by Laura Berthold Monteros
NOTE: This is a reposting of an article that appeared on Examiner.com on Jan. 9, 2014. It is being reposted in honor of the women who rode the float, all of whom have now taken their final flights.
When the Wingtip to Wingtip float passed the stands, Rose Parade viewers spontaneously stood to honor the women who undergirded the Allied air supremacy in World War II. “Our Eyes Are on the Stars” was built by Fiesta Parade Floats for the 2014 parade to commemorate the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) units that were disbanded 70 years ago. It won the National Trophy for Best Depiction of Life in the USA, Past, Present or Future.
Out of several thousand applicants, 1,102 were chosen to fly military aircraft all over the United States. They ferried planes from builder to base, tested aircraft for the boys to fly in battle, and flew tow targets to train gunners. The WASP flew 77 different types of American military planes, including AT-6, P-52 and B-29, more than 60 million miles. Thirty-eight gave their lives.
We were fortunate to interview three former WASP at Fiesta Parade Floats prior to the parade and learned about some of their experiences, and their post-war treatment by the military. WASP had to overcome prevailing skepticism over women’s ability to fly “wingtip-to-wingtip with their brothers,” yet even after they did so, they were denied the same military benefits until 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal until 2010.
The non-profit Wingtip to Wingtip Association is still in need of funds to pay for the float. Donations may be made online at http://www.fifinella.com/rosedonate.htm
Eight original members of the WASP team rode the float: Alyce Rohrer, Virginia Lee Doerr, Flora Belle Reece, Marty Wyall, Florence Mascot, Shirley Kruse, Lois Bristol Young, Margot DeMoss. Four other WASP were available as alternate riders: A.J. May Starr, Adeline Ellison, Betty Strohfus, Alma Fornal, Millicent Young. Fourteen women who followed in the footsteps of the WASP as US Air Force pilots in both combat and non-combat roles were outwalkers.
The float was rife with symbols of the WASP units: pilot wings across the front, a replica of the life-size bronze WASP trainee statue originally sculpted by WASP Dorothy “Dot” Swain Lewis, an AT-6 with a rotating propeller, and a rotating hexagon of floragraphs. The sides of the float featured a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal framed by golden olive branches, and 38 stars, one for each woman who died in service.
Floragraphs feature Fifinella, official WASP mascot worn on shoulder patches, conceived by Roald Dahl and designed by Walt Disney in 1942`; Nancy Harkness Love, Executive Commanding Officer for all WASP ferrying operations; four WASP in front of their B-17 named “Pistol Packin’ Mama; LIFE Magazine cover from July 19, 1943 featuring Pilot Trainee Shirley Slade; housewife and mother, Pilot Libby Gardner, at the controls of a B-26 Marauder; Jacqueline Cochran, Director of the WASP. For more details regarding the floragraphs, read the captions in the slideshow attached to this article.
Fresh materials used include more than 15,000 red Freedom roses, red Black Magic, Checkmate and Opium long-stemmed roses, anthuriums, carnations and ilex berries. Dry materials include onion, poppy and golden clover seed, white rice, statice, strawflower, cornhusk, and coconut flakes.
All photos copyright 2014 by Ramona Monteros