Tuesday, December 29, 2009

WASP Helen Cannon, 44-W-9

Helen Cannon, a pioneering, 20-year veteran of the Clark County School Board whose efforts had a lasting effect on education in Southern Nevada, died Christmas Day in a Utah rehabilitation center. She was 93.

Cannon helped govern the Clark County School District from 1960 to 1980, overseeing a period of growth while making students her priority. Her contributions earned her a middle school named in her honor.

"If you talk to administrators or teachers, they will tell you that she left an everlasting philosophy of children as No. 1," said former Gov. Kenny Guinn, who served as district superintendent while Cannon was on the board.

She was born May 16, 1916, in Cameron, Wis., a small farming town about two hours east of St. Paul, Minn. She earned a degree in physical education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

After teaching for a few years, she earned a pilot's license. During World War II, she flew and tested repaired aircraft for the Army Air Corps. She was among the little more than 1,000 women to earn one of the dangerous positions at a time women were excluded from flying in combat.

"We all thought we were being discriminated against," she told the Review-Journal in 1988. "We were as good as the rest of them (men). But we didn't fight it because we were so happy just to have had the training."

She met her husband, Robert Cannon, after the war. The two moved to Las Vegas, where he became vice president and general manager of the Tropicana.

While on the School Board, Cannon was instrumental in introducing free lunches at elementary schools, establishing the Southern Nevada Vocational Technical Center and the Variety School for the handicapped and creating KLVX-TV, Channel 10. During her 20 years on the board, the student population more than quadrupled, going from 20,000 to nearly 90,000 students.

Her daughter, Alice Kennedy, said her mother worked tirelessly for students.

"She was on the phone all the time, and if anyone called her about any problem they were having ... she called up and got to the bottom of it," Kennedy said.

A 1980 Review-Journal editorial about Cannon declared that she probably "touched the lives and directed the means of learning for more young Nevadans" than all other trustees at the time combined.

She was an avid golfer, woodworker and reader. She served as a Cub Scout den mother, sat on the local Girl Scout Board and taught swimming for the American Red Cross.

In 1988, she ran for a sixth term on the School Board against Lois Tarkanian. Cannon raised more than $9,000, more than her five previous races combined. But she was outspent by now-Las Vegas City Councilwoman Tarkanian, and Cannon lost.

She is survived by her daughter, Alice, son Robert Cannon Jr. and seven grandchildren. Services will be held in Las Vegas but have not yet been arranged.

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.


From Betty Turner's "Out of the Blue and Into History:" "I guess mostly I have been a teacher -- public schools, flying, camp counselor, den mother, Red Cross swimming and life saving, swimming and synchronized swimming in the backyard (with a show at the end of the summer with music, black lights, etc.) tutoring reading, and many years of teaching Sunday school.
I have my many memories, family, and have been truly blessed."

She was blessed indeed -- and was such a blessing to so many. What an extraordinary lady--what an extraordinary contribution -- to her family, her community and her country.
respectfully submitted
nancy parrish


Friday, December 25, 2009

WASP Mary Cooper Cox, 44-W-3

The Watertown Daily Times online

CLAYTON — Mary Eaton (Cooper) Cox, 85, of Clayton, New York, formerly of Watertown, NY, died in Chesapeake, VA, on Monday, December 21, 2009. As a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in World War II, she was granted the Congressional Gold Medal, which will be conferred on her posthumously in early 2010.

Mrs. Cox was born in New York City on January 19, 1924, the daughter of Katherine Hahn Cooper and Howard N. Cooper, MD. She lived most of her life in Watertown, where, with the encouragement of her father, she began flying at the age of 16.

After graduating from Dana Hall in Wellesley, MA, she began her aviation training at Embry Riddle Flying School, FL.

Mary answered a call to help her country by applying to the WASP. Upon her acceptance, she trained at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, TX, graduating in April 1944 as a member of the Class 44-W-3. Mrs. Cox was stationed at Cochran Field in Macon, GA, where she served as a test pilot and flew P19s, Fairchild 24s and AT6s.
When the WASP gained Veterans' status in 1978, the Department of the Air Force recognized Mrs. Cox's service with the Victory Medal, the Honorable Service Lapel Pin and the American Campaign Medal.

In January 2009, she received the Distinguished Service Medal. In November 2009, the Secretary of the Army, the Honorable John McHugh, awarded her with the Army Public Service Award.

After World War II, Mrs. Cox worked for American Airlines in New York City briefly and returned to Watertown to work as a flight instructor at the Watertown Airport. It was there that she started to give flying lessons to a naval war hero, George Emerson Cox, Jr. They married on November 27, 1947, at First Presbyterian Church. Mr. Cox died January 9, 1972.

Mary was a licensed real estate broker from 1967 to present. She was honored by the Jefferson and Lewis Board of Realtors in September 2009 for her long commitment to the profession. She also volunteered at Samaritan Medical Center for over 60 years. She assisted patients in many capacities through her Bent Twig Group, of which she served as president. She was an honorary member of the Black River Valley Club. On September 5, 2009, she was honored for her 60-plus years of membership and service at the Clayton Yacht Club, of which she served as commodore.

Mrs. Cox was the subject of numerous articles in the North Country and was featured in an exhibit, "Lest We Forget," at the Jefferson County Historical Society in October 1999. In July 2001, her efforts in World War II were honored at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton by Martin and Ineke Zonnenberg's donation of the St. Lawrence Lady's Skiff, dedicated as the "Mary Cox." In November 2004, Mrs. Cox was an honored guest at the Syracuse University Air Force ROTC Detachment 535 Dining Out, where she was feted by members of the Hap Arnold Society and she regularly attended WASP.

She is survived by her four children: Katrina M. Cox of Watertown, David O. Cox (Mary Pat) of Fayetteville, NY; Capt. James C. Cox, USN (Ret) (Susan) of Chesapeake, VA; George E. Cox III, Esq. (Debbie LTC, USA (Ret) of Bethesda, MD; five grandchildren: Megan D. Marx, Ensign James C. Cox Jr., Elizabeth M. Cox, Katharine E. Cox and G. Emerson Cox IV; and three great-grandchildren: Kehely and Madison Cox and Emma Marx. She is also survived by two sisters: Sandra Cooper Uhlein (Wyatt) of Litchfield, CT, and Virginia Rhett of Sisters, OR; four nephews and two nieces.

Calling hours will be Friday, January 8, 2009, from 4 PM to 7 PM at the Cleveland Funeral Home, 404 Sherman Street, Watertown, NY. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, January 9, 2009, at First Presbyterian Church, Washington Street, Watertown, at 11:00 AM.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the First Presbyterian Church, Washington Street, Watertown, NY 13601 or Hospice of Jefferson County.

Friday, December 4, 2009

WASP Mildred McClelland Christiansen, 43-W-6

Mildred McLelland Christiansen was born on April 9, 1918 in a farm house out in the country in La Fayette County, between Higginsville and Odessa, Missouri. Her first memories of school were a one-room school house, where she shared a little country desk with her younger brother. Millie grew up in a loving, Christian family, and the Baptist Church was the touchstone of her life. She was baptized on New Year's Eve when she was 13 years old. Even as a young teenager, she participated in her church, teaching Sunday School to fifteen-year olds when she was only nineteen. One of her jobs was encouraging 200 kids to read their Bibles every day. Later on, Millie even taught Sunday School at First Baptist Church, Sweetwater, while she was in training at Avenger Field, where she still has friends, including Tula Mae Pinkard, the wife of WASP Flight Instructor, Harl Pinkard.

Millie graduated from Tulsa Business College and worked as secretary to the District Superintendent of Prudential Insurance Co. and for Carter Oil Co, but in 1942, after Pearl Harbor, she and her mother took a first aid course in order to do something to help with the war effort in America. The instructor invited them to his Civil Air Patrol course. That is when Millie first fell in love with flying. She desperately wanted to take lessons: "One Sunday night at church, a friend came up to me, and he said, ‘Midge, you look unhappy, what’s the matter?’ I said, ‘Oh, there’s just one thing keeping me from learning to fly.’ And he said, ‘What’s that?’ And I said, ‘Fifty dollars’. He said, ‘Come down to the office’. The next day he handed me fifty dollars in cash."

After completing the required hours and passing the tests, the personal interview, and the Army physical, Millie entered Army Air Force flight training at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, on Easter Sunday, 1943. "Our barracks were not completed. They didn’t have doors or windows. So you can imagine. When I got there, I thought they’d furnish a little bit of stuff, you know, a towel, a wash cloth, you know--some things. They didn’t. And I didn’t take any along. So, the first few weeks, until they let us go to town and get the towels, the Texas wind dried me!"

When Millie graduated in October, 1943, she became a member of a pioneering group of women pilots-- the first in history to fly America's military aircraft, the Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASP of WWII. After graduating, Millie was assigned to the Fifth Ferrying Group at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, and served as a ferry pilot. She ferried YPQ-8's and 14's, BT-13's, UC-78's, AT-6's, UC-45's, and AT-7's and 11's. She was transferred to San Marcos AFB, Texas (a navigation training school), where she met Lt. Theodore (Ted) J. Christiansen, the pilot who flew her home to Tulsa in December, 1944. Ted and Millie were married at the Army Air Base in Sebring, Florida, in 1945-- but only after he promised her that they would ‘tithe’ at least 10 percent of their income.

The couple moved to Michgan, where they started their family and raised their son and daughter. Millie worked for 26 years as the Administrative Assistant to four Airport Managers at the Muskegon County Airport, Muskegon, Michigan. She also served as assistant clerk for the Township for 14 years, Secretary of the local Board of Education for eight years, Officer of Altrusa, Intl., Service Club.

The Michigan Sesquicentennial Commission honored Millie for 45 years of aviation experience, and in July of 2009, Public Law 40-111 was signed into law that will award Millie and 1,113 other WASP the Congressional Gold Medal for their service in WWII. It is the highest civilian award that Congress can bestow.

Milie's published works include: "Women Of The Bible" and "Muskegon County Airport, A History". She also authored several articles, including: "Vignettes of Bible Heroes," "Travel U.S.A.," "Tidbits of Bible History," and "Another Way to Put It."

Of all the memories I have of Millie, this last story (which occurred when she was a child) really sums up who Millie was...her gentle, loving, giving spirit and her faith, which really did move mountains in her life. "Well, my grandmother came to live with us... And she always wanted to earn her living, so she did the dishes and did things like that. So she had me read the Bible to her while she did the dishes. I came to the word ‘tithe’. ‘What is tithe?’ And she explained it to me. So, I had just earned a dime painting a gate or something or the other, and she explained that a penny of that belonged to the Lord. So grandma got me two cold cream jars, and I put a penny in one and nine pennies in the other." Millie tithed all her life, and that is why she wouldn't agree to marry Ted until he assured her that they would tithe as a family. They did. She always gave back much more than ten percent, and God blessed it 100 fold.

What a blessing she was to so, so many.

respectfully submitted, Dec. 4, 2009
Nancy Parrish

Thursday, October 29, 2009

WASP Ann Cawley O'Connor, 44-7

WASP Ann O'Conner passed away on September 20, 2009 at the age of 87.

Her passing is yet another reminder of the fragile numbers of courageous and pioneering women who paved the way for all women pilots flying military aircraft today.

Ann was born in Orange, New Jersey on July 20, 1922 to Herbert and Dorothy (Tomkins) Cawley of Short Hills, New Jersey. The family moved to New York City after her father's death when she was just 15 years old.

Ann attended two years at the University of Arizona and one semester at Harvard College, graduating from Finch College. She took secretarial courses in New York and worked until she was qualified for WASP training, learning to fly in the New York area.

After earning her private pilot license and the required 35 hours, Ann applied and was accepted into the WASP training program as a member of the class of 44-7, traveling to Sweetwater, Texas in March of 1944. After graduation, she was assigned to Stockton, California as part of the training command, where she ferried retired UC-78's.

After the WASP were deactivated, Ann met married H. Hayden O'Connor on June 18, 1948. The couple lived in Cazenovia in the 1940s and 1950s and again in the 1980s. They resided in Rye, NY, from 1952 to 1980. They spent 45 years together. Hayden passed away in 1993.

During her 87 years, Ann had a variety of colorful jobs, from working on a cattle ranch to testing ship models to administration of hospital-based home care. She enjoyed tennis, was a prize-winning floral arranger, an avid bridge player and traveled extensively. She was a member of Gamma Phi Beta Sorority, The Little Garden Club of Rye, the Malletts Bay Club in Vermont and the Cazenovia Club.

She was an elder of Cazenovia Presbyterian Church. She was also vice president of the board of the Friends of Lorenzo and an active volunteer in many organizations.

For the last several years of her life, Ann suffered from Meinere's disease--a condition she called 'bothersome' and 'a great indignity for a pilot.' Her good humor and her volunteer spirit no doubt inspired many whose lives she touched.

Ann is survived by her son, Hayden T. (Liz) O'Connor of Washington, CT, and their daughters, Sydney and Gillian; daughter, Sheila F. O'Connor, and son, John P. O'Connor, both of Syracuse.

A memorial service was held on Saturday, October 24, 2009, at 2:30 p.m. at the Cazenovia Presbyterian Church, 27 Albany Street, Cazenovia.

Contributions in memory of Ann C. O'Connor may be made to the American Hearing Research Foundation.

Respectfully submitted by Nancy Parrish, October 29, 2009
Based on information from Ann's entry in WASP Betty Turner's "Out of the Blue and Into History"
p. 456 and an online obit.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


WASP Margaret Ann Hamilton Tunner passed away Tuesday evening, October 13, 2009. This gentle lady from Oklahoma was a pilot through and through and a lady in every sense of the word. She loved making things grow, wasn't afraid to dig in the dirt, and she knew how to sparkle from the inside out.

Born on September 3, 1917, in Enid, Oklahoma, Ann's first ride was in a bi-wing plane on what she described as a 'dusty strip named Woodward,' in Enid, Oklahoma. After paying three dollars for a ride, and experiencing the thrill of spins and stalls, Ann didn't think she would ever want to fly again.

After attending Oklahoma College for Women and Oklahoma University, she really fell in love with flying and finally soloed in Tulsa, Oklahoma as part of the CPT program (Civilian Pilot Training) at Tulsa, University. Spins and stalls were no longer a problem for the newly licensed private pilot.

For the next 2 years, Ann flew her J-3 Cub all over Oklahoma and Texas, before aerial charts were available, using road maps. In 1942, she read an article about Jacqueline Cochran and the newly formed Women's Flying Training program. Ann was interviewed and accepted into the second class, graduating in May of 1943.

After graduation, Ann was stationed at Romulus, Michigan, AFB, as a part of the 3rd Ferrying Group, In the early days of her assignment, the only ferrying was limited to liaison type aircraft, much like her J-3 Cub, but, eventually, Ann was sent to ATC's pursuit school, and was able to begin ferrying higher performance fighters including the P-51 Mustang, P-40 Warhawk, P-47 Thunderbolt, P-39 Aircobra and P064 Kingcobra. While at Romulus, she also served as squadron officer and as co-pilot in the B-17 and B-24.

After the WASP were deactivated, Ann returned to Oklahoma University, working for a brief time for the Alumni Association before moving to New York City, were she ferried WWII planes from the 'boneyards' to new owners. For a time, she worked as a private secretary to the famous aircraft designer, Alexander P. deSeversky. She also worked as an admissions counselor at Columbia University and a professional model.

In 1948, Ann moved to Japan, worked for the Army Occupational Forces, then returned to the states to marry Lt. General William H. Tunner in 1951. Their daughter, Hamilton Suzanne Tunner, was born in 1952.

In 1977, along with Senator Barry Goldwater, her husband, and a few others, Ann testified before Congress in request of recognizing for the WASP as having performed militarily during WWII. The effort was successful, and the WASP were given the military status they had well earned in WWII.

After serving as Commanding General of the United States Air Forces in Europe, and Chief of Staff, after successully moving the Air Transport Command Headquarters from Andrews AFB (VA) to Scott Air Force Base (IL), in 1960, General Tunner retired as Commander in Chief of Air Transportation, USAF. The Tunners retired to a beautiful farm in Ware Neck, Virginia in 1960. In 1983, General Tunner passed away.

Ann remained on "Hockley Farm" for many years, tending her garden and nurturing her family. Still in love with aviation until her last few years, Ann flew an ultralight aircraft.

Although her passing is a sad day, those who loved her most know that she was an active 92-year old until she suffered a major stroke on Oct. 11, 2009.

"A good life, well lived, and we will miss her greatly," said Nancy L. Miller.

There will be a memorial service at Ware Church in Gloucester, Virginia, on Saturday, October 24, at 2 pm, and Ann will be buried sometime later at Arlington National Cemetery, next to her husband, General William Tunner.

Posted with great respect,
and prayers for her family and all the lives she touched,
Nancy Parrish

(based on Ann's own words from WASP Betty Turner's "Out of the Blue Into History")

Virginia's Historic Marker Honoring the WASP and Margaret Tunner 

Monday, August 31, 2009

WASP Gayle Snell, 44-9

"So I went to my father and said, "Dad, I want to learn to fly and then join the Women Airforce Service Pilots to fly military planes and help the war effort. My dad, being sure I was too young to do this feat said, "Yes dear, now why don't you got out and ride your horse. I'm sure he could use some exercise". So instead, like a obedient daughter, I went out to the airport to find out about learning to fly."
Gayle Snell, WASP

ONE-OF-A-KIND WASP Gayle Snell passed away on August 26, 2009. She had been struggling with cancer, several surgeries, and had endured many invasive drug therapies. Even though Gayle lost her final battle, her life is an enduring testament to determination and patriotism, to a love of flying, a love of her friends, and a little bit of fly fishing.

Gayle M. Snell was born on December 16, 1923, in Pasadena, California to Loretta Graham Snell and husband, Frank. Gayle grew up spending her summers in Manitou Springs, Colorado, where her father owned the Cliff House Hotel and ran a limousine touring company.

Shortly after her mother died of a heart attack, Gayle's father discovered Gayle was taking flying lessons. With his support, she continued until she soloed at 17.

After being accepted into the University of California's aeronautics program, she quit school to enter WASP training in April, 1944. As Gayle writes in Betty Turner's 1997 "44-9 Classbook": "Never having been away from home, except for girl scout camp, living with five other women in a "bay" was certainly a new experience. It seems we all had to fight everything at Avenger, except each other. There were windstorms, dust storms, eternal heat, snakes (yikes!), trying to live through our instructor's swearing and yelling, food that was never worth the march to the mess hall (except when VIPS were on the field) and other classes screaming, "You'll be sorry". ...My baymates were, and still are the best people in the world. I believe we gave each other all the emotional support that it took to get us through the program and finally receive our Silver Wings."

Her time during training was marked by adjustments and her unstoppable determination to fly: "...how I loved those wonderful ships! I seemed to have had an affinity for low level flight and invariably landed with quite a bit of sagebruch in my undercarriage. Lordy, nobody ever told me you could get washed for that. Oh well, at least they never caught me looping telephone wires!"

Gayle and her class graduated and earned their silver WASP wings on November 8, 1944. Gayle's Army orders sent her to Independence Army Air Field, Independence, Kansas, where she flew as an engineering test pilot, flying BT-15's. After the WASP were disbanded, she ferried war surplus planes and eventually started an aerial photography business. After closing her photography business, she worked crop dusting, sold automotive parts, drove a taxi and played on a women's semi-pro baseball team. Finally, Gayle decided she wanted to get back to electronics. She worked for Bendix as a assembler then Lockheed Missiles in research and development. Gayle completed her engineering degree by taking classes at night and worked her way up from draftsman to Electrical Electronic Engineer, at Lockheed Missile, Lockheed Aircraft and Douglas, where she worked for 21 years.

After branching out into court reporting school--Galye became paralyzed and was told she had five crushed discs in her back. She spent the next seven years in traction and back braces before finding a doctor who was able to put her back on her feet.

In 1980, Gayle moved from Granada Hills, California to Colorado Springs, very near where she had spent her summers as a child. "Trout Haven" was where Gayle spent the last great years of her life, surrounded by trout lakes, pines and aspen trees. As she wrote in the W-9 book, " The quiet, the blue skies, the fluffy clouds, the gentle breezes, the birds, the squirrels, the chipmunks all convince me that this is the closest to heaven I've ever been."

Gayle is survived by her cousins Georgetta Cravuiota of Santa Barbara, CA, Sandy Goldberg of Loveland, CO and Joe Graham of Spokane, WA. Funeral services will be held Tuesday, September 1 at 2:15 at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. A reception follows at 5:00pm, 1110 Garlock Lane in Colorado Springs. Contributions to the WASP are appreciated in lieu of flowers.



In September, 2000, we arrived for an interview in Gayle Snell's home in Colorado Springs, Co. Although I had spoken to Gayle several times by phone, nothing prepared us for our face to face meeting.

I wish I had had a camera rolling as we got out of the car, climbed the steps and first knocked on Gayle's door. When she cracked open the door, she saw my 'blue bag' and her eyes got very big. "What is that?" 

"Well," I said, "this is the bag with the video lights..." "VIDEO? VIDEO!!!! NO, I DON'T WANT TO BE ON VIDEO!!!"

Looking UP at Gayle, who seemed to be 10 feet tall thru the screen, "Well, I said gently, "you don't actually have to look at the camera, you're just going to have a conversation with mom." Mom stood there, looking very kind and smiling...."Oh, hell," said Gayle, "I guess I told you I would do an interview-, so come on in."

We did. Those first few moments were a little tense. In fact, we found out later that Gayle's roommate, Dell, had talked her into the interview. She thought it was important. Dell helped calm Gayle's blood pressure, and mom's first questions began to earn her trust. And then, sometime during those first moments, Gayle laughed. She threw her head back and just laughed. When she did that, it changed everything. I still remember. From that moment on, there was an instant friendship and an instant trust.

After the interview was over, she invited us up to TROUT HAVEN.

We drove up the mountain the next day, postpoining our trip home. I'm glad we did. I still have the photo of Gayle holding her "WASP BANNER" that WASP Shutsy Reynolds made for her. Gayle kept it in her trailer during the winter, but, when spring arrived, she traveled up the mountain and proudly unfurled her one-of-a-kind WASP Banner. It flew for many summers, marking the spot where the expert WASP fly fisherman was parked. Many summers.

In 2002, on the last day of the Tucson WASP Reunion, Gayle invited us out to the airport to see her take off

for Colorado Springs. Again, we postponed our trip home, and drove out to the airport. Again, I'm glad we did. The photos of Gayle, climbing in to the restored Stearman--putting on her helment and goggles, and her 'thumbs up' as they were ready to taxi, were worth the trip. You talk about sparkling from the inside out? Gayle Snell in that Stearman lit up the world that day.

Left, Pilot Alan Hoover and WASP Gayle Snell -- ready for takeoff in Alan's suped up (Gayle's words) Stearman!

She worked hard -- she achieved much -- she was a pioneer in many things and she was a loyal friend. As a part of our interviews, mom always asks each WASP, if they could say something to the next generation that might inspire them to do something they had only dreamed of-- Gayle answered. Listen. These words are for all of us:

"Anything you want to do, you can do it. Don't let people tell you you're not good enough. BE GOOD ENOUGH!"

Respectfully submitted by Nancy Parrish
August 31, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

WASP Alberta Paskvan Kinney, 44-W-7 July 10, 2009

On July 10, 2009, America lost another of its courageous, patriotic, pioneering WASP.

Alberta Antonia Paskvan Kinney was born in Black Eagle, Montana, right across the Missouri River from Great Falls, on July 16, 1919. She was one of two redheads in a family of six children. Her parents had immigrated to Montana from Croatia, so young Alberta grew up speaking Croation before she could speak English.

Alberta’s mother died when she was 4 years old. All 6 children moved in with their maternal grandmother, an aunt, and uncle. One of her fondest early childhood memories was a summer trip from Black Eagle, Montana to Chicago, Illinois to the 1933 World’s Fair when she was 14. Her uncle rigged 2 extra jump seats in the Overland, and the family took off across the country. When they reached Kansas City, they visited the airport, and, thanks to her grandmother, Alberta had her first ride in an airplane. That ten minute site-seeing trip over Kansas City was something she never forgot.

Alberta graduated from Great Falls high school, and was working for the Navy in Seattle when she read about the WASP program. Because America had entered World War II, civilian flying was prohibited near the coastlines. So, Alberta took flying lessons in Yakima, from an ex-Alaskan bush pilot. Her first solo was on skis! As soon as she had the required hours, she applied for and was accepted into the WASP training program in class 44-7.

She reported to Avenger Field in February of 1944, during one of the coldest winters in West Texas history. For a girl from Great Falls, Montana, the winter was no problem for her. After graduation, Alberta was assigned to Aloe Field, Victoria, Texas, flying tow target missions in AT-6’s for the gunnery training program.

After the WASP were disbanded, Alberta returned to Montana, where she earned her instructor’s rating and worked at a small flying school, eventually teaching CAA classes for pilots returning from combat wanting to transition to civilian flying at Gore Field Air Base. As the war was winding down, Alberta went to Florida and worked for the Airline Training, Inc., where she eventually met Frank Kinney, formerly with the RCAF during the Battle of Britian and then joined the Navy when the US entered the war. “He was Texas, I was from Montana, and we got married in New Orleans,”

Frank and his new wife moved to Sumatra, where he flew for Standard Vacuum for several years. The couple returned to the States, raising their 3 sons (Fran, Michael and Will) in Michigan until Frank died.

Alberta moved back to Whitefish, Montana and became a very active mom and grandmom. Most recently, she had moved, first to Arizona and then to New York to be near her family.

Although she did not live to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, Alberta did know that the President had signed the bill. In her memory, Representative Chris Lee of NY added a tribute to WASP Alberta Kinney into the Congressional Record on July 14, 2009.

A few years ago, Alberta put her wings, her dogtags, and her insigna into a special shadow box. She showed it to her granddaughter, Susan and promised her that one day it would be hers. Susan just stood and looked at it and finally said, “But, Grandma, what if I don’t want to fly?” Alberta answered, “This doesn’t mean you have to fly. This means you can do anything you want to do.”

She can indeed.


Respectfully submitted by Nancy Parrish

August 17, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WASP Sylvia Burrill, 44-7 August 10, 2009

Sylvia Burrill 44-7

In memory of this special WASP, who passed away on August 10, 2009, I share this story, written a few years ago by Jennifer Callender, Staff writer for the Bennington Banner. It has served as the centerpiece for a page that was published by Sunny's daughter, Cindy Weisner, that she re-titiled

In 1944, Sylvia Miller Burrill - "Sunny" was a young woman with a heart for her country and her head in the clouds-literally. Burrill was one of a unique group of women pilots during World War II known as W.A.S.P. (Women Airforce Service Pilots). These women, the first female pilots ever to fly military aircraft for the United States towed targets for the men to practice shooting at with live ammuninions and also transported non-flying officers, ferried new aircraft to their destinations, flew tired, worn out planes to repair depots and then flight tested the repaired planes, leaving male pilots free to satisfy the increasing demand for combat missions.

Nearly 63 years later, Burrill, now 83, can be found occasionally helping her daughter Cindy and son in law, Jim who own and operate a summer ice cream stand. She also spends her days reading books and tending to her flower gardens and baking treats for her many grand and great grandchildren. A wall of memorabilia tells a story of adventure and courage the belongs to the past of the tall, graceful dark eyed beauty. Although she has not piloted a plane for about 20 years, Burrill still takes to the skies at any opportunity. " My daughter Cindy has kept me flying with gifts of rides in various aircraft, helicopters and gliders" Burrill said. "In 1999 we went soaring in Stowe, and visited many old haunts and in 2007, we got a ride on a B-24 from the Collings Foundation. What a great time we had!

Born in Liverpool England, Burrill moved to Connecticut with her parents and three siblings when she was seven years old. After graduating high school in 1941, she found employment as a fashion show model for the D.M. Read company in Bridgeport, Ct. In 1943 Burrill was living in Stratford, Ct. and already an "enthusiastic flight buff". She and her friends watched Igor Sikorsky's flying boats soar down the Housatonic river into Long Island sound. The large airplanes, which held up to 100 passengers, were designed for Trans-Atlantic flying and could land in the ocean when necessary. She began to fly as a member of the Civil Air Patrol (C.A.P.) in 1943. During World War II flying was prohibited within 60 miles of the coast, so Burrill learned to fly out of a farmers field in Wingdale, N.Y. She and her friends would "chip in" their gas coupons, if they had any, to fuel their flights. Burrill's parents encouraged her lofty pursuits. One of her friends had a motorcycle and sometimes she rode to the field with him. "It didn't phase my parents that I was going back and forth to New York on the back of a motorcycle" she said. "They really were very cool about (my flying) - very supportive - which was great. In August of 1943, the W.A.S.P. was organized under the direction of Jacqueline Cochran and the minimum age for pilots was dropped to 18 years 6 months.

Burrill at 19, applied and was accepted into the class of 44-W-6 in January of 1944. She went to Sweetwater, Texas for Flight school training at Avenger field stopping off to see her boyfriend in Georgia. Burrill had never been further from home than a train trip to New York City, she said. Burrill's high school sweetheart, Cedric 'Ric' Joslin graduated from flight school and while visiting her in Texas proposed marriage. They were married in the only all W.A.S.P. formal military ceremony at St. Stephen's Episcopal church in Sweetwater, Texas and Joslin left to continue his pursuit flight training and then ship overseas. Shortly afterwards, Sylvia got an infected wisdom tooth and was sent to the infirmary to await the once a month visit from the base dentist. She was afraid she would get washed out if she got too far behind and was granted a request to go to a local dentist in Sweetwater to have the tooth pulled. She lost one week of training and was washed back one class to 44 W-7. Flight school was a challenge for the young women. The "washout" rate was about 40 percent according to Burrill. Of the 20,000 women who applied to enter the W.A.S.P, only 1,830 were accepted into the program and 1,074 of these brave women completed the seven months of training to earn their wings. "Every day was a struggle with hard courses. We all thought we'd wash out at any time," Burrill said. "We managed to get through; we perservered. We just thought we were lucky." "Every test we thought we wouldn't pass. Then we'd find out we were lucky enough to pass and oh, what a relief that was!" Burrill graduated with her silver wings on September 8, 1944. She returned home on leave and received "the dreaded telegram" informing her of her young husband's death. He had been killed when his plane crashed in Corsica, Italy on September 6, 1944, two days before her graduation.

Burrill reported for duty at Enid Air Base in Oklahoma where she did engineering test flights and transported non-flying officers to their destinations. One flight she said she remembers round most was a trip to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, to drop off a passenger. "I was shocked," she said. "I got on the ground and he loaded me up with booze to fly back to the officers club at Enid." Oklahoma was a "dry" state at that time, she said. Planes being repaired needed to be tested. After a wing or a landing gear was replaced, the W.A.S.P took the planes up before the cadets flew them. They would test them out through slow flight and a series of spins and acrobatics to make sure they were air-worthy. "It was a matter of taking them up and wringing them out," Burrill said. Another W.A.S.P, Abby Quinlan and Burrill and fourteen male instrument instructors from Enid ferried PT-17's, PT-19's, and BT-13's to Mustang field in El Reno, Oklahoma. At the insistence of the men we flew formation ( Which is wing tip to wing tip and we were not supposed to be doing!) They were a bunch of would be hot shots! Burrill smiles. The W.A.S.P. were among the first to fly the B-29 when it was put into service. This was the aircraft used in the bombing of Hiroshima. "Paul Tibbetts taught our girls how to fly it because the men were afraid of it," Burrill said. "The women pilots took the guys up and after they landed, Paul Tibbetts introduced his B-29 pilots to the men. The guys said: if the women can do it, so can we and overcame their fear."

When the male pilots began returning from overseas, the W.A.S.P. were not needed any longer. They were disbanded on December 20, 1944. Burrill returned to the Bridgeport Civil Air Patrol and became Squadron Commander. The government gave them a PT-17 and a BT-13 to use in search and rescue flights. She also applied to be a test pilot for the F4U Corsairs which were being built at United Aircraft and being tested at Bridgeport Airport, but only male pilots were accepted. Instead she was given a job in operations and kept the BT-13 at Bridgeport, flying it between there and a small airport in Monroe until it was grounded, because she wore it out! She met some very interesting people including Charles Lindbergh and Pappy Boyington, as well as some of the test pilots some who became lifelong friends.

Burrill said she fell in love with Vermont on a skiing trip in 1945 with a group of W.A.S.P. and finally moved up from Connecticut in 1968. She spent many years in the Mount Snow area, and with her daughter, Cindy, owned a few different businesses all of which were successful. She married Robert Reich in 1946 and together they had a son, Lee, and two daughters Cecily and Cindy. Reich passed away in 1973 and twelve years later she married Gerald Drayton Burrill. They travelled extensively and enjoyed their lives. Sadly, Sylvia was widowed again when Jerry passed away in 1991. On Tuesday, Burrill once again flew in a PT-17, like the one she flew so many years ago. Willard Van Wormer of Bennington, also a WWII Veteran, graciously made his beautifully restored plane named "The Flying Dutchman" available for photographs for this article. Once the pictures were done, he and Burrill took the plane up and "went for a little spin" according to Burrill's daughter, Cindy Wiesner. "She still is walking on air."

There were many flights after that special flight-many they took together, some they took alone. In March, Sunny's daughter, Cindy, passed away after a battle with cancer. Sunny had been struggling with her own health problems, and loosing Cindy must have been devastating.

Our thoughts and our prayers go out to Sunny's family...her son, Robert Lee and family and daughter, Cecily and family and Cindy's husband, Jim. When Sunny wrote her history as part of WASP Betty Turner's "Out of the Blue and Into History," she proudly listed five grandchildren: Max and Mathew Reich; Brooke and Kit Carson; and Emma Strohmaier, and five great grandchildren: Samatha; Zachary; Ariana; Hailey, and Zebediah. Since her entry was written in 1999, there are more names and more great family to be added.

When there is more information, we will post it.

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

WASP Marcia Ellen Courtney Bellassai, 43-3 July 21, 2009

Marcia Ellen Courtney Bellassai passed away on Tuesday, July 21, 2009, having led a full and rich life. She was a hard working mother of five children who will miss her as long as the wind blows and the rain falls.

Born in Hartford, Wis., the second of three sisters, she attended the St. Kilian School and was pleased to have had one of her father’s prize chickens named after her. She graduated from UW Madison in 1941, and began flying with the CPTP, even occasionally barnstorming in aircraft of the period.

At the beginning of World War II she worked for two years for Piper Aircraft Corp., and then was admitted into the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), earning her WASP wings and graduating in class 43-W-3.

She flew a wide variety of missions, including towing targets (for live AAC practice), ferrying aircraft to airfields around the country, and instructing.

Only a few weeks ago on July 2, 2009, a bill passed by Congress was signed by the president awarding her and all the WASP a congressional gold medal.

After the war, she worked for the Joint Attache Office at the American Legation in Bucharest, Romania, where she met her future husband, the late Maj. Anthony Bellassai. They lived at a variety of duty stations in Europe, California and Fort Huachuca, Ariz., eventually settling in Maryland for many years.

She earned a master of library science degree from the University of Maryland, and did a number of library and literacy studies (some still available online), before finally retiring with her husband to Sierra Vista. Marcia loved history, ancient cultures, genealogy, languages, and gardening, and her passion for reading — especially mysteries and novels of the Regency period — was unmatched.

She is survived by five children, Elissa Strati of Baltimore, Md., Gina Bellassai of Kea’au, Hawaii, Cara Welsh of Chattanooga, Tenn., Anthony C. Bellassai of Slippery Rock, Pa., and Marc C. Bellassai of Sierra Vista; as well as four grandchildren, Brian Bellassai, Joseph Lynch, Graham Louis Bellassai and Kara Cherelaine Welsh. Donations to the Friends of the Sierra Vista Public Library in Marcia’s name will give support to a new generation of readers.

Final Resting:
Southern Arizona Veterans' Memorial Cemetery
1550 Buffalo Soldier Trail
Sierra Vista, AZ 85635