were visible thirty miles away across the border in Mexico.

Fear of the foreigners, many of whom were in the process of becoming American citizens, resulted in mob attacks on businesses of Japanese on the West Coast and Germans on the East Coast. Newspaper columnists argued for American’s safety over civil rights. Politicians and military officials pressured FDR to act against these civilians. Finally, in 1944 the Supreme Court in a six to three ruling legalized the detention. Justice Hugo Black wrote for the majority that the need to protect against espionage outweighed individual rights.

Russell conducted interviews with over fifty survivors, used private diaries and journals, obtained access to FBI files and camp administration records to paint a picture of a place where most of the internees did not understand why they were

School with barbed-wire fence in foreground

School with barbed-wire fence in foreground

being held but continued to maintain hope for their release. The camp was organized into ethnic communities with two-family cottages. They could choose to send their children to Japanese, German, or the federal (American) school where the students would learn English. The inmates were allowed to run their own communities, organize churches, a library, a hospital, barber shops and beauty parlors. In the summer of 1943 German internees dredged an existing reservoir to build a combination swimming pool and reservoir for irrigating the camp’s vegetable gardens. Despite the semblance of freedom, each morning they had to line up for roll call and their mail was censored. Even though they were not charged with a crime, the length of their internment was indefinite.

Large swimming pool and reservoir for camp vegetable gardens

Large swimming pool and reservoir for camp vegetable gardens

Russell chronicles the story of two teenage girls––a German and a Japanese––whose families were finally exchanged, sent back to the devastation of Germany right after the Battle of the Bulge and to Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima. She relates the story of their determination to survive and to eventually return to the United States.

Today, all five hundred buildings are gone. The site belongs to the local school district and is noted by a memorial on the foundation of one of the cottages and a nearby Texas Historical Marker.

Texas Historical Marker at the former site of the Internment Camp

Texas Historical Marker at the former site of the Internment Camp

The Story of “God Bless America”

My blogs are always about Texas history, however, a friend sent me the following story that is way larger than Texas, and it’s great history.  I don’t want to wait until my usual Friday schedule to share it.  Here’s the backstory of “God Bless America.”  Click on the link below to get the rest of the story.

Frank Sinatra considered Kate Smith the best singer of her time, and said that when he and a million other guys first heard her sing “God Bless America” on the radio, they all pretended to have dust in their eyes as they wiped away a tear or two.
Here are the facts…
The link at the bottom will take you to a video showing the very first public singing of “GOD BLESS AMERICA “.  But before you watch it, you should also know the story behind the first public showing of the song.
The time was 1940. America was still in a terrible economic depression. Hitler was taking over Europe and Americans were afraid we’d have to go to war. It was a time of hardship and worry for most Americans. 
This was the era just before TV, when radio shows were HUGE, and American families sat around their radios in the evenings, listening to their favorite entertainers, and no entertainer of that era was bigger than Kate Smith.
Kate was also large; plus size, as we now say, and the popular phrase still used today is in deference to her, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”. Kate Smith might not have made it big in the age of TV, but with her voice coming over the radio, she was the biggest star of her time. 
Kate was also patriotic.    It hurt her to see Americans so depressed and afraid of what the next day would bring . She had hope for America , and faith in her fellow Americans. She wanted to do something to cheer them up, so she went to the famous American song-writer, Irving Berlin (who also wrote “White Christmas”) and asked him to write a song that would make Americans feel good again about their country.  When she described what she was looking for, he said he had just the song for her. 
He went to his files and found a song that he had written, but never published, 22 years before – way back in 1917. He gave it to her and she worked on it with her studio orchestra.  She and Irving Berlin were not sure how the song would be received by the public, but both agreed they would not take any profits from God Bless America . Any profits would go to the Boy Scouts of America . Over the years, the Boy Scouts have                    received millions of dollars in royalties from this song.
This video starts out with Kate Smith coming into the radio studio with the orchestra and an audience. She introduces the new song for the very first time, and starts singing. After the first couple verses, with her voice in the background still singing, scenes are shown from the 1940 movie, “You’re In The Army Now.”  At the 4:20 mark of the video you see a young actor in the movie, sitting in an office, reading a paper; it’s Ronald Reagan.
To this day, God Bless America stirs our patriotic feelings and pride in our country.  Back in 1940, when Kate Smith went looking for a song to raise the spirits of her fellow Americans, I doubt whether she realized just how successful the results would be for her fellow Americans during those years of hardship and worry….. and for many generations of Americans to follow.  Now that you know the story of the song, I hope you’ll enjoy it and treasure it even more.  
Many people don’t know there’s a lead in to the song since it usually starts with “God Bless America …..” So here’s the entire song as originally sung.
 

Women Pilots of WWII Trained in Texas

Jackie Cochran

Jackie Cochran

When the United States entered World War II, the top brass, including General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF), had doubts about women’s ability to pilot large aircraft.  In the summer of 1941 even before the United States entered the war, two famous women aviators Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran and test-pilot Nancy Harkness Love presented separate proposals for women pilots

Nancy Harkness Love

Nancy Harkness Love

to be used in non-combat missions.  Meantime, the British government asked Jackie Cochran to recruit American women pilots to ferry aircraft for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, the first organized group of American women pilots to serve in the war.

Finally, after lobbying by Eleanor Roosevelt and the military’s realization that there were not enough male pilots, in September 1942 Nancy Love gained permission to recruit women for training in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) at New Castle Army Air Base in Wilmington, Delaware.  Soon thereafter Jackie Cochran returned from Britain to win appointment as director of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) headquartered at Houston’s Municipal Airport (present Hobby Airport).

Class 43-3, January 1943, Houston Municipal Airport

Class 43-3, January 1943, Houston Municipal Airport

The new recruits were classified as civil service, not military personnel.  Calling themselves “guinea pigs,” the Houston WFTD were housed in motels and private homes and transported to the airfield each day in trailer trucks. They had no life insurance; there were no crash trucks or fire trucks on the airfield, and they had no uniforms. Since there were no facilities for changing clothes they wore the same gear—GI coveralls in the standard size 52, which they called “zoot suits”—to ground school, to drill, to fly, and to march to and from the mess hall.

When they were moved in early 1943 to better quarters at Avenger Field—the only all-female air base in history—at present Sweetwater, they had to pay their own way and pay for their room and board.  If they washed out of the program, they had to pay their return fare back home.  After the WFTD and the WAFS merged in August 1943 to form the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), Jackie Cochran became the director of the program and Nancy Love headed the ferrying division.  Jackie Cochran recruited women from all over the country but excluded black pilots claiming that since the program was new, innovative, and not very popular, including black pilots might endanger the service’s status.  More than 25,000 women applied, fewer than 1,900 were accepted, and after seven months of military flight training, 1,074 earned their wings to become the first women to fly American military aircraft—a rate comparable to male cadets in the Central Flying Training Command.  The WASP were all pilots with a minimum of 100 hours when they entered the service, but they were trained to fly “the Army way.”  Their program followed the same course as male Army Air Corps pilots except for no gunnery training and very little aerobatic and formation flying.  The women received 210 hours of flying time divided equally between PT-17s, BT-13s, and AT-6s.

Shirley Slade, trainee, Avenger Field, July 19, 1943 LIFE magazine

Shirley Slade, trainee, Avenger Field, July 19, 1943 LIFE magazine

The WASP flew sixty million miles ferrying12,650 aircraft from factories to military bases and ports of embarkation.  They towed targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice and flew simulated strafing missions, even dropping tear gas and other chemical agents during the training of ground troops.  They accepted the very dangerous task of testing damaged airplanes.  As part of bomber crew training, the WASPs flew the aircraft while male combat trainees practiced as bombardiers, navigators, and gunners.

When the AAF reached a surplus of male pilots toward the end of 1944, it was determined that the WASP was no longer needed.  By the time the WASP was disbanded on December 20, 1944, thirty-eight had been killed in accidents—eleven in training and twenty-seven during active duty.  Since they were not considered military, the dead were sent home at family expense and did not receive military honors.  Even their coffins could not be draped with the U. S. flag.

In her June 1, 1945 report Jackie Cochran wrote that WASP safety, accident and fatality rates compared favorably with male pilot records.  Despite her report, WASP records were classified secret and sealed, not to be released for thirty-five years.  Ironically, Colonel Bruce Arnold, son of General Hap Arnold who had originally been opposed to women pilots, began lobbying in 1975 to have the WASPs recognized as veterans.  With the help of Senator Barry Goldwater, who had served as a WWII ferry pilot, Congress passed the G.I. Bill Improvement Act of 1977, granting the WASP corps full military status for their service.

On July 1, 2009 President Barack Obama signed the Congressional Gold Medal into law and the following May 10th the 300 surviving WASPs came to the U.S. Capitol to accept the Congressional Gold Medal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional leaders.

July 2009, President Obama signing WASP Congressional Gold Medal into law

July 2009, President Obama signing WASP Congressional Gold Medal into law

The National WASP WWII Museum is located in Sweetwater near Avenger Field.

The Royal Air Force Trains in Texas

In March 1941 the United States and Great Britain established a secret operation to train Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots in six civilian U.S. aviation schools.  The plan was instituted in order to locate the RAF pilots out of danger of constant aerial attacks during their training and the scheme remained a secret because of the neutrality laws in the United States.

No. British Training School Logo

No. British Training School Logo

Terrell, a town of 10,000 just thirty miles east of Dallas became the first and largest British Flying Training School.  Local residents were so delighted to take part in this patriotic mission by allowing the pilots to train at a field used by a small flying club that Terrell’s town council offered to install all the facilities at no cost.  The first fifty future pilots were flown to Canada where they were decommissioned by the RAF, given a six-month U.S. visitors visa, and outfitted in civilian clothing.  From Canada they were flown to Terrell where they were welcomed with open arms.  Their training began on August 11 and as each group completed the two-year program, which was compressed into about twenty weeks, more students joined the school until it reached a capacity of 200.

Terrell Air Field

Terrell Air Field

One account says the pilots had some difficulty understanding “Texas talk.”  For instance, when they visited in local homes, which they did often, the residents upon departure kept saying,  “Ya’ll come back,” which resulted in the young men turning on their heels and returning immediately.  After some explaining, the pilots understood that no one meant for them to return that instant.  The expression was a welcome for future visits.  Many of the Brits had not learned to drive a car or been in an airplane before they arrived in Texas to learn to fly and they knew nothing about Texas.  They wore wool clothing, which they quickly abandoned.  They expected cowboys and Indians and were surprised to discover ordinary folks.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the United States entry into World War II, the training was no longer kept secret.   The student pilots, who were finally able to wear their blue RAF uniforms, continued training, and  were joined at the flying school by American Aviation Cadets.   Every few weeks as each class completed the course, the pilots returned to Great Britain ready to take part in the war.  By August 1945 when the program ended, more than 2,000 cadets had earned their wings and many life-long friendships had been established with the residents of Terrell.

More than one third of the graduates were killed in combat.  Twenty died during the training exercises and Terrell residents, who adopted the young men as their own sons, buried them in the Oakland Memorial Park Cemetery, which is maintained by the Terrell War Relief Society.  Terrell’s No. 1 British Flying Training School Museum , the largest of its kind in the United States, keeps alive this little known chapter of World War II history.  The museum collection includes logbooks, training materials, WWII memorabilia, and uniforms.   Tom Killebrew’s book, The Royal Air Force in Texas: Training British Pilots in Terrell during World War II, shares the history of the Terrell Aviation School.

Oakland Memorial Park Cemetery

Oakland Memorial Park Cemetery

Tom Killebrew's book: The Royal Air Force in Texas

Tom Killebrew’s book: The Royal Air Force in Texas