Sunday, November 22, 2009

They Slipped The Surly Bonds Of Earth

Today, through gauche words that lack the lustre and polish called for, we endeavor through intent, to celebrate history! We pay homage to The Pioneers, The Women, The Wasps, and forever, The Flygirls!

Climb and soar with these Immortals of the Air! Join as we fly into dawns' bomb bursting sky 'neath the sheltered wings of history, and aside, very possibly, the greatest women pilots of all time! Even the most tacit of readers may be moved in their approval and wonder by these brave women who engaged the altitude and far reaches of the skies! Find yourselves perched high atop images painted here, through their history, and yearning to take flight alongside their labor of patriotism, love of America, their consuming passion for flight all intermingled with adventure...

The Flygirls are a classic case and embodiment of remarkable women doing remarkable jobs, in remarkable times, and under remarkable circumstances. Having the appropriate descriptive quotation on hand at this, the exactly right moment, escapes one. To that end, we offer up this powerfully poignant verse as a tribute to them.

High Flight
by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Published in 1943, this is a transcription of the original manuscript in the Library of Congress
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sun-ward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless falls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor eer eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Sound off, Bring it on Down...Let's do proceed onward, thoughtfully and gingerly to surmise an answer to the questions that follow... Who were these whiz girls flying at 2200 hours, wearing flying jackets, helmets, gloves and goggles? They not only could fly, but indeed they tested flight! Who were they, in approaching the speed of sound more than satisfactorily by all intents and purposes, proving true Sir Isaac Newton's first law of motion which states that objects in motion will continue to move in a straight line at a constant velocity unless acted on by an outside force?

Who were these women, this cadre and cultivation of beautiful dishes, (in keeping with the 1940s ebullience of slang...hubba, hubba!) social grace and talent who remained unparalleled and displayed exemplified prodigious behavior beneath outrageously difficult contempt and misunderstanding? Why did they choose to overcome the biases and challenges of women's ability and yet were able to stand heads above others? Who were they to dismiss the timeworn idea of using women in the military prior to the start of World War II...yet, most certainly serving as pilots and using their skills to that end?

And why did these women do what they did? Because they had to? Because it was long ago by a mis-stroke of destiny implanted in their genes? Were these women, first and foremost, radicals? Or were they great women at great moments emerging upon history with their passion ignited and playing out?

These questions certainly titillate the senses of inquiry and resonate with many!

The Flygirls' origin, the first seed of germination for the unusual employ of women pilots was planted, from several accounts, by forces moving through parallel universe in the same direction and similar goal.

The idea was championed by Jacquelyn Cochran, one of the most famous women pilots of all time, as early as 1939. In a letter she had written to Eleanor Roosevelt, herself a champion of women's equality, appeared this excerpt: "I believe in a future conflict the bottleneck will be skilled pilots, and perhaps we can make use of the women who have those skills in this conflict."

Enter, stage right or left, Nancy Love, an active pilot who simultaneously neath multiple efforts supporting women pilots in the war effort, and through a variety of military connections moved forward in her persuasive efforts to gain recognition of womens' skills in piloting during conflict.

Ultimately, through passage of time and these womens' efforts, the Secretary of War made a formal public announcement, in the midst of WWII, that the United States was going to recruit a small, elite group of women pilots to participate in the war effort! Hurrah! The call rang out clearly! Women with flight experience were, indeed truly needed NOW to fly for the militia! The earlier and fervent urgings, pleas and intuition of both Cochran and Love had finally reached sufficient altitude and soared to dizzying heights! (If only...others would have heeded their sage advice the first place, tsk, tsk!)
The Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) beneath Love and the Training Program beneath Cochran, each already in existence, merged to form the components of the Womens Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), fondly known as Flygirls! The WASP became part of the Air Forces while the nations' total manpower resources called for release of male pilots for other duties of combat. So, there you had it, bam! The early 1940s, straight into the muck of the Second World War, women answered the call for volunteerism to serve their country!

It is said that in the "call" for recruits, nearly 25,000 women applied for WASP service, with numbers less than 1,900 ultimately accepted.

Under the careful tutorialship and leadership of Jackie Cochran, these dishes of femininity (as they were sometimes aptly labeled) were amazing successes beyond all expectations! These women made known that they, yes they could get the job done! It was proof positive and evident through these women that indeed women are as physically and mentally capable of piloting planes as men! They had firmly, along with the history of Amelia Earhart, made their mark on women pilot pioneering!

After completing four months of military flight training, history inures us with the understanding that from 1942 to 1944, more than 1,000 women ultimately earned their wings and became the first women in history to fly American military aircraft through the skies. Simply, these amazing women who priorly lived their lives as mothers, and wives, or secretaries, librarians or socialites, ultimately, together, became the WASPs, The Flygirls "fitting" the call to service as the most skilled women pilots of elite talent!

Soon, with careful acceptance and skills, women joined together in a common cause for American Freedom, and not unlike the cunningly beautiful speeding cheetah of the African preserves, these Flygirls would buzz the fields in unit formation and with lightening speed peel off with surprising skill to touchdown and land one after another.

Oh yes! Flygirls could soar the star-studded skies or maneuver where visibility was thicker than the soup in any hash house of the 1940s!

Their jobs numbered many,...they were trained in the ferry of aircraft, testing of planes, engaged in instruction of male pilots (yes, you heard it correctly!), even tow targets for anti-aircraft artillery practice.

They were a glamorous looking elite fighting group of girls with a spirit of adventure abiding in their patriotic hearts and souls! Uniform styles evolved from mens uniforms complete with neckties to Flight uniform of gray slacks to gray jacket with cowboy boots for cruising altitudes! The smart elite uniforms ultimately evolved into khaki cotton trousers, white shirt and smartly tilted khaki overseas cap. And, yes, did we fail to mention, these high-flying women wore the emblem unit wings proudly...Fifinella, created by Walt Disney who was intrigued with the mission of the WASPS?!

While these ultimate Flygirls were not engaged in combat ready training, their course of instruction was basic to that for aviation cadets. With the exception that the WASPs thus received no gunnery training and very little formation flying and acrobatics, they went through the maneuvers necessary to be able to recover from any position. Here is a quote from history: "The percentage of trainees who were eliminated during training compared favorably with the elimination rates for male cadets in the Central Flying Training Command" (How's that for equality of the sexes?)

We'll quote statistcs further from history...The Flygirls, the WASPs were stationed at air bases across America and engaged in inumerable flight-related missions! These Flygirls, flew a whopping sixty million miles of operational flights between aircraft factories to military training bases, to ports of embarkation and towing targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice and simulated strafing missions, and transporting cargo. Almost every type of aircraft flown by the USAAF during World War II was also flown by the Flygirls at any given time and place.

Interestingly, the brightest and best of the best, the crem de la crem of Flygirls were called upon to test rocket-propelled planes, and the conditions were harsh! They test piloted jet-propelled planes. Another historical statistic: Between September 1942 and December 1944, the WASP, our Flygirls, took part in the delivery of over 12,000 aircraft of over 70 different types. Let's just call it safe to report that over fifty percent of the ferrying of combat aircraft within the United States during the war was carried out by WASP. And, that fifty percent statistic spelled F-R-E-E-D-O-M for you and me today!

As in the throes of any war, lives are lost..and the Flygirls were no exception. Thirty eight of the bravest, most noble, selfless women died in service. And, I don't know about my gentle readers, but this Bungalow '40s gal finds a huge heaping lump lodged in the throat right about now mingled with a fair shair of stinging tears of injustice. But why?It's important to understand, that WASPs did not have military status and received no military benefits.The WASP were civil service employees There existed no proviso, whatsoever, for these amazing women! ( In 1949 the Air Force offered commissions to all former WASPs).

Ultimately, further opportunity for the WASPs, again our Flygirls, to play a critical role in the war effort was abruptly canceled by politics and resentment through public sentiment of women engaging in "mens' roles", and it would be thirty years before women would again break the sex barrier in the skies.

Sadly, in summation, through historical beliefs and political dead-ends, women's' role in the war effort was canceled and the WASP program was ultimately disbanded in 1944. Simply through a cold memorandum, showering her remnants as a burning meteor upon the WASPS, America's shining legacy, the Flygirls, became "material in excess of needs"!

The Flygirls were "the cream" of the Air Force.

The WASP, these Flygirls, had successfully completed their mission helping their country move toward the sweet sound of victory. America will long remember their service and their ultimate sacrifices.

Just over thirty years after the WASPs were disbanded, the U.S. Air Force announced that women were going to be allowed to serve as military pilots for the first time. This announcment came not as a victory to the former Flygirls, the WASPs, but considered a loss of wind in recognition to them, and far beneath the wings of their prayers.

Fighters and their avengers for the recognition of the WASPs war time service, at long last, found victory in 1977, as both the House and the Senate votes granted the WASPs military status and eligible for veterans benefits! And, here I quote a veteran source, presently unknown, acknowledges the Flygirls service and accomplishments during the war. "We were finally recognized for what we had done thirty years before." Another was quoted...this status "gave the families of the girls that were killed a feeling that they died for their country." And WHAT's MORE, readers...The change in WASP military status meant that a WASP "could and should put the Stars and Stripes on the grave of a WASP colleague to commemorate Veterans Day".

In 1984, each WASP was awarded the World War II Victory Medal. To those women serving for more than one year, the American Theater Ribbon/American Campaign Medal was awarded. And while, perhaps posthumously received by family, these awards were truly deserved.

Remember the Flygirls and their impact upon history and acknowledge them with confidence! We have very much to be grateful to them for and in so many ways. These women, among others in history, have taught us much!

Certainly, we all experience history together. Ultimately, we are all part of it. Each in our own way, contribute our share of events to the tapestry and weave of history. There are those, however, who make history in a very huge and unexpected way. Throughout these words, I hope you can feel the history retold yet again, and unfolding before your very eyes through these remarkable women, the Flygirls. I hope you can feel it. I hope that everyone can feel its very special touch upon their lives.

To the Flygirls, we offer expressions of wonder, a Tailspin and a Flyover for the service you've given to your country. What a meaningful message and innate goodness and pride you've left to our country, and our people.

On occasion, should you see a plane silhouetted against the darkening night sky...Let us stop, every one of us, stand and toss a hearty and spontaneous salute at these women's' remarkable moments left upon history. We must be heedful and profoundly grateful of the service of these women!

We shall never, truly never see anything of their surprising ilk or like them ever again to press upon the innocence of an American conscience. But, being ever optimistic, I for one will hold out, and patiently abide while giving way to history...

High flying salute to Dreamers and Shenandoah B&B!

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