Friday, August 7, 2009

WASP M. Winifred Wood, 43-W-7 Aug. 6, 2009



WASP M. Winfred Wood, 43-W-7 passed away in the early morning hours of Aug. 6, 2009. Although my heart is heavy with this news, when I remember Winnie, I smile. She was one of those iconic WASP--a WASP's WASP if you will--who inspired us, educated us and challenged us all to do a little bit better--to be a little bit better. And, judging from those lives she touched, she left behind that wonderful legacy in the lives of her family, her students and those of us lucky enough to have met her and call her 'friend'.

Winnie was born in Macon, Georgia but spent her early years in Coral Gables, Florida. She majored in English History at the University of Miami, was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority and spent a year in law school. Her career before the WASP also included her position as a German translator at the Censorship Bureau and as a Link instructor at Embry Riddle University.

Winnie learned to fly because all her friends were flying. She took lessons at a seaplane base in Miami from Nancy Batson, who was later hired by the Air Transport Command as one of the first female ferry pilots in the Air Transport Command’s Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Winnie was accepted into the WASP training program in Class 43-7. After graduation, she was stationed at Mather Field, California, completing B-25 school. She was then transferred to Biggs Field, El Paso, Texas, to fly B-25's as a tow target pilot.

Even before the WASP were disbanded in December of 1944, Winnie began writing a book, "WE WERE WASPS," completing it in 1945. The book, featuring the drawings of her great friend, WASP Dot Lewis, is now in its fifth printing.

During her life after the WASP, Winnie worked in New York in personnel for B. Altman. She then returned to Coral Gables where she earned a Master's Degree from the University of Miami. She spent time teaching in California and then taught in Europe for the USAF.

Returning to the states, she worked as a school teacher at the Idyllwild Elementary School for a number of years. (She had a large group of former students who kept in touch with her and visited with her over the last few years.) She also taught school in San Marcos, California, where she lived for a number of years before moving back to Idyllwild to live with her friend, WASP Dot Swain Lewis, for almost 20 years.

Winnie fought a valiant battle against macular degeneration, finally moving into ‘The Village’ in Hemet, Ca where she continued to work on a novel about the residents of a fictional facility-- much like the one she lived in. Dot Swain's drawing is a tribute to Winnie's great effort to keep in touch with her classmates--taking on the responsibility of Class Secretary. Her greatest delights, said Chig Lewis, "was the ascension of her niece, Janet Reno, and all that involved."

Winnie was a ‘larger-than-life’ woman who never left you wondering how she felt or what she thought. Winnie called it like she saw it--and, thankfully, she decided to capture exactly how she felt about being a WASP. Her 1945 book, "WE WERE WASPS," is a delightful recollection of her experiences--and in her typical ‘ no holds barred’ fashion, she told it just like she remembered it and left it for America to enjoy

It would be difficult to put into words the ‘last flight’ of Winnie Wood. However, she did not leave that for any of us to do. She did it herself sixty-four years ago, and it is just as relevant today as it was on the occasion of her ‘last flight’ for the Army Air Force-- in 1944, as she records it on p. 191 of her book, "WE WERE WASPS". In her own words……

“The ground station gave us directions as though this were just another mission. Our time up, we swung around the area for one more look at White Sands, Alomagardo , the firing ranges, all the landmarks that had grown so familiar to us. Then we went in.

It would be nice to say that I greased that last landing in, but it wasn't so. With the usual bounce and hop, I got the ship down and taxied to the ramp.

‘Form One’ took a long time. So did gathering our gear and checking to be sure the ship was in order. Finally, we could delay no longer and had to climb out. Kaddy patted the wing as we walked toward the nose of the ship.

“Goodbye baby, you're a good ole girl,” she said.

We stood off and took one last look at the ‘Baby’. We certainly had spent a lot of time flying with her. It was like saying goodbye to someone we loved.

"All the flight equipment that we had used had to be turned in. The A 2 jackets, with our squadron insignia of a flying duck towing a target, were placed in the duffle bags with a sigh. Helmets, goggles, fur lined boots, that we had so needed on the high altitude missions, followed. The lockers had an empty forlorn look....

...Leaning back in the day coach, I began to see it all so clearly that it will last me for always, in color and with music. The California snow and the Texas canyons, the music of the B25s and the ‘git fiddle’, all the planes, and all the people that were slipping right out of my life. They took away my silver wings, but they left me with something brighter, something that won't tarnish until I am old and feeble and can no longer even remember fun.”

_________

In 1994, Winnie wrote an epilogue for "We Were WASP". In those final pages, she talks about America's new-found interest in the WASP. Her friend, Kaddy Steele, who had taken that last flight with Winnie in the B-25, joked that they were becoming "Living Legends".

"Living Legends!" wrote Winnie, "I cannot believe that any of us, as we marched to flight line, worried about check rides or wrestled with our zoot suits, thought we would ever deserve such a label. Still, it has a nice ring to it."

_________________

It does indeed.

Winnie Wood, Living Legend.

God bless Winnie, her wonderful family, and all whose lives she touched with her giant spirit, her hearty, infectious laugh, and her talent for telling a great story.

She has climbed to the peaks above storm and cloud
She has found the light of the sun and of God,
I cannot say, I will not say
That she is dead. She is merely flown away.
James Whitcomb Riley

Respectfully submitted by Nancy Parrish

August 6, 2009

19 comments:

  1. Was so sorry to read about Winnie's death. She was a good friend of my late aunt, Caryl Jones, and I got to meet Win when she and Aunt Caryl came to visit me years ago when I was working on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. I enjoyed her fun and humor. It was wonderful to read this testiment to her life. R.A. Jones

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  2. How very beautiful. How very true. She was a gal like no other. You have said it all.
    Betty Brown

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  3. Win and I were stationed together the whole time we were in the WASP. We were 43-7 and we went to B-25 school togethr, then stationed at
    Biggs Field , El Paso in the 6th Tow Target Squadron. We flew together in the B-25, the B-26, the AT11 and the AT-7. We were a close group,
    which included Caro Bosca and Kaddy Steele.

    I loved Winnie like a sister and we kept in touch all the time. She and I spent time together in
    Phoenix after the WASP, when she was married to Barney Duane and I was married to Fred Jennings. We cooked our first Thanksgiving turkey
    together, and that is another wild story. I will miss her so much. I just talked to her about two weeks ago.

    Love to all her family. Nell
    "Mickey" Bright

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  4. Winnie had a great journey and will be missed.

    Vi Cowden

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  5. I was a friend of Dot Swain in our late teen years. This is how I came to meet Winnie Wood in Idyllwild. Quite a gal, pleasant, funny, too. It was my pleasure to spend some time with her. May she rest in peace.

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  6. I met Winnie in Idyllwild while I was visiting Dot. She was so kind to my daughter Paulina, who wants to also be a pilot. Gave and Signed her book and insisted she read it. I am honored to have met her. Danielle Segura

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  7. Miss Wood was my teacher from 4th to 6th grade at Orange Glen Elementary School in Escondido, California from 1976-1978 (give or a take a year!)...she was one of the greatest influences on my life...a rare woman and definitely a throwback to a better time in America. About 25 years later I went to visit her 2 or 3 times in Idyllwild. She was also a good friend of my mother, Bonnie.

    It's too bad to hear this news, but she did live a long time...I think she must have been almost 95...

    As I say, one of the best influences on my life, having her for 7 hours a day at a very formative time in my life...

    Rest in Peace, Miss Wood. You will always be in my heart...

    Bruce Alvin McDonough, Jr.

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  8. I read Ms. Wood's book years ago, and always wanted to know more about her. Pity I didn't know she was still alive until I bumped into this site.

    Could anyone out there tell me what the "M." stood for, or when Ms. Wood was born? If Bruce McDonough is right, it would be 1915.

    Fly high, Winnie.

    B. J. Pryor
    pryor.notice@gmail.com

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  9. Reading about today's activities (March 10, 2010) honoring women in aviation, my memory turned to the time I was a teaching colleague of Win's in Escondido at Conway School and then again at Orange Glen School. So, I decided to search the net and, sadly, I found that she had passed away just last year... Teaching in open-spaced settings with her in San Diego County, I had the opportunity to marvel at her rapport with students and her ability to capture their imaginations in every aspect of the curriculum. Win always challenged students to think deeply and expected all of them to do their very best. It didn't matter who they were, she would leave no stone unturned to reach all them. The sky was the limit and she encouraged students to reach, and she stood ready catch them if they fell... She went to great lengths to make learning meaningful to all. Seeking to give her charges a more authentic feel for history, Win would complement readings and lectures by routinely writing plays for students. In particular, I remember a production about Spanish explorers she wrote. The students had a ball and probably didn't realize that learning could be this much fun... She was a wonderful teacher and human being -- unforgettable. After all these years, I can still conjure images of her and the sound of the Southern twang, in her voice... I wish I had looked for her sooner... Peace, Win... G. Dalton

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    1. OH! I solo remember that!!! She was my teacher at OG Elem for three years (4th/5th/6th) and she taught combo classes so we were in 4/5, 5/6 etc. She wrote a play once about Jason and the Golden Fleece (I think) and I was playing Athena and I blurted out a line from Romeo and Juliet joking and she wrote it into her play! (Jason, Jason, where for art thou Jason?" haha A bunch of her students from the 1970's just found each other and every single one of us are saying that she changed our lives - many of us are teachers now. She loved the Lord and loved her students. And I could write for days telling stories of all she did for us. :-) Glad to find this site to honor a legend and life changer.

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  10. Ms. Wood was my 6th grade teacher in 1979 at Orange Glen Elementary School. I was just reading on CNN.com about the ceremony at the capitol honoring the WASPs. She was such a wonderful teacher and kind lady. I remember her calling her students 'lamb' and teaching us how to square dance, as well as teaching us proper placement of commas! I learned so much that year.
    She will be missed. She was a beautiful human being!

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    1. Hi Trish,
      This is Joe S.. You may remember me from your year in Mrs. Woods class.I was probably the one voted most likely to go to prison, Ha Ha... It is nice to hear a framiliar name. I truley miss Mrs. Wood and that year in her class. She had a profoundly positive effect on this under-achievers life. I will never forget Mrs. Wood. I' m listed in the local telephone book if you
      want to say hi. May God bless you Trisha.
      sincerely, Joe

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    2. Yeah, I remember the square dancing too...most of the boys hated it (or pretended to) but looking back on it, it was pretty valuable..along with "Hawaiian Day" and lots of other things that I seriously doubt many teachers do in this day and age when they have so many more regulations to follow, standardized tests, and the rest...I know the story since my parents have been involved since that time and it's no longer a free, or even good, job anymore. Teachers have been forced to be more like cops these days. If Miss (not Mrs. by the way, she never married) Wood was around today, she would never teach, she'd probably get fired for being too liberal and free spirited.

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    3. I just posted...its not showing (?) Students find us on Facebook:
      "Orange Glen Elementary School (1970's Escondido, CA)"
      Ms. Wood changed lives - looking forward to seeing her in Heaven :-) Dana S. Chisholm

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    4. Sorry you had a problem... your original post just needed time to process-- but it is showing above. Blessings and Happy New Year.

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  11. I was blessed to have been taught by "Mrs. Wood" in elementary school in Escondido, CA. She was very patient with this oftentimes disruptive student. She encouraged me to read and write above my grade level and introduced me to books and authors that Junior High students were reading. I will remember her for helping me channel my energies into the dramatic arts - we used to do skits and plays for the entire school on Friday mornings. I saw her a few times after I grew up and even then gave me encouragement to be and do more.

    Rest in peace Mrs. Wood. This greatful student will always remember your kind but firm teachings.

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  12. oh no .. dono where my comment went to ? maybe straight to heaven to her...ill wait to see if it's just needing time to post ...Lorna Carr 76-79 student of Ms Woods. .

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  13. I knew Win through my aunt, Jill Campion who was a great friend of Wins. I stayed with her in 1971 and boy she made me laugh, called me 'hon' and told me some great tales of her time flying all those aircraft that l had only heard about. I last spoke to her in 1984 and when she moved we lost touch. A Great woman and a Great loss.

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