WASP Lela Louder Harding passed away on May 4, 2010, simply and quietly, after loosing a long battle with cancer. There was no official obituary. However we will remember Lela for the determined lady she was. Lela Harding was a WASP, and, once a WASP, always a WASP.
On March 10, 2010, even though she was very, very sick, Lela made the trip from her home in Oklahoma, City to Washington, DC and was able to attend the WASP Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony with her family. They took her to the US Capitol in a limo.
Lela's friend, WASP Betty Riddle, hadn't heard from her and tried to call. When she discovered the phone had been disconnected, she knew something was wrong.
I had talked with Lela on several occasions, trying to set up an interview so we could digitally record her history. Circumstances always seemed to prevent really getting to know this special WASP, and now, I am filling in the blank pages with words from books. Thankfully, Lela wrote a few paragraphs in WASP Betty Turner's "Out of the Blue and Into History," and was featured in Mary Ann Verges' "On Silver Wings."
Respectfully, I submit the following:
Lela Louder was born on July 26, 1920 in Cisco, Texas to a West Texas cattleman and his wife. While she was attending West Texas State College in Canyon, she enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training program and, over her mother's objections, "sweet-talked her daddy" into paying for the advanced training.
Lela graduated from college in May of 1941, got a job as a music teacher near her home and, using her salary, bought part interest in an airplane. Not long afterward, she applied for a position with the United States Navy, and was assigned to the Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi, teaching Naval cadets instrument flying in the Link trainer. While at Corpus, Lela heard about the WASP training program and, after her two roommates were accepted, she finally submitted an application and was accepted for the training program. She arrived at Avenger Field as a member of class 43-7 and graduated on November 13, 1943.
Lela was assigned to Williams Army Air Base, where she flew as an engineering test pilot, checking out repaired aircraft. Eventually, she was transferred to the Ferry Command at Love Field, and ferried At-6's and Cubs, and was later transferred to Lubbock, where she flew AT-10's.
After the WASP were deactivated on Dec. 20, 1944, Lela flew surplus PT-19's from Vernon, Texas to Wickenburg, Arizona and eventually was hired by American Airlines as a stewardess.
In 1946, she married Jack Harding. Preceded in death by her husband, Jack and son, John, Lela is survived by son Ben, daughter Jane, two stepdaughters and many grandchildren.
For more on WASP Lela Harding, read "On Silver Wings" by Marianne Verges.