Willa Brown: Teacher, Civil Rights Activist, Lobbyist, and Aviation Pioneer

Willa Brown earned her pilot's license in 1938. (Photo: The History Makers: http://ow.ly/XN6j307y5xh)

Willa Brown earned her pilot's license in 1938. (Photo: The History Makers: http://ow.ly/XN6j307y5xh)

Willa Brown was born in 1906 in Kentucky, the daughter of Reverend and Mrs. Erice B. Brown. She graduated from high school in Terra Haute, Indiana and attended college, earning a bachelors in Education from the Indiana State Teachers College in 1927.

After briefly teaching at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana, she moved to Chicago, Illinois to become a social worker.  It was there that she decided to pursue her interest in aviation. 

In 1934 Brown began to train under Cornelius Coffey, a self-taught African-American pilot and founder of the Coffey School of Aeronautics in Chicago. During this time she once again attended school and by 1937 she had earned a Masters Mechanic Certificate from the Aeronautical University of Chicago, MBA from Northwestern University and Civil Aeronautics Administration ground school instructor's rating.

Brown earned her private pilot's license in 1938, the first African American woman to achieve that feat--and with a score of 96 of 100 on the exam. She and Coffey later married and formed the National Airmen's Association of America, dedicated to the integration of the Army Air Corps. 

In an interview with The History Makers, Walter Hill, Jr. recounted Willa Brown's petition to host an aviation training school for black men at the beginning of the war:

“She petitioned the War Department when it made the decision to train black men to become pilots…They went out to various institutions to find out who would be willing to host a training school. Willa Brown’s application to the War Department was that she could do that in her flying school ‘cause she had been training black pilots since the late 1930s. She was very prominent in the field. She lost out of course; Tuskegee was one of the institutions that won, and that’s why they became the Tuskegee Airmen.”

Though Brown's school was not selected, she continued supplying trainees to the Tuskegee Airmen training program. By the time the US entered the war, the Coffey school had trained hundreds of men and women. In 1941, Brown was commissioned the first African-American officer in the Civil Air Patrol and named federal coordinator of the Civil Air Patrol unit in Chicago.

After the war, Brown would become involved in politics and ran for Congress. Though she lost, it was groundbreaking for African-American women who were later inspired by her to run for office. She remained heavily involved with issues important to her, especially racial and gender integration of the Army Air Corps.

Willa Brown-Chappell (she remarried in 1955), retired from teaching school in 1971 and a year later, she was appointed to the FAA Women's Advisory Board, in recognition of her contributions to aviation. She would remain active in her work and causes important to her for another twenty years until her death from a stroke at the age of 86.

Letter from Verdun: 19 Nov 1918

by Jess Clackum

In 2002, during the course of my genealogy research, I discovered a letter penned by my great grand-uncle during WWI, which was part of the Bryn Mawr College historical collection.  Joseph Mangiere (1888-1955) was my great grandfather Thomas's older brother and one of eight children born to Italian immigrants Nicolo and Michelina Fasano Mangiere. Joe, a LT in the United States Army during the war, was 29 years old when he wrote this letter to his friend and future father-in-law Peter Rinelli.

 US Troops in Verdun, 1918. (Photo: Library of Congress)

 US Troops in Verdun, 1918. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Nov. 19-1918

Dear Peter:

I am now at Verdun. It was here where the Crown Prince's army was defeated and 500,000 Germans 150,000 French paid the price. There isn't a stone or tree that was not turned over or destroyed during the fierce fighting. Amid such surroundings I am thinking of you this day so far away. Thinking of you just thinking of the days to come.

We are here at a rest camp just waiting for orders, how long we will be here no one knows, but I am afraid it will be several months before we set sail for home. The army here will be divided into 3 classes. The first will be the army of occupation the second will be kept along the front line trenches or boundary line and the 3rd is in the back areas training. Rumors have it that all the fighting forces- by that I mean men who have actually been at the front and did the real fighting will be the first one's to go home let us hope and pray that this is the truce for if such is the case I will be among the first group to set sail for home. I have been in 3 big drives here against the Huns. St. Mihiel drive on Sept. 12, Argonne forest on October 15 and Grand Pre on the way towards Sedan Nov. 1. No doubt you have read about them in the papers but I will tell you my personal experience when I come home. I am safe and sound and with God's help will be with you all soon. Will think of you especially during the holidays. Best wishes to you and yours.

Your old friend Joe

P.S.

I will admit dear Peter I am homesick. Now that the war is over my thoughts continually carries me back home. God bless you. Just think of me during the holidays so far away in Verdun.

Joe's letter courtesy of Bryn Mawr College.

Joe's letter courtesy of Bryn Mawr College.

Letters From Arthur: Epilogue

by Jess Clackum

Private First Class Arthur A. Hersh died on 18 October 1945 in Asa Higawa, Hokkaido, Japan. He was just 29 years old and only a few points shy of earning his ticket home as he had talked about in his final letter dated 6 September. 

Arthur died from "complications of dysentery, severe diarrhea and hookworm infestation." The only personal effects on him at the time of his death were his Philippine Liberation Ribbon, a fountain pen and crucifix.  He was buried at 1500 hours on 23 October 1945 at the United States Air Force Cemetery in Yokahama, Honshu, Japan, with Chaplain Morris Adler presiding. The location of his grave was Plot USAF, Row 2, Grave 83.

Just three days before Arthur's death, on 15 Oct 1945, the 77th Infantry Division landed in Japan for Operation Downfall which was originally to be the occupation and final phase of the war until the Japanese surrendered in August.

Arthur's unit, the 77th Infantry Division, returned to the States in March 1946.

On 31 August 1948 the U.S. government relocated Arthur, as they did many deceased soldiers, from his military grave in Japan back to the family plot in New York. He was received in Brooklyn on 7 January 1949 and interred in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, New York. His parents Isaac (who died in 1968) and Yetta (who died at the age of 103 in 1979) are buried next to him.

According to the National Archives Arthur served 20 Mar 1942 to 18 Oct 1945. Prior to his death he received the WWII Service Label Button, WWII Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Combat Infantryman's Badge, European African Middle Eastern Campaign with one Bronze Service Star and the Bronze Star Medal with one Oak Cluster, the latter of which was awarded posthumously. 

In 2006 the Department of the Army, who had been incredibly helpful to me during my research, reissued Arthur's medals and ribbons to our family. I presented these medals to my mother, who had always felt a connection to her father's twin brother though she was born eight months after his death.
 

Arthur's reissued ribbons and medals. (Photo: Jess Clackum)

Arthur's reissued ribbons and medals. (Photo: Jess Clackum)

My grandparents, Bill and May, had always told us Arthur had contracted dysentery and died on the island of Leyte. I don't fault them for getting it wrong as so many years had passed, it's only normal details would've been forgotten.

During the course of my genealogy research, in 2004, I'd found that the little information I'd been given wasn't enough, I needed to know what happened to Arthur. It was as if some invisible force was pushing me forward in this mission and I refused to give up. Unfortunately for me when I began asking the important questions, my grandfather had been gone some twenty years and the only ones left who knew anything were Arthur's oldest brother Dave and my grandmother May. Because Dave was in his 90s and in poor health, he was not much help so I relied upon my grandmother, who was 87 at the time, for every tidbit of information she could recall. I told her that even insignificant minor details would help. She did the best she could and so all I had to begin my search was the memories she shared and the surviving letters she and gramps had kept safely tucked away for nearly sixty years.  It wasn't much but it was all I had.

I combed through census records, WWII databases, forums, and message boards, which proved helpful in pointing me in new directions. Along the way I learned quite a bit about the 77th Infantry and the men who served in it. The real breakthrough came when fellow WWII researchers pointed me in the direction of the U.S. Army Personnel Records Center. Even though a fire had destroyed most of the personnel records from that era, there were still other records available in other locations. The staff I worked with at the Army Personnel Records Center were incredibly helpful and I gained major headway when, two years after I'd begun my research, I received Arthur's Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF). For me, that file was gold. The IDPF contained enough information to help me finally put the investigation to rest.

Once I learned what really happened to Arthur and where he was buried, I began the process of trying to find men who had served with him who might remember him. I knew my chances were slim to none especially given the advanced age of those still living and the fact so many were dying at such a rapid rate but I had to try. Once again I frequented message boards, military forums and utilized social media.

Luck struck again when I found a man named Benno Levi, who served as a Private First Class in the 3rd Platoon of the 305th Infantry. As it turns out, Benno knew Arthur, they had been friends. They met for the first time in February 1944 at Camp Pickett shortly before Benno joined Company A.

The first time Benno emailed me, surprised but elated that I'd found him, he recalled, "We were both on a Sunday pass leaving camp on a bus to Richmond, Virginia. After that we met occasionally and talked about home and families." 

Benno told me that back in September 1945, he'd had no idea that Arthur had been ill and had been shocked later to learn of his death. After all, in Arthur's letter dated 6 September, just over a month before his death, he made no mention of being ill, instead was looking forward to reaching the necessary 80 points so he could return home. As you may recall in his final letter dated 6 September he'd already had 75 of 80 points.

During the time of Arthur's illness and death, Benno and his fellow soldiers had been busy taking over occupation duties as the first unit to arrive on Hokkaido. Benno said they were undergoing significant changeover of personnel including high ranking officers in command. The enlisted who had earned their points and served the longest in Company A were sent home. Had he lived, Arthur would've been among them.

As I continued to try and locate other men Arthur had served with, which to this day I've had no luck, I also embarked upon an equally difficult task---locating Arthur's former girlfriend Mary Brockel and former fiancee Pearl Greenbaum. Sadly, despite all my best efforts, to this day, I have not been able to locate either of them. 

When I began this quest, I started with very little information -- things told to me by my grandparents and 44 letters from Arthur that they'd managed to preserve over the years. I had no idea that my research would result in what was tantamount to finding buried treasure but that's exactly what it turned out to be. I started with many questions and ended with more answers than I thought I would ever find. Though Arthur died long ago, the mystery surrounding his death felt like a lack of closure, for all of us. Discovering the truth gave us a sense of peace---like Arthur was finally, truly at rest. I still think about him and what his life was like fighting in a war he best described as hell on earth, and what it must've been like so close to the only thing he truly wanted -- to go home -- and knowing he would never get there.

Over the years I've heard so many wonderful stories about what a kind, generous, compassionate and artistically talented man Arthur was, I just wish my parents and we kids would've had the chance to know him. I've often wondered what it would have been like to grow up with both Arthur and gramps around together.  I am quite sure it would've been great!

"I so often wonder when I'll be heading home and it seems like years...my thoughts are constantly of home and the pleasant things and people I left behind." 

Arthur Abraham Hersh

26 Nov 1915 - 18 Oct 1945

Letters From Arthur #43: 15 July 1945, Cebu

by Jess Clackum

The first successful test of the first atomic (plutonium) bomb, Alamogordo, NM (Photo: Bubbasoft.com)

The first successful test of the first atomic (plutonium) bomb, Alamogordo, NM (Photo: Bubbasoft.com)

In July, the 77th I.D. moved to Cebu in the Philippines and prepared for the invasion/occupation of Japan.  On July 16th, the U.S. Army successfully tested the world's first atomic bomb in Alamogordo, New Mexico.   

 

Dear May & Bill,

This is the first chance I've had to write. We finished the fighting on Okinawa and we're now back in the Coconut country. For a deserved rest, so now I know I shall be able to write more freely and oftener.

Have received all of your letters and glad to know you both are well. Have you as yet moved into your new cottage? If so, send me the address. For all I know you might have established new residence already. We moved so fast in this corner of the globe it's been hard for the mail to catch up to us.

Have you heard from mom and dad or Pearl. Oh yes - Pearl did say she received a darn nice letter from you, and she's enthusiastic about meeting you both. From your letters, she surmises that you must be two swell people and she's not kidding, she isn't wrong in thinking by a long shot. I feel sure you'll be great friends. I'm getting up in the points. I need 85 and I've 71 already. Let's look forward to our meeting again by next Easter. I hope anyway.

Let's hear from you. Best regards

Most Sincerely,

As Ever

Arthur

Letters From Arthur #42: 7 June 1945, Okinawa

by Jess Clackum

American bombs falling on Kobe, Japan, 4 Jun 1945 (Photo: WWII Archives)

American bombs falling on Kobe, Japan, 4 Jun 1945 (Photo: WWII Archives)

In the first few days of June 1945, twenty-seven American P-51 Mustang fighters were lost during bad weather on their way to an assault on Osaka, Japan. Over 400 B-29 bombers dropped over 3,000 tons of incendiary bombs on Kobe, Japan. 
 

"Okinawa"

Hiya May and Bill

Thanks lots for the letter that I received today, in which I found enclosed photo of the cute little home you bought in NJ. I like it a lot and I'm sure after you complete the furnishing of it, it will be that "Home Sweet Home". I envy you.

So you did get the Jap money I sent you. Good. As soon as I can, I'll send you other things that can be mailed. Hope everything is riding smoothly for you both. I sure hope someday to be able to do the same for Pearl, that is settle down and have a home of our own. I know she'd like hearing from you all because she has mentioned that she's anxious to meet my twin. She has already met most of our immediate family and they're crazy about her, and I'm sure you'll like her too, she's a sweet girl with plenty of humor, in an exotic sort of way. Here's the address, drop her a line May.

Miss Pearl Greenbaum
2074 Mohegan Ave
Bronx, 60, New York

Lots of luck and do write when you can.

Thanks Bill, but there isn't a thing I need except my discharge papers - but that will come in due time whenever we push the damn Jap off the map of the earth. My best to you both.

Always,

Arthur

Letters From Arthur #41: 24 May 1945, Okinawa

by Jess Clackum

Private John Drugan, USMC and his war dog. Okinawa, May 1945 (Photo: WWII Archives)

Private John Drugan, USMC and his war dog. Okinawa, May 1945 (Photo: WWII Archives)

The 10th Army reached the capital of Okinawa with heavy fighting on the island. Over 125 Japanese planes were shot down. US troops captured the airbase on Mindanao while the B-29 bombers committed the hardest assault on Japan to date with over 3,500 tons of bombs.

On 25 May 1945, the day after Arthur's letter was written, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff approved Operation Olympic, the invasion of Japan, scheduled for 1 November.

 

Dear Bill and May:

Just a few lines to let you know that I am fine and thinking of you, despite the fact that we are kept rapidly busy on the fighting front. I know that you don't hear from me as often as before, but our progress here in the Pacific keeps us pretty much tied down to these wartime obligations.

Pearl wrote me and told me that she's looking forward with great enthusiasm to meeting you both, I hope when you get established in your new home, you'll invite her out, I'm sure she'd be happy to visit with you.  May, why don't you drop her a line, here's her address:

Miss Pearl Greenbaum
2074 Mohegan Ave
Bronx, 60 New York

Good luck and let's hear from you real soon.

As ever,

Arthur

Letters from Arthur #40: 17 May 1945, Okinawa

by Jess Clackum

Demolition crew watches explosive charges detonate and destroy a Japanese cave, May 1945. (Photo: WWII Archives)

Demolition crew watches explosive charges detonate and destroy a Japanese cave, May 1945.
(Photo: WWII Archives)

Nine days earlier on 8 May 1945, the Allied Forces celebrated Victory in Europe (VE) Day.

Dear May & Bill -

Please excuse this message on blank stationery but here I sit amidst the ruins somewhere on the Island. Have a few moments of rest so no time like the present to get a few words in to you. Have received all of your letters and am always glad to hear from you. I'm doing fine and no Jap has got me yet.

I'm pretty careful because I'm looking forward with great anticipation to getting back to good ole USA. There's nowhere like it. Fighting still in full swing here, we've gotten the Japs where we want them, they know their doom is near. The campaign isn't over yet, so I'll be more careful yet. Hope you like your new job and have you gotten your house yet?

Am enclosing some Jap genuine currency. I got off a Jap the other day. Am sure you've never seen it before. It may be a little smelly but then they are all that way. You've no idea how happy I am to receive mail from all of you. Incidentally, my girl Pearl writes she's looking forward to meeting you both. After all you will be her sister and brother in law. I hope when you open up house, you'll get her address from mom's and write her down, unless you think it better to wait till I get home someday.

Have you heard about the point system leading to discharge? Well it's 85 points and I've only 72 perhaps in a few months I'll get the other points.

Aside from fighting, life here is very dull and near morbid. Say, have you ever tried the new "C" rations, they're damn good. Hope you all are fine, give May my very best. Tell her that soon as I get out of this turmoil I'll drop her a personal letter.

Good luck to you both and best to Joanie.

Your devoted brother

Arthur

Letters From Arthur #39: 11 May 1945, Okinawa

by Jess Clackum

GIs from the 77th Infantry Division man a machine gun nest on the island of Shima, May 3, 1945. The M1919 machine gun was the standard issue for the US Army. (Photo: WWII Today)

GIs from the 77th Infantry Division man a machine gun nest on the island of Shima, May 3, 1945. The M1919 machine gun was the standard issue for the US Army. (Photo: WWII Today)

On 11 May 1945, the United States Government established the Point System to determine the time of return for enlisted military personnel to the States. 


Dear Bill and May

Forgive me if you haven't heard from me in the past few weeks. We were kept quite busy fighting on Zamami, where we established a Naval base for the Okinawa operation and then went on towards Okinawa when we invaded the Island of Ie Shima off the Coast of Okinawa. It was the worst fighting I've seen yet. We had to contend with as many land mines and booby traps and so I'm nearly grateful to God for having come thru successfully again, with not even a scratch.

I shall write you from time to time so do not worry. We're kept so busy so far we've three campaigns of major operation and five missions I take to our credit. Love to Joanie. Regards and good luck. I'm thinking of you all.

Your devoted Brother

Arthur

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune: Educator, Stateswoman, Civil Rights Activist. She Played A Vital Part In The Integration of Pilot Training Programs For African-Americans.

Young Mary Jane McLeod Bethune. (Photo: Emory University)

Young Mary Jane McLeod Bethune. (Photo: Emory University)

"As a small child, Mary Jane McLeod would routinely accompany her mother to deliver the "white people's" wash. Allowed into the white children's nursery, Mary would find amusement playing with their toys. In one instance, she curiously opened a book. Immediately, one of the white children snatched it from her exclaiming, "Put that down. You can't read!" Mary thought, "Maybe the difference between white folks and colored is just this matter of reading and writing." At that moment, the seeds for a life of learning and teaching were planted.

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. (Photo: Emory University)

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. (Photo: Emory University)

During the 1930's, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was head of the National Council of Negro Women. Using her professional relationship with President Franklin Roosevelt and friendship with First Lady Eleanor,  she successfully lobbied against segregation and for integration of the New Deal's Pilot Training program. Her efforts resulted in West Virginia State College becoming the first black school to institute an aviation program and eventually the creation of the Tuskegee Institute. 

Click here to listen to former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt interviewing her friend Mary McLeod Bethune in a 1949 radio broadcast in support of 'interracial understanding' courtesy of WNYC.

Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt at the opening of Midway Hall, May 1943. (Photo: WNYC.com)

Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt at the opening of Midway Hall, May 1943. (Photo: WNYC.com)

You can read more at the PBS Biography of Mary McLeod Bethune.

"We want people, particularly young girls to know they can do anything." --Young Filmmakers Avery Daugherty & Jessee Ford

by Jess Clackum

Avery & Jessee. We see a tremendously bright future ahead for them! (Photo: Avery Daugherty)

Avery & Jessee. We see a tremendously bright future ahead for them! (Photo: Avery Daugherty)

Avery Daugherty and Jessee Ford, students at Baseline Middle School in South Haven, Michigan competed at the National History Day Competition held June 12-16, 2016 at the University of Maryland in College Park. The annual event brings together thousands of middle and high school students, parents and teachers from all over the world. Students are invited to attend after rigorous competitions at the regional and state level.

Inspired by stories of strong women, Avery and Jessee chose to focus on the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) with their documentary titled, Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A W.A.S.P.  When they learned of the movement spearheaded by Arizona Congresswoman and veteran combat pilot Martha McSally and Erin Miller, granddaughter of WASP Elaine Harmon, to restore the WASP inurnment rights at Arlington National Cemetery, they were further emboldened to tell the story.  Their hard work earned them first place in the National History Day competition in their home state of Michigan. Their presentation of the documentary at the National competition was perfectly timed, on the heels of President Obama’s May signing of the Women Airforce Service Pilot Arlington Inurnment Restoration Act also known as the WASP AIR ACT. Though they did not win at the National competition, Avery & Jessee did an outstanding job representing Baseline Middle School and the state of Michigan with their historical documentary. 

The girls are passionate about storytelling, especially stories that inspire. Avery says,  "We want people, particularly young girls to know they can do anything. The sky's the limit, literally. You don't have to be held back by gender barriers."  

Avery and Jessee are no strangers to filmmaking. In 2015 they placed 2nd in the Regionals with a documentary Nikola Tesla - The Man Who Held Lightning.  This dynamic duo demonstrates exceptional research, interview and storytelling skills in their work and with their talent, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. We celebrate their passion and ambition and look forward to more exceptional work from them in the future!

Letters From Arthur #38: 28 April 1945, Okinawa

by Jess Clackum

Marines help an aged Okinawan to safety as a third Marine of the party carries the man's meager possessions. (Photo: Dept of Defense/USMC)

Marines help an aged Okinawan to safety as a third Marine of the party carries the man's meager possessions. (Photo: Dept of Defense/USMC)

The Battle of Okinawa took place April through June 1945. Okinawa, located in the Ryukyu Islands, south of Japan was the site of the the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater. The Battle of Okinawa was the largest sea-land-air battle in US history and the last major battle of World War II.  

Dear Bill and May -

Received your letter of the April 11th and glad to hear from you again. Did you like the souvenirs I sent home? I have a nice souvenir for you Bill. I have a Japanese box flashlight in a canvas case. I know you'll like it. How about a Jap pen? Let me know and I'll send them to you as soon as authorities permit.

I'm feeling fine after my third major operation. And thankful to God, that I am able to enjoy God's sunshine again.

Okinawa my dear brother is in the Ryukyus Islands which lie between Formosa and Japan proper. See your local Rand McNally map for further information. As for Japanese money, it is not worthless since I go through hell to get it and at times getting it is quite dangerous. So you can readily see, when doughboys get souvenirs, it isn't simply like picking up a morning paper. I'll send it to you soon.

Best to May and Joan.

Your brother

Arthur

"I, for one, am profoundly grateful that my one talent, my only knowledge, flying, happens to be of use to my country when it is needed." --Cornelia Fort, WAFS

FlyGirls remembers ... December 7, 1941

Cornelia Fort with a PT-19A. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Cornelia Fort with a PT-19A. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Cornelia Clark Fort was born to a wealthy and prominent family in Nashville on February 5, 1919. The Sarah Lawrence College graduate showed an interest in flying at an early age and later earned a number of licenses including instructor, private, transport, seaplane and commercial. In 1942, Fort, who had made history as the first woman flying instructor in the state of Tennessee, became the second member of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), the predecessor to the WASP.

Cornelia Fort would make history again as one of the first witnesses to the attack on Pearl Harbor. On the morning of December 7th, she was instructing a student pilot in the sky over Pearl Harbor when she saw a military aircraft approach her at high speed. She immediately pulled up and noticed the rising sun on the side of the plane. Moments later, the attack began. An enemy plane targeted her plane in the air and as she tried to land. When she finally landed, she and her student ran for cover. 

A page from the Cornelia Fort's logbook noting the events she witnessed on the morning of December 7th:  "Flight interrupted by Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. An enemy plane shot at my plane & missed & proceeded to strafe John Rodgers, a civilian airport. Another plane machine gunned the ground in front of me as I taxied back to the hangar." (Photo: Nashville Public Library)

A page from the Cornelia Fort's logbook noting the events she witnessed on the morning of December 7th:  "Flight interrupted by Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. An enemy plane shot at my plane & missed & proceeded to strafe John Rodgers, a civilian airport. Another plane machine gunned the ground in front of me as I taxied back to the hangar." (Photo: Nashville Public Library)

___________________

At the Twilight’s Last Gleaming, by Cornelia Fort, published in a “Women’s Home Companion“, July 1943.

I KNEW I was going to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron before the organization was a reality, before it had a name, before it was anything but a radical idea in the minds of a few men who believed that woman could fly airplanes. But I never knew it so surely as I did in Honolulu on December 7, 1941.

At dawn that morning I drove from Waikiki to the John Rogers Civilian airport right next to Pearl Harbor, where I was a civilian pilot instructor. Shortly after six-thirty I began landing and take-off practice with my regular student. Coming in just before the last landing, I looked casually around and saw a military plane coming directly toward me. I jerked the controls away from my student and jammed the throttle wide open to pull above the oncoming plane. He passed so close under us that our celluloid windows rattled violently and I looked down to see what kind of plane it was.

The painted red balls on the tops of the wings shone brightly in the sun. I looked again with complete and utter disbelief. Honolulu was familiar with the emblem of the Rising Sun on passenger ships but not on airplanes.

I looked quickly at Pearl Harbor and my spine tingled when I saw billowing black smoke. Still I thought hollowly it might be some kind of coincidence or maneuvers, it might be, it must be. For surely, dear God . . .

Then I looked way up and saw the formations of silver bombers riding in. Something detached itself from an airplane and came glistening down. My eyes followed it down, down and even with knowledge pounding in my mind, my heart turned convulsively when the bomb exploded in the middle of the harbor. I knew the air was not the place for my little baby airplane and I set about landing as quickly as ever I could. A few seconds later a shadow passed over me and simultaneously pullets spattered all around me.

Suddenly that little wedge of sky above Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor was the busiest, fullest piece of sky I ever saw.

We counted anxiously as our little civilian planes came flying home to roost. Two never came back. They were washed ashore weeks later on the windward side of the island, bullet-riddled. Not a pretty way for the brave little yellow Cubs and their pilots to go down to death.

The rest of December seventh has been described by too many in too much detail for me to reiterate. I remained on the island until three months later when I returned by convoy to the United States. None of the pilots wanted to leave but there was no civilian flying in the islands after the attack. And each of us had some individual score to settle with the Japs who had brought murder and destruction to our islands.

When I returned, the only way I could fly at all was to instruct Civilian Pilot Training programs. Weeks passed. Then, out of the blue, came a telegram from the War Department announcing the organization of the WAFS (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron) and the order to report within twenty-four hours if interested. I left at once.Mrs. Nancy Love was appointed Senior Squadron Leader of the WAFS by the Secretary of War. No better choice could have been made. First and most important she is a good pilot, has tremendous enthusiasm and belief in women pilots and did a wonderful job in helping us to be accepted on an equal status with men.

Because there were and are so many disbelievers in women pilots, especially in their place in the army…Officials wanted the best possible qualifications to go with the first experimental group. All of us realized what a spot we were on. We had to deliver the goods or else. Or else there wouldn’t ever be another chance for women pilots in any part of the service.

We have no hopes of replacing men pilots. But we can release a man to combat, to faster ships, to overseas work. Delivering a trainer to Texas may be as important as delivering a bomber to Africa if you take the long view. We are beginning to prove that women can be trusted to deliver airplanes safely and in the doing serve the country which is our country too.

I have yet to have a feeling which approaches in satisfaction that of having signed, sealed and delivered an airplane for the United States Army. The attitude that most nonflyers have about pilots is distressing and often acutely embarrassing. They chatter about the glamour of flying.

Well, any pilot can tell you how glamorous it is. We get up in the cold dark in order to get to the airport by daylight. We wear heavy cumbersome flying clothes and a thirty-pound parachutes. You are either cold or hot. If you are female your lipstick wears off and your hair gets straighter and straighter. You look forward all afternoon to the bath you will have and the steak. Well, we get the bath but seldom the steak. Sometimes we are too tired to eat and fall wearily into bed.

None of us can put into words why we fly. It is something different for each of us. I can’t say exactly why I fly but I know why as I’ve never known anything in my life.

I knew it when I saw my plane silhouetted against the clouds framed by a circular rainbow. I knew it when I flew up into the extinct volcano Haleakala on the island of Maui and saw the gray-green pineapple fields slope down to the cloud-dappled blueness of the Pacific. But I know it otherwise than in beauty. I know it in dignity and self-sufficiency and in the pride of skill. I know it in the satisfaction of usefulness.

For all the girls in the WAFS, I think the most concrete moment of happiness came at our first review. Suddenly and for the first time we felt a part of something larger. Because of our uniforms which we had earned, we were marching with the men, marching with all the freedom-loving people in the world.

And then while we were standing at attention a bomber took off followed by four fighters. We knew the bomber was headed across the ocean and that the fighters were going to escort it part of the way. As they circled over us I could hardly see them for the tears in my eyes. It was striking symbolism and I think all of us felt it. As long as our planes fly overhead the skies of America are free and that’s what all of us everywhere are fighting for. And that we, in a very small way, are being allowed to help keep that sky free is the most beautiful thing I have ever known.

I, for one, am profoundly grateful that my one talent, my only knowledge, flying, happens to be of use to my country when it is needed. That’s all the luck I ever hope to have.

Catherine Parker Chatham on being a WASP: "I don’t think I have ever worked as hard, before or since, but I wanted so much to finish.”

by Logan Walker

"I took off long ago to fly the skies of life.. And I climbed through clouds of happiness.. Along with storms of strife... And I enjoyed each moment… Whether VFR or not… For God is my instructor… And I am his student… To be taught. Lo, whether I’m 'on instruments'... Or the skies are cloudless blue… I’ll meet each challenge I encounter… With faith and courage too. For my Tutor has been patient... And He’s helped me file 'flight plans.' I know my 'final landing'... Is in His precious hands.”

Catherine Parker Chatham (Photo used with permission from Texas Woman's University)

Catherine Parker Chatham (Photo used with permission from Texas Woman's University)

So reads the quote inscribed by a classmate in the opening pages of a WASP class reunion booklet. Although the author and intended speaker remain undisclosed, such a poem could be said to aptly describe the book’s owner, Catherine Parker Chatham, whose days as a WASP were filled with “flight plans” and “final landings”. Chatham's days of scaling the cloudless blue skies were not lacking in challenges nor the courage to meet them either.

 A descendant of some of the first European settlers in Brazos County, Texas, Chatham was born in the city of Bryan. Her father, the owner of Parker Lumber Company, was a flight enthusiast who passed his passion to his daughter at an early age; “When a barnstormer would land and take people on rides, he, my mother and all of the children, no matter how small we were, would take turns flying. It was such an exhilarating experience that after graduation from Stephen F. Austin High in 1938, I went to work at this new airfield outside of town called Coulter Field,” Chatham recalled. Such a career move was largely strategic, since the burgeoning pilot knew the work would “…pay for flight lessons and flight time after I got my license. After the war broke out, I continued to work at Coulter Field until I decided to join the WASP.”

For Chatham, who longed for adventure and to join the ranks of her brothers and boyfriend who were already participating in the war effort, the prospect of flying in service of her country was irresistible.  After applying for the program, Chatham received a physical and was sent to San Antonio for an official interview.

“After I was accepted, I got my 'draft notice' and I was sent to Sweetwater, Texas for flight school,” Chatham stated, adding, “We had the same training as the males. We had navigation classes, meteorology classes, ground school and flight school. We marched to ground school. We marched to the flight line. We marched to meals. I don’t think I have ever worked as hard, before or since, but I wanted so much to finish.”

The trials of WASP training were made clear to the young aviatrix as her time in Sweetwater wore on. Class 44-W-9 began with 110 eager recruits yet only 55 women graduated, as difficult training regiments and dangerous plane maneuvers drew many away and even ended the lives of two classmates. As Chatham noted, “One of my friends made it almost to the end of training when she said, 'I can’t do this anymore.' When the men washed out, they were sent to the infantry. When the women washed out, they were sent home.”

Chatham receiving the Congressional Gold Medal from Maj Katherine Burkhead (Photo: The Eagle/Stuart Villanueva http://theeagle.com)

Chatham receiving the Congressional Gold Medal from Maj Katherine Burkhead (Photo: The Eagle/Stuart Villanueva http://theeagle.com)

After her successful completion of the training program, Chatham promptly found herself assigned to Marana Airbase in Tucson, Arizona. There she completed check flights for pilots and engineered flight checks on newly repaired planes, flying mainly the BT-13 aircraft. The independence and adventure of a pilot’s lifestyle suited her. Years later her nephew Marshall Parker remembered that his aunt “…wore slacks back before women ever wore slacks…had a crop haircut, and was pretty independent.” Chatham remained active in her WASP duties until the organization was disbanded at the end of 1944. 

Life after the WASP provided new adventures for Chatham, who moved back to Bryan, Texas and began working at the photography business of future husband Roland, a former combat photographer. Together the two created a collection of photographs that are currently in the archives of Texas A&M University’s Cushing Library.  Aside from indexing the business’s photographs, Chatham made use of her piloting skills in her post-war career, flying herself and Roland over the cities of Bryan and College Station while the latter took aerial photos. The couple, who frequently raced antique British automobiles together, married in their sixties, a subject of much jest for Chatham who commented, “I guess you could say I married the boss.” 

As her niece Candy Thompson explained, “My aunt always said as a joke that they decided to get married because she was pregnant. But the truth is, he was a photographer she had known and worked together with all her life in the studio, and when he had a stroke, she said she wouldn’t move in with him to take care of him unless they were married.” 

For Chatham, who devoted much of her time to her church, St Andrews Episcopal, and community service efforts, official recognition of her wartime efforts finally came in 2010 when she was given the Congressional Gold Medal for her services as a WASP. In a uniquely fitting gesture, she bypassed the many politicians who volunteered to award her the medal personally, insisting instead that she receive it from a modern female pilot. Air Force Major Katherine Burkhead, a B-52 pilot with more than 300 hours of combat flying over Afghanistan was given that honor.  

On August 25, 2016, six years after receiving her Congressional Gold Medal, Catherine Chatham passed away at the age of 95, in her hometown of Bryan, Texas. She is deeply mourned and fondly remembered, even by those who knew her fleetingly like Burkhead, who was among the attendees at her funeral.   To Chatham’s niece Candy and nephew Marshall, the duties of cleaning out their aunt’s St. Joseph Manor Apartment yielded surprising results when they discovered a trove of WASP related artifacts, including pilot logs, journals, and a medal from political figures including Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner. Remembering her aunt, Thompson notes, “If you knew Catherine, you loved her, you couldn’t help yourself.”  Thompson’s description of her aunt might serve as a fitting epithet for a woman known by those close to her for her independence and irrepressible love of flying. She said, “Catherine was a free spirit. I think that’s why she and I are close and bonded a lot of our lives. She got into piloting because she said she had the feeling, the freedom of flying.”

Catherine Chatham fondly recalled her WASP days. (Photo: The Eagle/Stuart Villanueva http://theeagle.com)

Catherine Chatham fondly recalled her WASP days. (Photo: The Eagle/Stuart Villanueva http://theeagle.com)

"Your future is YOUR responsibility." --Black Hawk Pilot & Chief Warrant Officer Elizabeth McCormick, U.S. Army (ret.)

by Jessica Clackum

CWO Elizabeth McCormick in the Black Hawk. Fierce and determined! (Photo: Elizabeth McCormick)

CWO Elizabeth McCormick in the Black Hawk. Fierce and determined! (Photo: Elizabeth McCormick)

Elizabeth McCormick never had dreams of flying. The extremely shy, oldest of three children whose parents divorced when she was ten, had never even entertained thoughts of joining the military much less flying in it. After her parents split up, she spent summers in Texas with her father and the rest of the time with her mother in rural Michigan. The impact of the divorce was difficult for her, placing heavy responsibilities on her shoulders and instilling in her a negative outlook on life which would take years to change.  After high school, McCormick entered Siena Heights University in Michigan on a volleyball scholarship. Playing sports helped her climb out of her shell and gain confidence she so desperately needed.

A few years later, McCormick, a military spouse who had earned an Associate’s Degree in Engineering and a Bachelor's Degree in Art with a minor in Mathematics, found herself unemployed and living at Fort Polk, a U.S. Army installation in west-central Louisiana. Despite her education, the only job she'd been able to secure had been in a pizza parlor. Miserable and wondering how she'd gotten to that point in her life, she looked over at her husband and thought, "If he can be in the Army, why can't I?" and so the next day she began researching opportunities in the Army. One thing McCormick knew was that if she was going to join the Army, she wanted the "coolest job" she could find. After much research and talking to people, she decided she wanted to be a helicopter pilot. She often remarks that when she made that decision, it was the first time in a long time that something felt right. She thought, "This is it, this is what I'm supposed to do" and she never looked back.

When McCormick entered the Army recruiting office, she found that there was no support for women in non-traditional military roles. When the Army recruiter eagerly informed her of opportunities as a cook, she politely declined and told him of her decision to become a pilot. The recruiter attempted to dissuade her more than once, citing that being a pilot required perfect eyesight, perfect physical conditioning, a college degree and leadership skills...all of which she possessed but had a hard time convincing him of that. Every time the recruiter cited an obstacle and told her she couldn't, she kept asking the question, "Why Not?" Finally, after the recruiter, in a last-ditch effort to dissuade her, informed her that he did not know how to "do the paperwork" for a woman who wanted to become a pilot, McCormick took matters into her own hands and did the paperwork herself. At that moment, the girl who had once been so shy she couldn't even call her own hairdresser, took charge of her life and embarked upon one of the most challenging and difficult jobs in the military. Despite the obstacles, Elizabeth McCormick knew that her future lay in her hands and that if believed in herself, she could do it--she would do it. 

Belief in herself, hard work and determination! (Photo: Elizabeth McCormick)

Belief in herself, hard work and determination! (Photo: Elizabeth McCormick)

McCormick admits that when she decided on becoming an Army pilot, she had no idea how difficult it had been for women to break into the aviation field. She says, "I didn't know they only let women in Army aviation ten years before and that they were only letting them into aviation one at a time to see how it worked out."

As she progressed through both Warrant Officer and flight training, McCormick was hit with harsh mental and physical challenges. While in flight school, it took everything she had to overcome the negative attitude toward her presence. While unspoken, the sentiment was clear--she was not wanted there. Despite all the challenges, McCormick never gave up and her determination and hard work earned her the rank of Warrant Officer and the honor of being one of the first 100 women to fly the Black Hawk in the United States Army. 

During her military career, CWO2 Elizabeth McCormick flew assault and rappelling training missions, Command and Control battlefield management operations, military intelligence missions and VIPs such as Generals, Governors, Cabinet Members and Members of Congress. As the S-4 Logistics Officer in Charge at the Battalion level during the UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, McCormick received the Meritorious Service Medal. In addition, she is a two-time recipient of both the Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medals and received the National Defense Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and coveted Army Aviator Badge. Disabled in the line of duty, CWO2 McCormick medically retired and was honored with the Congressional Veteran Commendation for commitment to duty and community.

Determined to inspire and motivate others to reach their potential, McCormick became a motivational speaker. She travels the world motivating, inspiring and encouraging people to live their dreams and be their very best. A number one bestselling author of a number of books including the “Soar 2 Success” series of business success tip books, McCormick is also an authority on Leadership and Veterans issues with the media and has been featured on all the major networks and the Wall Street Journal. She is also a founding member of the John Maxwell team of speakers, coaches and trainers and is an award-winning sales consultant.  

Elizabeth McCormick is grateful for her experience as an Army Black Hawk pilot and the many opportunities it opened up to her. Her decision to join the Army so many years ago changed her life, in more ways than she could've ever imagined. She is extremely thankful for all the women who came before her, who fought hard for the opportunities she's had and she is adamant that the story of the WASP and all women aviators of our past must be told. 

"RESPECT to those who came before us! That made our path a little smoother and even possible. When I joined the military, LESS than 1% of the pilots were women, now it's more than 10%--every woman (and WASP) who came before us paved that path FOR US, and every woman who flies now makes this career more attainable for our daughters and granddaughters. Let's not forget that."

Elizabeth McCormick decided what she wanted to do and she did it! (Photo: Elizabeth McCormick)

Elizabeth McCormick decided what she wanted to do and she did it! (Photo: Elizabeth McCormick)

____________________

YOU.  In the PILOT Seat

by Elizabeth McCormick

Black Hawk pilot-turned-motivational speaker Elizabeth McCormick wows audiences around the world with her motivational speeches based on her military and life experiences. (Photo: San Diego Women's Week http://sdwomensweek.com)

Black Hawk pilot-turned-motivational speaker Elizabeth McCormick wows audiences around the world with her motivational speeches based on her military and life experiences. (Photo: San Diego Women's Week http://sdwomensweek.com)

Flying a Black Hawk helicopter is…BADASS.

Let’s put you in the PILOT seat:  Imagine you are in the front car of a roller coaster, you can see everything in front of you.  No one else’s arms or back of the heads are in your view. It’s all yours to see first.  Visualize the track in front of you… extending out further and further on your ride.   Wait, erase that track.  There isn’t one.  YOU get to decide where you go.  How high, how low, how fast or how… slow.  To the right or to the left, which way you should go.   It’s all up to you.  

You are in the Pilot’s seat of your life.  

Becoming one of the first 100 or so women to fly the Black Hawk in the US Army did not come without challenges.  Oh?  You thought it was easy- right?  

There was the physical challenge; I had to physically perform at the same level as the men in Warrant Officer Candidate School- at that time (1994) the school that had to be completed to get to Flight School, and where women had to meet the same physical standards as the men.  Running in boots in gear, next to the men at THEIR pace, not mine, pushed my physical limits further than I had ever gone.  One by one, the 7 women who started in our class was whittled down to 2.  And just when I thought, this is it, I can’t do anymore.  I did more.  I had more than I thought possible.  Most of the time, it’s our thinking that limits us- not our bodies, not our environment, not our circle of influence (well, unless we let their limiting beliefs in). 

The mental game, was the toughest.   The name-calling, negativity on a daily basis can beat down the most positive person.  And I didn’t grow up super positive, the product of divorced parents with heavy responsibility placed on my shoulders.  It was a daily battle to be positive and combat the negativity that was all around me.   In flight school, it was worse.  Although no one said the words out loud, it was clear from my treatment as the only girl in my flight school class that they did not want me there. To persevere in this vision I had on the side of road of a dirty dusty road as a military wife to become a helicopter pilot, I had to create and adopt strategies to overcome this negativity.  

I’m about to share these strategies with you, first though, I want you to know.   

Your future is YOUR responsibility. 

Think about that for a minute.  No one is going to care as much as you (maybe, if you’re lucky, your parents will). If you work in a job, your boss isn’t going to care about your career progression as much as you.  If you own a company, your customers and your employees aren’t going to care as much as you.   Look at yourself in a mirror, a window, a phone and say to yourself:   

“It’s all on me.” 

Because it is.   It’s all up to you.   When it comes to your four most valuable resources and how you decide to allocate those—it’s up to you.  Oh, you want to know what your four most valuable resources are?  

1.      Your Thinking- if you could harness your thinking to work for you.  To even put your subconscious to work while you’re sleeping.  How much more effective would you be?

2.      Your Health-  without your health, what do you have?  It’s not a trick question.  This is the only body you get, are you taking care of it to the best of your ability?

 3.      Your Money- you choose how you spend your money and even how you make your money and how much money you can make.  

4.      Your Time-  you choose how you spend your time. 

These 4 resources, aren’t individual.  They work synergistically together.  The time and money you invest in your thinking shows up in how you spend your time, how much money you make, and in your physical well-being.  And when you’re feeling at your optimal health physically, it shows up in the clarity of your thinking, your energy effecting your time, which can drive your effectiveness at work or in your business and make you more money. Pick any one and you can clearly see how it affects the other 3.   

When I was in flight school as the only girl in the class, the flight instructor tried to fail me because of my gender.  It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, it was a fact.  He would yell at me every day:  “You’re stupid.  You don’t deserve to be here.  You are wasting my time.”  And the worst was “A monkey can fly better than you!”   Every day, week after week.   It would have been easier to have quit than to persevere. It was physically demanding, and mentally grueling, and emotionally it took a toll on my self-esteem… until I started developing and utilizing these confidence boosting strategies over 20 years ago (see these at www.soar2success.com).  And although my life is different now that I am a disabled veteran and can no longer fly due to my injury, I still use these today to keep my confidence high and perform optimally. "

Read more about Elizabeth at pilotspeaker.com!