Monday, March 30, 2015

WASP Florence Emig Wheeler, 44-W-10 | March 30, 2015

"I had a father who was always interested in flying. He encouraged me to take it up when I had the opportunity to join the San Jose State College flying club in 1940."WASP Florence Wheeler, 44-W-10 

WASP Florence Emig Wheeler, 44-W-10
March 27, 2015, 9:43PM 

Former Healdsburg High School teacher Florence Wheeler, who served as a member of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots during World War II and later received a Congressional Gold Medal, died Monday of a heart condition. She was 92.
Born Florence Emig on April 6, 1922, in Santa Clara, she learned to fly while attending San Jose State University in the early 1940s. She became a flight instructor, and had racked up more than 1,500 hours of flying time before applying to become a WASP, said her son, Keith Wheeler.
She was one of 1,074 women who became military-trained pilots, ferrying fighters and bombers during the war in order to free men to fly combat missions. The women were not considered part of the military, though they were awarded veteran status decades later.
Wheeler moved to Nevada after civilian aviation was terminated with the onset of war in late 1941. While there, she trained military pilots before she entered the service in 1944. She earned her wings in Sweetwater, Texas, and served as a WASP for just 10 days before the group was disbanded in December of that year.
But her flying days continued long after her wartime service. She returned to San Jose to finish college, and taught lessons to prospective pilots at Reid-Hillview Airport until 1952.
“You can be up 6,000 feet all by yourself and you can see to the Sierra, the Farallones, you can see Mount Shasta, beautiful, just beautiful,” she told a Press Democrat reporter in 2009, describing her love of flying. “And you are in charge of this machine. It’s kind of great.”
She passed that enthusiasm on to her own father, Bill Emig. She taught him how to fly in 1950, and he earned his pilot’s license at age 74.
Bill Emig was the sheriff of Santa Clara County, while Florence Emig’s mother, Leora, fed the homeless and poor during the Great Depression. The family ethic was one of service to the community.
By the time she was 30, she was a home economics teacher at Healdsburg High School, where she taught for 30 years.
She met her husband, Marshall Wheeler, in the mid-1950s at the high school and they married in 1956. Their son, Keith, was born in 1957, and their daughter, Paula, in 1958. While raising her family, Florence Wheeler continued to be active in a Sonoma County flying club. She also made her own clothing, as well as clothing for her children. She made her daughter’s prom dresses and also created costumes for high school plays.
She learned woodworking, plumbing and basic electrical work, and also enjoyed art, painting and other crafts. She handcrafted some of the family’s furniture.
After retiring from teaching, she returned to school at Alameda City College, with her daughter, to study fashion design for two years.
She was active for decades in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Santa Rosa, of which she was a founding member.
She traveled to Paris, London and Egypt, and she and her husband enjoyed the outdoors and hiking at Yosemite. She hiked around the Healdsburg area until about 2008, when her health began to decline. 
In 2010, despite flagging health, and at her son’s insistence, Wheeler attended the Washington, D.C., ceremony awarding the World War II WASPs with the Congressional Gold Medal. 
“We had a great time, maybe that was the best time I ever had with my mom,” Keith Wheeler said.
A novel by Jeane Slone, “She Flew Bombers,” is loosely based on Florence Wheeler’s life. She served as a technical editor for the novel, which Slone dedicated to her.
Florence Wheeler is survived by her husband, son and daughter.
“I said a little prayer for Floss,” said caregiver Stacy Sincheff, using Wheeler’s nickname. “I told her, ‘Now you can fly, see your mom and sister, and you can do it without your airplane.’ ”
A memorial service is planned at 1:30 p.m. April 18 at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 547 Mendocino Ave. in Santa Rosa.
*Article respectfully reposted from The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, California
**Quote from Out of the Blue and Into History, by WASP Betty Turner

Friday, February 6, 2015

WASP Eileen Wright Ferguson, 44-W-7 | December 10, 2014

"My mother had an amazing memory for facts and details.  She could converse about Latin, opera, or horticulture, then turn around and name her students from all her years and their parents, sisters and brothers, then tell you about her travels naming sights, histories, the food, the people, and a plethora of detail on a vast range of subjects."             
             /s/ Scott Ferguson

Eileen Elizabeth Wright, daughter of Joicie Fay Wilson (Wright) and William Henderson Wright,  was born in Baltimore, Maryland on September 11, 1920. 

As a young girl growing up in Baltimore, Eileen was bright and active.  Her mother fashioned her daughter’s  handmade dresses with matching bloomers underneath, because the young girl loved doing handstands.  

During 4th and 5th grades, Eileen was moved ahead of her class, skipping several semesters of school.

After graduating from high school, she worked for an insurance company and attended secretarial school, eventually taking a job with Baltimore Gas and Electric.  

When America was thrust into World War II, Eileen wanted to do more for her country, but her job was considered essential.  When her childhood friend, Lila Moore, told her about the WASP training program, the two young women began taking flying lessons on weekends until they had the required number of hours to apply for the WASP. 

After applying and passing the entrance exam, the physical exam, and the required personal interview, Eileen and Lila were both accepted into the WASP training program as members of WASP Class 44-W-7.

In February of 1944, one of the coldest winters in West Texas history, the two friends, together with 101 other hopeful young women pilots, arrived in Sweetwater, Texas.  Over the next seven months, Eileen completed WASP training and graduated on September 8, 1944.

Eileen's Army orders sent her to Columbus Army Air Field in Columbus, Missouri, where she reported for duty with the 30th Flying Training Wing, which was a   part of the Army Air Forces Eastern Flying Training Command.  There she flew AT-10's (flight testing, ferrying, and as an administrative pilot).  

Eventually, Eileen was sent to Avenger Field for advanced training.  She remained there until the WASP were disbanded on Dec. 20, 1944.

Although her Christmas that year was sad, Eileen remained hopeful, applying to 30 different airlines for a flying job.  Unfortunately, the only job she was offered was as a basic flight simulator instructor.

In 1948, on a cross-country trip to California, Eileen decided to enroll at Pasadena City College.  She soon earned her Associate's Degree.  After graduation, she enrolled at UCLA, where she earned her B.A. Degree in Education, with a minor in Latin.  In 1950, she began teaching school at Repetto Elementary School and continued her education at Cal State.  Eventually, she earned a Master's Degree in Education.

As a teacher, Eileen was free each summer to travel, which is one of the reasons she chose teaching as a career.  On one of her trips, she met and fell in love with artist Ben Ferguson, a decorated, medically retired WWII Army Captain, at a local art show.   After dating for several months, they were married at the American Cathedral in Paris in 1956.  

Eileen eventually returned to the US to begin teaching again.  Her husband,  Ben,  joined her in California for a short time.  Scott Todd Ferguson, her only son, was born in August, 1959,  Soon after, the couple divorced.

For three decades, Eileen Wright Ferguson served as a teacher:  16 years of first graders, one year of teaching combined 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades,  and thirteen years teaching 2nd graders.  At one point, she was chosen the “Southern California Representative for the National Education Association”.   
As her son, Scott, said:

"She had an amazing memory for facts and details.  She could converse about Latin, opera, or horticulture;  then turn around and name her students from all her years in teaching and their parents, sisters and brothers;  then tell you about her travels-- naming sights, histories, the food, the people, and a plethora of detail on a vast range of subjects!  She also had a sharp wit with a ready wry comment.  She was interested in Art, Science, and Current Events;  was a voracious reader;  she played bridge; and was a  letter writer with hundreds of friends and pen pals.”

After retiring, Eileen traveled extensively, visiting art museums, gardens, and galleries, and attending plays and operas.   She was invested in sharing the culture of her community, serving as a docent at a Pasadena museum until her health kept her from climbing stairs.    Eileen was also a life long member of the Methodist Church.

Eileen Elizabeth Wright Ferguson passed away December 10, 2014 with her son, Scott, by her side.  Her ashes will be partially scattered over her parent's graves at Woodlawn Cemetery in Baltimore, MD and inurned in a niche at Arlington National Cemetery, date tbd.

Eileen's legacy of service, not only to her country, but to her community and to the lives of countless young students she inspired with her colorful stories of remarkable things she had witnessed, will live on.

Our hearts go out to Scott and to all of those who were touched by this WASP: patriot, teacher, mother.  God bless you all.

Respectfully posted by Nancy Parrish
with Scott Ferguson 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Flora Belle Smith Reece, 44-W-4 | December 1, 2014


 "God is the center of everything I do.
That's who I am."

WASP Flora Belle Smith Reece, 44-W-4
October 21, 1924 - December 1, 2014


Article below respectfully reposted with thanks to Rebecca Amber, Edwards AFB 
and the Antelope Valley Times, Lancaster, CA.


W.A.S.P., 90 years well lived

EDWARDS AFB – Antelope Valley residents said ‘goodbye’ to World War II-era Women Airforce Service Pilot and Congressional Gold Medal recipient Flora Belle (Smith) at the age of 90. Reece died peacefully in a UCLA medical facility after being removed from life support.

Those who knew Reece well will remember she had three priorities in life: God, family and aviation – in that order.

Reece was born Oct. 21, 1924, in Sayre, Oklahoma, during the Great Depression. She had three siblings James Evan, Mary Lea and LaWanda. Her parents, Robert and Agnes Smith were sharecroppers.

As a toddler, Reece would ask to hold her baby sister LaWanda and when she’d had enough, she’d stand up, “dumping LaWanda unceremoniously on the ground.”

Women Airforce Service Pilot Flora Belle (Smith) Reece spoke at the W.A.S.P. memorial dedication at Lancaster Cemetery in 2011. (Aerotech News photo by Rebecca Amber)
WASP Flora Belle (Smith) Reece spoke at the W.A.S.P. memorial dedication
at Lancaster Cemetery in 2011. (Aerotech News photo by Rebecca Amber)
According to her daughter Connie Fox, Reece “Kept the adults watching her closely. She basically did as she wished and everyone around her scrambled to make sure all was okay.”

Her father was a Southern Baptist preacher and her mother a homemaker. Before she entered kindergarten, Reece was assigned regular chores like keeping the kindling box full for the cast iron stove.

Her son, Russell Reece, remembers hearing stories about a cow that had to be milked three times a day. The cow would come as close to the house as she could and bawl for Reece’s father to come milk the cow.

Later on, she was assigned to plowing the fields.

“She would guide the horse to the end of a row, wait for her older brother Evan to turn them around to start the next row,” said Fox.

And as she plowed, she would look to the skies, watching the birds as they effortlessly soared by. She knew that like the birds, she wanted to fly.

When she told her father, as a young girl, that she wanted to fly, he would respond, “Flora Belle, that isn’t something girls usually do, but if you can figure out a way to make it happen, more power to you.”

In school, when Reece was told to write down what future career she would like to pursue, she would write “pilot.” This resulted in being called into the office and told that girls could not be pilots and that she would need to choose something more practical.

“Never once did her enjoyment of or her desire to fly waiver,” said Fox.

During her senior year in high school, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was bombed by the Japanese.

Young Flora Belle (Smith) Reece is shown between fellow classmates after graduating from B-26 school in Harlington, Texas. Reece was younger than her classmates because she entered the service at 19 when the minimum age was 21. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Young Flora Belle (Smith) Reece is shown between fellow classmates 
after graduating from B-26 school in Harlington, Texas. Reece was younger
 than her classmates because she entered the service at 19 
when the minimum age was 21. (U.S. Air Force photo)
After graduation, she responded to a notice that  Jacqueline Cochran had placed in the local papers looking for 21-year-old women to fly military aircraft for the Army. She sent for her birth certificate, knowing it would be a few years before she was old enough to join. However, someone in the county clerk’s office mistakenly put her older sister’s birth year on the document, making her eligible right away.

After being interviewed and given a physical, she was told she would need 35 hours of flight time logged in order to join the W.A.S.P.

Reece once mentioned in an interview that it was as if he’d asked her for the moon because the cost of flying was so high. Her older brother, an Army lieutenant, was the answer to her problems when he agreed to lend her the money for private flying lessons.

As a W.A.S.P. trainee, Reece was assigned to a bay with five other women at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. She was often teased about looking young by the other women who did not know she was only 19.

“After about six weeks, she couldn’t stand that she’d entered W.A.S.P. illegally and went to the commanding officer,” recalled Fox.

Since the age requirement was set to be lowered and she was doing well in her training, the issue was dropped.

On the day that she soloed in the North American T-6, Reece forgot to pick up her instructor and bring him back to the hangar. She ran out to meet him, offering to carry his parachute, although he declined.

Then one rainy day, that same instructor allowed her climb through an opening to fly above the clouds because “Flora Belle never gets lost.”

The wide open space was wonderful for practicing her acrobatic maneuvers. But, after rolling and spinning, her hole in the clouds was gone and she was lost. As she had been instructed, she found a farm with phone lines and prepared to land, worried that she would be sent home if any damage came to the airplane.

She was met by local farmers who helped her call the base and put on an impromptu potluck. The next day, she was picked up by her instructor and a mechanic in a cattle truck. The most embarrassing part of the whole experience was carrying her parachute in that morning, because everyone could see she didn’t make it back in time to turn it in the day before.

For weeks, Reece thought she would wash out of the program, and when she could not stand it any longer, she asked her instructor about it.

As it turned out, he had known for weeks that everything was fine.

When she asked why he waited so long to tell her, he said, “Remember my having to walk back to the hangar carrying my parachute? Now we’re even.”

Of the 25,000 women who applied, less than 1,900 were accepted and only 1,074 earned their wings. Reece graduated with hers in May of 1944 with Class 44-W-4 and served until the W.A.S.P. was disbanded in December of that same year.

W.A.S.P.s Flora Belle (Smith) Reece and Dorothy Allen put on make up in the reflection of a P-38.  (U.S. Air Force photo)
W.A.S.P. Flora Belle (Smith) Reece and Dorothy Allen
put on make up in the reflection of a P-38. (U.S. Air Force photo)

It wasn’t until 1977 that the W.A.S.P. were granted full military status for their service. Prior to that, they had been considered civilian pilots. In 2010, they were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal for their distinguished achievements. Both Connie and Russell were in attendance at the ceremony in Washington D.C.

Though she appreciated the gesture, Reece once remarked that she would have preferred to have been given military status at the time, so she could have continued flying.

Reece spent the majority of her time as a W.A.S.P. flying the North American AT-6 “Texan,” which she called a “beautiful airplane.” Her assignments usually involved transporting non-flying officers, photographers for the newspaper and chaplains wherever they needed to go. She was later trained to fly the B-26, known as “the widow maker,” which she used to tow targets for gunner’s practice.

Her dream though, was to fly the P-38. She was never given the chance, but she was certainly ready for it. When ace pilot Maj. Richard Bong toured a base she was stationed at, she convinced the ground crew to let her sit in the cockpit so that she could memorize the instrument panel.

She was finally afforded the opportunity to ride as a passenger aboard a P-38 in Burbank, Calif. at the age of 79.

After leaving the W.A.S.P., Reece returned to Oklahoma in 1945, where she married her high school sweetheart Ralph, an Army Air Force mechanic. The two moved to California and had their first child, Connie. They were married for 62 years before Ralph’s passing, and they gave birth to two more children, Cherryl and Russell.

“Mom taught us to help others. She stressed this particularly in regard to including unpopular school mates in activities,” recalled Russell. “At one time a school [administrator] commended Connie because Connie had included a minority student in some activity in the face of considerable peer pressure.”

Years after moving to California, Reece went to school, got her credential and became a teacher. She taught math at several schools, including Park View School in Lancaster. At that school, she started the first computer lab using Apple IIe computers and attempted to recruit the support of other teachers. Only one of those teachers would allow her students to turn in type-written homework assignments. The rest insisted that computers were “just a fad.”
In their retirement years, the Reeces spent two years with the Peace Corps in Malaysia, India and Thailand.

Even after Ralph’s death, Reece continued to find ways to serve others. In 2009, she went with a group from Faith Community Church to the Philippines.

For years, she presented photographic slides from her W.A.S.P. days to military groups, schools and community organizations. She was an active member of the Antelope Valley 99s, the P-38 National Association, and participated in many W.A.S.P. functions.

At a 2014 Veterans Day ceremony at Lancaster Cemetery, attendees signed a “Get Well” card to be send to Reece. Less than a month later, Reece died peacefully in a UCLA medical facility after being removed from life support.
At a 2014 Veterans Day ceremony at Lancaster Cemetery, attendees signed a “Get Well” card
 to be send to Reece. Less than a month later, Reece died peacefully in a UCLA medical facility
after being removed from life support.

Reece also stayed very connected to Edwards AFB.

“I recall young men assigned to Edwards coming to the house after church or for church-sponsored activities for many years,” said Russell.

Reece was one of four W.A.S.P.s who lived in the Antelope Valley. The other three were Margaret (Castle) McAnally, Irma “Babe” Story and Marguerite “Ty” Hughes Killen.

A memorial with pictures of all four women is in the Lancaster Cemetery Veterans Court of Honor.

Reece is survived by her daughter Connie, her son Russell, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

“God is the center of everything I do,” said Reece in a former interview. “That’s who I am.”


Friday, October 10, 2014

WASP Ruth Glaser Wright Gushe, 44-W-10 Oct. 4, 2014

"I have always felt that the WASP experience was the greatest achievement in my life and everything thereafter was anti-climatic!  ...I still look to the sky at any sound of aircraft, and remember the good old days..."   WASP Ruth Gushe' * 

Ruth Glaser Wright Guhsé passed away on October 4, 2014 in Athens, Georgia. Born Ruth Nydine Glaser on December 31, 1923 in Los Angeles, California, Ruth was a wife and mother of two children. She is survived by her son, David Wright of Athens, Georgia (wife Anette) and her daughter, Melinda Pomeroy of Portland, Oregon (husband Jeff) as well as three grandchildren (Solomon Weil, Ella Weil, and Jacqueline Wright) and two great grandchildren (Zidane Indarta and Raza Indarta).

Ruth had an early love of flying that developed because she lived near Clover Field in Santa Monica and Mines Field, which is now Los Angeles International. Part of her desire was, no doubt, due to publicity about Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh. She eventually learned to fly with a group of women with whom she worked at North American Aviation. Because they were unable to fly on the coast they drove out to Baker, California after work on Fridays and returned on Sunday nights. She learned to fly in a 65 hp Porterfield and also took some time in a Meyers OTW, so as to familiarize herself with an open cockpit. After learning to fly she joined the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

After all the tests and the physical, she was assigned to 44-10, the "Lost Last Class of Avenger Field." At Sweetwater, Texas, they received primary training in PT-17s and then transitioned to AT-6s.  She did instrument training in BT-13s and then flew AT-6s again for advanced and cross-country training. After graduation she was assigned to Aloe Army Air Field in Victoria, Texas, for tow-target duty and was there when the WASP were deactivacted.

After deactivation, Ruth was hired by Pan American Airlines as a stewardess and purser. She flew extensively across the Pacific to Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Midway, Wake, Guam, Manila, Bangkok, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Okinawa. In January of 1948 she married Jack Wesley Wright. They took over a flight school in West Sacramento-Capitol Sky Park, but within a couple of years, her husband was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away in 1961.

In 1956, she returned to work. She worked for 31 years as an office manager/financial manager in the construction and architectural fields. In 1964 she married F. Ross (Dick) Guhsé. They were married for 23 years; she was stepmother of Lynn, David and Laurel and step-grandmother to Jason Guhsé. Her husband Dick passed away in 1987, also from cancer.

In 1987 she started traveling, returning to Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. She also took tours to Kenya and Egypt, Indonesia and Bali, the Greek Isles, Ireland, China, South America, and Tahiti. With another former WASP, Emily Kline (44-1), she flew around the world in 1997. They started with Hong Kong for the Chinese take-over, then on to India and the Taj Mahal, London and the theater, and then back home.  She also attended many WASP reunions.

Ruth moved to a retirement community in La Jolla in 1999 where she could look out her balcony and watch the huge waves breaking onto the shore. In 2006 she moved to another retirement community in Portland, Oregon so as to be closer to her daughter. In 2009 she moved to Athens, Georgia to be close to her son and his family.

Ruth always felt that the WASP experience was the greatest achievement in her life and everything thereafter was anti-climactic! She made life-long friends there and over the years enjoyed using her computer to keep in close contact with her WASP friends. In 2010 she and the other WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. She also held membership in the Ninety-Nines and the Women Military Aviators. To the end she still looked to the sky at any sound of aircraft and remembered the good old days.

Ruth’s remains will be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery. Remembrances can be sent in the name of Ruth Glaser to the WASP Endowment.


Reposted with great respect by Wings Across America. 

* Quote from WASP Betty Turner's "Out of the Blue and Into History,"  p. 560  Aviatrix Publishing Inc., 2001

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lorraine Marion Nelson Bain, 44-5 May 23, 2014

One Sunday afternoon the coyote hunters were giving airplane rides.  My brother and I...  were the first riders to go up. We were promised a good ride to attract a crowd.  We got our money's worth! 
                 WASP Lorraine Nelson Bain

Born  April 16, 1920 on the family homestead in Tampico, Montana. Lorraine Marion Nelson was the daughter of Nels Crist and Mary E. Nelson.  She was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Faith. She attended Buggy Creek grade school and graduated from Glasgow High School in 1937. 

Following high school, Lorraine went to work in a doctors office, saving money to go to nursing school.  Her primary  ambition was to be an airline stewardess, and requirements for stewardesses also included a nursing degree.    One Sunday afternoon, she was able to go for her first airplane ride.  Immediately, she was hooked on flying.  Eventually, she used all the money she had saved to take flying lessons.  She earned her private pilot certificate in Billings, Montana on August 6, 1941.

In 1944, Lorraine heard about the training program for women pilots and applied.  She passed all the requirements and was accepted into class 44-5.  Lorraine and 123 other young women pilots paid their own way to Sweetwater, Texas in December of 1943 to enter training.

After successfully completing seven months of Army Air Forces flight training, Lorraine and 71 of her classmates graduated, earned their silver WASP wings and were given their official Army orders.  Lorraine was sent to Pecos Army Air Base in Pecos, Texas, as a maintenance pilot for the the twin engine UC-78.

After the WASP were deactivated in December of 1944, Lorraine moved to Seattle, Washington and enrolled in the CAA Aircraft Communication Training course.  After passing the course, she was stationed in Gustavus, Alaska as aircraft communicator then transferred to CAA 8th Region, Anchorage, Alaska as a Link trainer instructor, where she worked until January of 1947.  From September  1948 to October 1949, she worked as a Link trainer instructor and assistant to the Chief Pilot for Alaska Airlines.

On February 3, 1950 she married James A. Bain, who was in the United States Air Force. Upon their retirement, Jim and Lorraine moved to a small farm outside of Chireno, Texas, where she volunteered for several organizations including a Nacogdoches Hospice; she also taught computer skills for SeniorNet. 

In 2010, Lorraine and her fellow WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, highest civilian honor that Congress can bestow.  

Lorraine lived a wonderful and event filled life She will be greatly missed by all of her family and friends, for whom her passing marks the end of an era.   She passed away May 23, 2014 at age 94.  

She was preceded in death by her son Nelson Charles Bain in 1966. She is survived by her husband James A. Bain, Sr. of Woodstock, GA, sons, James A. Bain, Jr. of Midland, MI, William Joseph Bain (Kari) of Tulsa, OK, and Roger L. Bain (Sherry) of Muenster, TX and daughter, Mary F. McCoy (Michael) of Woodstock, GA. She is also survived by grandchildren, Austin, Wyatt, Matthew, Penny, Chuck and Pete and great-grandchildren, McKenna, Ryan and Melanie Lorraine and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. 

A Funeral Service was held Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Woodstock, Pastor Paul Baumgartner and Pastor Justin Ask officiating. Iinterment at Ft. Douglas Military Cemetery.   Online condolences may be offered at www.woodstockfuneralhome.comIn lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Valley County Pioneer Museum, PO Box 44 Glasgow, MT 59230. 

God bless all of those whose lives were touched by this remarkable lady pilot.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Margaret 'Peggy' Werber Gilman, 44-W-10 May 29, 2014

Margaret Werber Gilman died May 29 at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. She was 90.

Margaret Werber Gilman enjoyed a comfortable Great Neck youth with horseback riding and ski vacations, but she soon sought a new challenge.  She found it flying planes with the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II.

Gilman died May 29 at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. She was 90.

In a statement, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who honored Gilman in 2010 when the female pilots, known as WASP, received Congressional Gold Medals, called Gilman "a pioneer who forged a new path for future women aviators here in New York and beyond. . . . Her legacy will continue to inspire generations of women."

Gilman's role as a female flier occurred after American pilots were in short supply in the war's early days. One answer was found in more than 1,000 women picked by Army Air Corps officers from a pool of 25,000 applicants. They were trained and assigned duties ranging from aircraft transport to aerial target towing.

Gilman was one of the last to enter the program before it was disbanded in December 1944, arriving for training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, in May at the age of 20. She'd learned to fly not long before.

In Texas, "she would fly targets that the men would practice live fire on," said her daughter, Jane Gilman of Garden City. Sometimes their bullets missed the target, embedding with a ping in her aircraft.

By 1944, said Katherine Landdeck, a historian at Texas Woman's University and an authority on the WASPs, "American men were able to do the jobs women were doing. It was OK to have women releasing men for combat duty but not to have women replacing them."

Gilman married the veterinarian Manny Gilman, a pillar of American thoroughbred horse racing, and stayed home to raise their children. He died in 2011. 

WASP were not officially designated military veterans until 1977. Gilman felt the slight most when it came to the 38 comrades killed in wartime service. "She used to say how sad and pathetic it was that when the men died, they would ship coffins home to their families, treat them with such reverence," her daughter said. "And when women died they had to get together and get their own money to ship their bodies home to their families."

In a 2002 oral history now archived at Texas Woman's University, Gilman looked back on her service not with bitterness but satisfaction: "Learning to take orders and criticism and not explode, you know; I probably still don't like it. But I can cope with it. I can hang in there."

Besides her daughter, Gilman is survived by her son, Charles Gilman of Plandome. She lived most recently in North Hills.

Burial was on Monday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Great Neck with an Air Force Honor Guard in attendance. A flyover followed.

Originally published: June 5, 2014 8:07 PM
Updated: June 5, 2014 9:52 PM