Sunday, February 9, 2014

Florene Miller Watson, WAFS | February 4, 2014

During the years, I have been asked to give many, many WAFS- WASP WWII presentations ... been inducted into several prestigious "Hall of Fame" type honors an been featured in newspapers, books and magazine articles - but the bottom line for me is - "What does my Lord think of me!"  Florene Miller Watson, WAFS
Florene Miller Watson was born on December 7, l920 in San Angelo, Texas to Thomas L. and Flora Theis Miller. Her father was a watchmaker and owner of a jewelry store chain in the Odessa, Texas area. Florene became fascinated with planes when at the age of 8 she took her first airplane ride in a WWI Barnstormer’s open-cockpit plane at Big Lake. “My father and I shared our exhilaration for airplanes.” When she was a college sophomore, her father purchased a Luscombe airplane so his family could learn to fly. He anticipated the United States going to war with Germany and wanted his eldest children to contribute to the war effort as aviators. 

By age 19, Florene had finished flight school and completed her first solo flight. During the next 2 years, Florene obtained her commercial license, trained in aerobatics, and earned ground-school and flight instructor ratings. She was teaching civilian men enrolled in the government-sponsored War Training Program to fly in Odessa, Texas when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on her 21st birthday. Soon afterward she and her younger brother volunteered for service in the Army Air Corps. 

Florene was one of only 28 women who qualified for the original Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), later known as the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). In January, 1943, Florene became Commanding Officer of the WASP stationed at Love Field, Dallas. In l944, she served as a test pilot in a highly secretive program to develop radar equipment for planes. By the time the war was over, Florene had flown every type of training, cargo, fighter, and twin and four-engine bomber that the Air Corps used including: Aeronea, Waco, Taylorcraft, Piper Cub, BT-13, PT-17, PT-19, AT-6, AT-9, AT-10, AT-11, AT-17, A-20, A-26, P-38, P-39, P-40, P-47, P-51, SB2C, C-47(DC-3), B-17, B-24, B-25, Lockheed P-38F Lightning and her favorite, the North American P-51D Mustang.

After the war, Florene married Chris Watson, her former flight-training student who was a Phillips Petroleum engineer. They raised two daughters while being frequently relocated by Phillips. Florene returned to college earning a BA at Lamar Tech University and a MBA at the University of Houston and then taught college for 30 years at the University of Houston, Howard College in Big Spring and Frank Phillips College in Borger. Florene was a member of Faith Covenant Church, belonged to many community organizations and did much volunteer work. She was also a National Flower judge, a swimming instructor, a real estate and insurance salesperson, a mutual fund representative and a test cook for Betty Crocker. 

Florene maintained close ties to aviation with memberships in the Texas Aviation Historical Society, the Ninety-Nines, the Air Force Association, the Commemorative Air Force, the Women’s Military Aviators and the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots WWII and others. She was featured in numerous newspapers, magazines and books with photos and write-ups and frequently interviewed for television programs plus video and audio histories for university archives and aviation museums. She was also featured in the nationally-broadcasted TV documentary Women of Courage explaining the role of WASP in WWII. Florene also served as national WASP chaplain for many years.

Some of her most cherished honors include the Distinguished Flying Corps Membership in the Kritser Aviation and Space Museum, Amarillo, TX, 1988; induction into theNinety-Nines International Forest of Friendship, Atichison, Kansas (Amelia Earhart’s home) for exceptional contributions to aviation, 1995; first woman inductee into the Panhandle Veterans Hall of Fame, August, 1996; “Distinguished Veteran” honoree at the Air Force Military Ball in Dallas, TX, 1997; the Daughters of the American Revolution’s highest honor--their National Medal of Honor, 2002; designation as an Eagle 4 separate times at the Air Force’s annual Gathering of Eagles celebration; the National Air Force Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, 2004; induction into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame, 2004; the renaming of the airport in her hometown of Big Lake, TX the Florene Miller Watson Airport, 2003; and most importantly in 2010 the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award Congress can present to a civilian.

Florene was preceded in death by her husband of 68 years, G. Christie Watson, and two brothers, LaMonte Miller and Dolph Miller. She is survived by two daughters, Gail Smith and husband, Gerald of Silverton, TX and Jean Roark and husband, Lee of Woodway, TX; four grandchildren: Greg Sutphen of Houston, TX, Shelly Sutphen Garcia of Katy, TX, Chris Whittington of Englewood, CO and Clay Whittington of Denver, CO; two great grandchildren: Axton Whittington and Blake Garcia; and one sister, Garnette Erwin of Richardson, TX.

Florene lived her life cheerfully giving to others and always believing the best in everyone she met. She lived Mark 12:30, 31 . . . ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ . . .: 

Florene Miller Watson, 93, of Borger, Texas, died February 4, 2014. Celebration of Life services will be at 10:30 am Monday, February 10, 2014 at Faith Covenant Church in Borger with Pastor Les Sharp officiating and under the direction of Minton Chatwell Funeral Directors of Borger. The family will receive guests Sunday, February 9, 2014 from 5-7pm at the funeral home.
resource: Amarillo Globe News 
*Opening quote respectfully added from "Out of the Blue and Into History " by WASP Betty Turner  
The following added by  Wings Across America
Florene Watson was a truly iconic, one-of-a-kind WASP.  She had a brilliant smile and a magnetic personality.  She was equally at home when sharing her faith, offering a prayer, or sharing her fabulous stories of flying.  I've never met another person who could draw a crowd quicker than Florene, and she did it with such grace and humility.
In Sept. of 2000, we interviewed Florene as part of our Wings Across America project.   Our first meeting with her was at KACV PBS television studio on the Amarillo College campus in Amarillo, Texas.  She was radiant and ready.  Six and a half hours later, the TV studio manager gave her the keys to the studio and told her to lock up when we were finished.  Every hour was a delight, and by the time we were walking out the door, we knew we had made a life-long friend.  (She and mom kept talking all the way to the car.)
Over the next few years, we invited Florene to join us in our booth at several air shows.  She was always radiant as she patiently shook hands with the  crowds, signed  autographs and shared her stories.  
In 2003, we invited her to a black-tie affair at the Texas Museum of History in Austin, Texas,  commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight.  I told her we would like her to help us 'draw a crowd,' so that we could share our vision for the National WASP WWII Museum we were creating at Avenger Field in Sweetwater.   She flew into Austin, hair beautifully coiffed, makeup perfect, and ready to go!  It was a wonderful evening.  With Florene's help, we drew quite a crowd.   
One of the most outstanding things I remember about Florene is that she  was at home wherever she was and made everyone around her feel welcome.  She visited us at our offices at Baylor, always proud of being a 'former Baylor student'.   She joked that if she hadn't been in love with flying, she would have graduated from Baylor.  Her father 'tempted' her to return home by offering to buy her an airplane, so she left Baylor after her sophomore year.  I'm proud we had that Baylor connection.  
When I produced "Soundbytes of the WASP" a few years ago, I took clips from many of the interviews we had done and edited them into a short video.   In looking through Florene's interview, there were many wonderful things to choose from, but I chose one that had her stamp of approval.  I share it now, hoping that Florene's voice of encouragement will echo in each of us:
"Do not undervalue your abilities. You have abilities that you haven't had a chance to use.  Now, find something you want to use them on and get after it!"
                  Respectfully written and posted by Nancy Parrish