Tuesday, July 29, 2008

WASP Margaret Ringenberg, 43-W-5

Gone West: Noted Aviatrix Margaret Ringenberg

Died In Her Sleep... At Oshkosh

by ANN Correspondent Dave Slosson

Another World War II flyer, and one of EAA's Timeless Voices, went west Monday... and from AirVenture, no less.

Margaret Ringenberg was a Womens Air Force Service Pilot in World War II, ferrying bombers, fighters, and transports overseas. She was in town to give a seminar on her experiences, and died in her sleep Monday morning.

Ringenberg announced the war's end in 1945 to Fort Wayne residents by dropping 56,000 leaflets proclaiming "Japan Surrenders!" from a plane over downtown streets. Both newspapers in the city were on strike, so a radio station hired her to make the historic "news drop." After the war, she was a flight instructor for many years, and became a cross-country air racer in 1957.

She continued to race, competing last month in the women-only Air Race Classis, flying from Bozeman, MT to Mansfield, MA, finishing third with her co-pilot, Carolyn Van Newkirk. Margaret is listed in Tom Brokaw's book, "The Greatest Generation," taking up an entire chapter. She gave Tom a flight lesson when he interviewed her. Brokaw said Monday he was heartbroken to hear of her passing. "Margaret was one of my favorites," he said.

Margaret never intended to be a pilot. She wanted to be a stewardess, or flight attendant as they're currently called. She wondered what would happen if the pilot needed help or became ill, so decided to do what she could to have some skills in case that happened. She quickly found she loved to fly, and another pilot was born. Roger Myers, Greater Fort Wayne Aviation Museum board member and WWII bombardier, worked closely with Margaret for many years. He said there were two rooms in her house that were floor-to-ceiling with trophies and ribbons she'd earned over the years. Yet Margaret was never one to brag, always passing herself off as another veteran who did what they could during the war. In July 2002, she was honored as one of Indiana's six Living Legends. Last summer, she was honored as a flying legend by the Gathering of the Eagles at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Alabama.

She met her husband, Morris, during the war. They were married for 56 years before he passed away in 2003. They had two children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. The couple lived in Leo, Indiana for many years.

Her daughter wrote a book about her mom, "Maggie Ray, World War II Air Force Pilot." Margaret wrote her own book in 1998 with Jane Roth titled, "Girls Can't Be Pilots."

When she spoke to a group of NASA employees a few years ago, they offered to let her try the Space Shuttle simulator. Her granddaughter, who accompanied her on the trip, said the employees said almost all pilots who were trained on it crashed a few times until they got the hang of it. Each time she tried it, Margaret landed perfectly.

I met Margaret only once, but talked to her many times via radio, pilot to controller. She was 87, and had been flying only with a safety pilot for the last several years. She was a true American hero, and just as down to earth as the land she and her husband farmed. It is so appropriate she passed away in Oshkosh. You're flying now, Margaret, and we'll see you on the other side.

Thanks to Joyce McCartney of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette for some of the facts in this story.

FMI: www.airventure.org, www.girlscanfly.net/
ORIGINAL ARTICLE ONLINE: http://www.aero-news.net/index.cfm?ContentBlockID=42b306a2-4eaa-4019-bd6a-db4c93b6b5eb&
Her incredible legacy:
MARGARET’S HOME PAGE: http://www.girlscanfly.net/
A visitation and memorial service will be held from 2 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m. Monday at Grabill Missionary Church, 13637 State St., Grabill.
Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Aug. 5.
Arrangements by D.O. McComb & Sons Funeral Homes.
How I remember Margaret--as the little girl on the cover of her book, "Girls Can't Be Pilots." Even though she was in her 80's at the time, she had that same sparkle in her eyes when she talked about flying, and if you looked close, you could almost see those freckles.

What a legacy she leaves. Family, flying, faith...
What an honor it was to have known her.

More on Margaret as it is available.


Submitted by Nancy Parrish, Wings Across America

News Sentinel - Fort Wayne, IN
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

Faith, family and flying

Tears, joy mix as kin, friends honor aviator

Becky Manley
The Journal Gazette
• The service for Margaret J. (Ray) Ringenberg will be at 10 a.m. today at Grabill Missionary Church, 13637 State St., with visitation one hour prior. Arrangements by D.O. McComb & Sons Pine Valley Park Funeral Home.

AUGUST 5, 2008

GRABILL – As family and friends grappled with the emotions spawned by the loss of legendary aviator Margaret J. Ringenberg, the tears often gave way to laughter as cherished memories were shared.

Family members agreed that Monday’s visitation for Ringenberg was a celebration of a life lived with determination, faith and no regrets.

Ringenberg, 87, died in her sleep July 28 while in Oshkosh, Wis., for an air show to give a presentation as a former member of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots, or WASPs.

“I can’t think of a more fitting way for her to pass,” said Jon Wright, 33, Ringenberg’s grandson.

Granddaughter-in-law, Becky Wright, 32, said Ringenberg knew to appreciate life and its experiences – whether she was watching her great-grandson play on the monkey bars or she was flying around the world.

“So many people say live life to the fullest, and I think she realized what that meant.”

The Wrights laughed as they said they imagined when Ringenberg arrived at the Pearly Gates, she likely informed St. Peter a mistake had been made and pulled her BlackBerry out to tick off the obligations on her busy schedule.

That BlackBerry was the first thing Jon Wright said he asked for, and he carried it in his pocket while at Ringenberg’s visitation Monday, calling her a “gadget grandma.”

“The sadness is ours because we miss her,” Becky Wright said.

Grandson Josh Wright, 29, of San Antonio, said Ringenberg’s family got “so spoiled” by the frequent chances to ride with “the grandma that flies,” they would sometimes turn down flights.

Wright also confessed to the possibility he may not have waxed his grandmother’s plane as perfectly as she liked, a challenging task grandson Joe Wright, 31, learned in junior high.

“I’m certainly not a perfectionist, but I was for her,” Joe Wright said about the waxing work.

Ringenberg joined the WASPs in 1943 as a ferry pilot. After the WASPs disbanded, she became a flight instructor in 1945 and began racing in 1957.

Ringenberg announced the war’s end in 1945 to Fort Wayne residents by dropping 56,000 leaflets proclaiming “Japan Surrenders!” from a plane over downtown. Both newspapers in the city were on strike, so a radio station hired her to make the historic “news drop.”

According to her biography, Ringenberg took her first flight, from a farmer’s field, at age 7. In 1998, Tom Brokaw spent an entire chapter of his best-selling book “The Greatest Generation” on Ringenberg. She gave him a flying lesson when he interviewed her.

While so many people are familiar with Ringenberg’s flying legacy, Joe Wright said she also left an important family legacy.

Ringenberg, who told her loved ones that so many families are broken and separated, insisted the family get together for a meal every Sunday.

“She wanted us to stay together,” Joe Wright said.

Ringenberg was strong, stubborn and a woman of faith, Joe Wright said.

“She told me and she told our parents she prayed for us daily,” Joe Wright said.

Saying he believes in the power of prayer, Joe Wright said, “I just can’t imagine how our lives have been shaped (by her).”

It took no fewer than nine tables throughout the long hallway at Grabill Missionary Church and a video slideshow to share Ringenberg’s life, including her service, her racing career and her family.

Among those who attended Monday’s visitation was Dan Reed, 59, of Fort Wayne, who was taught by Ringenberg in the 1970s when he sought his commercial and instrument flight license.

While Ringenberg expected hard work from her students, Reed said she had a way of teaching – and correcting – that made him feel encouraged.

“She’d work you hard,” Reed said.

Visitors also included Susan Sears, 62, and Esther Wyandt, 74, both of the Indianapolis area and, like Ringenberg, members of The Ninety-Nines Inc. International Organization of Women Pilots.

Sears, who knew Ringenberg for about 15 years, said Ringenberg was an “accomplished pilot,” “personable,” and a “pioneer in flying.”

Both Sears and Wyandt agreed Ringenberg helped women who strived to be pilots.

“Certainly people like Margaret paved the road and made people understand women could fly.”

Halfway through Ringenberg’s evening visitation, more than 200 signatures filled the guest book’s pages.

Visitors filed passed an array of floral arrangements, including one with a card that read, “Your former student. Thanks for giving me my wings.”

Another former student, Gordon Liechty, 69, of Leo, was among the evening’s visitors.

Liechty said Ringenberg gave him lessons about 1960, and they would fly from her backyard.

Ringenberg was a “great lady” and pilot who knew her plane well, Liechty said.

“She did things out of the ordinary, things people said couldn’t be done, but that didn’t stop her.”


  1. Margaret was a wonderful person. I'm so glad we were able to meet and get to know her. She will be sadly missed.
    Judy Wolff

  2. What a Great Movie could be made from this Lady,
    very few could be picked from Hollywood that had and still has her Class. I wish I had the Money to make this Movie, it would be Made, I hope someone from Hollywood thinks about it and has it made.

  3. I would have loved to have met her. She was an inspiration to many of us women pilots.