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The Last Jump: Chapter 63

Derek, this is the best job I ever had. I even got to fly a Jap Zero and an early-version Bf-109 Messerschmitt. Who else could ever get a chance to do that? Right now we fly three-quarters of the planes ferried in the States with a lower accident rate than the men. We also do other jobs the guys won‚??t do.

Chapter Sixty-Three
Wichita, Kansas – December 19, 1944

‚??I am not afraid.¬† I was born to do this.‚?Ě

Joan of Arc (1412 – 1431)

December 19, 1944

Dear Derek,

I hope this letter finds you well.¬† I must confess I find myself missing you.¬† I‚??m writing from Wichita, Kansas, which has been home for the past few months.¬† Boeing has a plant here that builds the new B-29 Superfortress.¬† Dora and I are members of the Engineering Flight Test Unit for Boeing.¬† We‚??ve also been learning how to fly this monster.¬† My God, Derek, it is such a beautiful airplane.¬† It‚??s twitchy because it has some teething problems, little things like engines that are prone to catch fire, but it‚??s a dream to fly.

¬†It‚??s funny how it all worked out.¬† This officer, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, was in charge of training up a special bombing unit but his men were hesitant about the B-29.¬† It had a bad reputation as a widow-maker when it first came out and the men were nervous.¬†¬† So Colonel Tibbets contrived a plan and checked out Dora and me on the plane.¬† After much patient and exacting instruction and encouragement from the colonel, we ferried a brand new B-29 from the Wichita plant to Wendover Field, Utah, where the colonel had his training unit.¬† You should have seen the looks on the faces of those pilots when Dora and I popped out of the crew hatch.¬† Their jaws dropped when they saw that we were just two little old girls who could barely reach the pedals.¬† The colonel had no more trouble convincing his men the plane was ‚??safe and reliable‚?Ě after that.¬† No more complaints.¬† I don‚??t know what his mission is but he seemed desperate and his ploy worked!¬† When the Air Staff found out about his little trick, they forbade any more WASPs from flying the Superfortress.¬† But we continued to fly them on occasion anyway under the covers.¬† In fact I‚??m scheduled to ferry one out to Fairmont Army Air Base, Nebraska, this afternoon.

¬†Derek, this is the best job I ever had.¬† I even got to fly a Jap Zero and an early-version Bf-109 Messerschmitt.¬† Who else could ever get a chance to do that?¬† Right now we fly three-quarters of the planes ferried in the States with a lower accident rate than the men.¬† We also do other jobs the guys won‚??t do.¬† Our gals tow target planes and get shot at.¬† The ladies are also test pilots in repair depots to make sure repairs were done properly.¬† Others were assigned to Training Command as flying cadet navigators and instrument instructors.¬† Some fly experimental planes for evaluation because the more senior of us have nearly 3,000 hours in the cockpit and know damn well what the hell we‚??re doing!

¬†But it‚??s all going to end soon.¬† The WASPs will be officially deactivated tomorrow ‚?? that‚??s why I have to ferry this plane out today.¬† It seems we‚??re no longer needed like we once were.¬† Combat pilots coming home want the ferry jobs to help them get the hours they need each month to make flight pay.¬† And there are higher-ups who never accepted women pilots from the beginning.¬† So, the WASPs will officially cease to exist tomorrow.¬† It‚??s a sad day for me.¬† But maybe we advanced the cause of women‚??s aviation by our contribution in the War.¬† Just maybe they‚??ll be aviation jobs for us after it‚??s over.¬† If not for us, then for our daughters and granddaughters because they can never deny what we did for our country when she needed us most.

¬†I‚??m not complaining.¬† It will be the same for all the women who joined the WACs or WAVEs or picked up a welding torch or a rivet gun and did a man‚??s job while their men were off fighting.¬† We‚??ll all be expected to go back to the kitchen, to raise our families while the jobs go to the returning veterans.¬† It may not be fair but that‚??s the way it will be.¬† Some women will do it happily.¬† Others, like myself, would rather still be flying.¬† I think we‚??ve earned that opportunity.

¬†Nancy Love is my inspiration and my idol.¬† Along with Amelia Earhart, who as you know I met when she was an aviation advisor at Purdue.¬† I‚??m proud to have been among the 28 pilots Nancy recruited to demonstrate women could contribute to the war effort. ¬†She calls us her ‚??Originals‚?Ě, a nickname I accept proudly.¬† She also has been trying to get all us women pilots into military status so we can enjoy the same benefits as servicemen.¬† So far she has been unsuccessful but she is determined never to quit.¬† Not many people know what we have been doing so Nancy gathered some startling statistics and shared them with us.¬† In our 28-month life, the WASP organization attracted over 25,000 applicants; 1,830 were accepted, 1,074 won their wings, and 38 were killed in their duties, 11 in training and 27 on active duty.¬† We ferried more than 12,000 aircraft of 78 different types more than 60 million miles, served without military benefits, and were paid two-thirds as much as the male civilian ferry pilots who we replaced.

I know first hand that we frequently endured the worst kind of discrimination, yet I also know many of the girls would gladly continue ferrying aircraft for no salary at all.¬† So would I.¬† We would do it just for the love of it and the opportunity to be respected for what we can do.¬† Perhaps someday we‚??ll even be treated as equals.¬† Where do we find such strong and loyal women?

But no one will be able to deny the contributions of American gals to this war effort.¬† They can make us go back home to the kitchen but they can never take away what we did.¬† Things will never be the same in this country, ever again, thanks to these brave women.¬† I‚??m so proud of all my sisters in America, especially the WASPs.¬† We ‚??dames‚?? proved we could get the job done; make guns and ammo, build ships and tanks and planes and fly them too!¬† It will make a big difference to all the women in this country, if not today, then someday in the future.

I‚??m not sure what I‚??m going to do. Boeing has offered me a job and‚?¶

¬†Roxie Rawls looked up from her letter as Dora Dougherty stuck her head in the door of the small bedroom.¬† ‚??Gotta go, Roxie.¬† You‚??re gonna be late, dearie.‚?Ě

Roxie screwed the top back on her fountain pen and gently placed it on the incomplete letter still attached to the writing pad.¬† She softly closed the cover of the pad.¬† ‚??Thanks Dora, I‚??ll finish it when I get back.‚?Ě


Written By

John E. Nevola is a feature writer for Guns and Patriots. He is the author of The Last Jump, and his website is: www.thelastjump.