Monday, June 1, 2015

Virginia Lee Jowell Hagerstrom, 43-W-4 | May 28, 2015

"Outside my family and my husband, the WASP program was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.  I wanted to fly…. I loved it.   If you know what you want to do, don’t let anybody stop you.  You can do it!” *  
                                      Lee Hagerstrom, 43-W-4 

Virginia Lee Jowell Hagerstrom (Class of 43-W-4) was born December 12, 1920 in the small East Texas town of Frankston. She excelled in school and had her heart set on going to college, even though it was the middle of the depression. She managed two years at Lon Morris, a small Methodist college in nearby Jacksonville, by literally singing her way through in a small band that toured the state on weekends and holidays. She then transferred to Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College in Nacogdoches where she graduated with a major in English and a Spanish minor. While there she participated in the Civilian Pilot Training Program and after graduation went to work for Delta Air Lines in Atlanta as a ticketing agent. When the WASPs were organized, she applied and was accepted.

During her time at Avenger Field in Sweetwater she made friendships that lasted her entire life. She was still a WASP when she met her future husband, James P. Hagerstrom -- fresh back from his combat tour in New Guinea. They were both Army Air Force pilots passing through Orlando, Florida. He proposed three weeks later and they were married at Romulus Army Air Base, Michigan, where Lee was stationed, with a fellow 43-W-4 classmate Grace Clark Fender as maid-of-honor.

The couple settled in Houston and Lee taught school until the birth of her third child. With the outbreak of the Korean War her husband was recalled to active duty and he again flew combat missions (he became a double fighter ace, as he was also an ace in WWII). The fifties hosted the birth of five more children, and postings in Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Japan, and Hawaii. The sixties were spent in Southern California where Lee returned to teaching and her husband attended law school at night while finishing out his Air Force career, including a tour in Vietnam and Thailand.

In the seventies the family began a series of adventures on sailing yachts, even building one from the keel up. They sailed down the coast of Mexico, to Hawaii, and to Micronesia. The eighties first saw Lee and James in the Dominican Republic, and then back in Micronesia where Lee taught at the college and James was legal advisor for the local government.

In the early nineties the couple moved to a small town in northern Louisiana, where they spent their time gardening and enjoying visits from family. After the death of her husband in 1994, Lee lived with one or another of her children in San Francisco, Korea, Burma, Mexico, Maryland, and Texas. Her last years were spent near family on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She died there, peacefully, on the morning of May 28, 2015.

A funeral service is planned for September. She will be buried, as WASP Lee Jowell Hagerstrom, with her husband in Arlington National Cemetery.


Respectfully posted by Lee's family.  

*. Quote from Lee's interview with Wings Across America.

Personal note.
Meeting Lee Hagerstrom was a wonderful, unexpected blessing, as we walked into the WASP tent at Oshkosh in 2003. Lee was delightful, charming, energetic and warm and delighted to meet 2 fellow Texans.  

Our second meeting with Lee was in Rio Rocco, Arizona. We turned on the video camera and were mesmerized by her stories and her enthusiasm for many hours. We will never forget her kindness and the beautiful sparkle her eyes when she talked about her family and about flying.

God bless all those whose lives were touched by this amazing WASP.

-- Nancy Parrish, Wings Across America


  1. Farewell to another of my heroes! The WASPs paved the way for all of us, and I'll always be grateful.

  2. Lee Hagersrom was my sixth grade teacher in Pasadena, Texas in 1949-1950. Upon hearing of her passing, I adapted a few lines from "High Flight" by John G. Magee, Jr., as a remembrance:

    She has slipped the surly bonds of earth,
    Danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings,
    Put out her hand, and
    Touched the face of God.

  3. At the 2007 Gathering of Mustangs & Legends, Columbus, OH, I met & spoke with Mrs. Hagerstrom as we both stepped off the VIP bus. (I was reporting on the event for the Atlantic Flyer.) Rather than speak about her own exploits ferrying B-24s & C-47s (I had to look this up later), she modestly tried to steer me toward her equally illustrious husband, a double ace in two wars. I have a copy of the Congressional Gold Medal so belatedly awarded to the long unrecognized WWII efforts of the WASP.