Verneda Rodriguez McLean: WWII pilot, artist, teacher, lover of poetry.

by Logan Walker

No one can tell me,
Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.

It's flying from somewhere
As fast as it can,
I couldn't keep up with it,
Not if I ran.


Like the opening stanzas of The Wind on the Hill, a poem from one of her favorite writers A.A. Milne, Verneda Rodriguez McLean was a woman who spent her life in the pursuit of travel, discovery and movement.  As a WASP pilot as well as an artist and a traveler, she left her mark across the boundaries of international soil and through the sky above it, as she navigated the air carried by the wind under her metal wings. Her destinations were varied, but her trajectory was always one of forward motion, driving her toward the next station or pursuit.

Born on January 11, 1918 in Chicago, McLean’s mother was Danish and her father, a native of British Guyana. The family made their home in one of Chicago’s Hispanic American colonias, small residential communities located in the city’s industrial sectors. After graduating high school, McLean attended a Chicago Teaching College, but soon the onset of WWII would prompt a significant career shift for McLean in the form of her application and acceptance into the WASP program, joining class 44-W-6. McLean was one of 78 newly minted WASP who graduated at Avenger Field on August 4, 1944.  A noted lover of poetry, the inscription she left under her photo in the 44-6 WASP class book quotes the first line of the A.A. Milne poem Disobedience, reading “James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree”.

Roddy Rodriguez McLean (top row, middle) with classmates at their graduation from flight training, Avenger Field, Sweetwater, TX, August 1944. (Photo: USAF, No. 1330 N-1)

Roddy Rodriguez McLean (top row, middle) with classmates at their graduation from flight training, Avenger Field, Sweetwater, TX, August 1944. (Photo: USAF, No. 1330 N-1)

Having received her wings, McLean, nicknamed “Roddy” by her fellow WASP, was assigned to tow gunnery training targets for male soldiers’ shooting practice at Moore Field in Mission Texas. The close proximity to gunfire made this an especially hazardous task and completing training duties required a particular courage and unshakeable temperament. McLean also carried out the occasional transport duties of aircraft from various airfields and factories that was standard for WASP.

Following the end of the war, McLean moved back to her hometown of Chicago, taking a job with the Weather Service before moving to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. There, she met and married former WWII B-25 bomber pilot Edward R. McLean, whose Air Force career sent the couple traveling to such places as Japan and the Philippines.

It was during McLean's stay in Tokyo that the former aviatrix became an accomplished painter, studying and practicing the traditional oriental brush technique. When her family relocated back to Virginia, she taught art classes and held occasional exhibitions of her paintings. She became an entrepreneur, opening an artwork and gift shop with friends called The Late Possum, and in the late 1960’s, co-owning The Place, a coffee house that featured folk music.

Despite the decidedly grounded nature of her life, McLean's piloting past would resurface later when she became an active force in the WASP struggle to gain veteran status with military benefits, a fight she was joined in by her daughter Mary Lynn.

(Photo: FindAGrave.com)

(Photo: FindAGrave.com)

McLean passed away in March 1982 at the age of 64. It had only been five years since she and her fellow WASP had won their battle for veteran status. She is interred at Arlington National Cemetery and it is believed she was the first WASP to be buried there.  A pursuer of adventure, a lover of art and aviation, and a woman unafraid to join a fight to achieve her valued goals, McLean dictated the terms of her own path to the end. Just as she recalled his writing at the end of her WASP training, it may be fitting to let the words of A.A. Milne provide an addendum to her life and career:

And then when I found it,
Wherever it blew,
I should know that the wind
Had been going there too.

So then I could tell them
Where the wind goes...
But where the wind comes from
Nobody knows.

_________________________

 Sources                                  

"Rodriguez McLean, Verneda." Latinas in History. Brookyln College, 2008. Web. 6 Sept. 2016.

FitzPatrick, Gene Shaffer, ed. "WASP Newlsetter 12/01/69." WASP Newsletter V (1 Dec. 1969): 5. Scribd. Web. 6 Sept. 2016.

Ashcroft, Dr. Bruce. "Verneda Rodriguez McLean." Verneda Rodriguez McLean. Air University, n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.

Ruíz, Vicki, and Virginia Sánchez Korrol. Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2006. Print.

Milne, Alan Alexander. "Wind On The Hill Poem." Poemhunter.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.

Arredondo, Gabriela F., and Derek Vaillant. "Mexicans." Encyclopedia of Chicago. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Sept. 2016.