WASP pilots Shirley Kruse, Jean McCreery and Barbara Simon. Copyright L.B. Monteros 2013
by Laura Berthold Monteros
NOTE: This is a reposting of an article that appeared on Examiner.com on Dec. 29, 2013. The last WASP to ride on the 2014 float “Our Eyes Are on the Stars” slipped the surly bonds of earth yesterday.
It was guys in planes who won the war, right? The war, World War II. The guys tested the aircraft and flew them from here to there. Well, there were a few, but according to the National WASP World War II Museum, more than 50 percent of the ferrying of high-speed pursuit aircraft (now called fighters) between 1942 and 1944 was done by women. These women were WASP.
Examiner interviewed three of these women today at Fiesta Parade Floats, where “Our Eyes Are On The Stars,” a float to honor the Women Airforce Service Pilots, is being built. The service they performed was ferrying fighters across the country, flying tow target tests for shooting practice, and testing planes so that the men could fly them overseas.
We spoke with pilots Shirley Kruse, Jean McCreery and Barbara Simon who have come to Pasadena for the Rose Parade. When the war ended, the WASP were dismissed without benefits, without even bus fare home. “It was a wonderful time, I tell you,” Kruse said. “We were so disappointed when we were deactivated. They swept us under the rug.”
Of the 1,102 women who served, 38 lost their lives, though they had better flying records than the men, Simon stated. “If a girl was killed, we had to take a collection to send her home,” she said. “Her parents could not hang a gold star in their window.” White stars on the sides of the float are in honor of each of those women.
It was through to a factual error in Washington that the WASP were finally recognized and given veterans benefits in 1977 and their gold medals in 2009. Sometime in the early ‘70s, the Air Force was touting the first women to fly military aircraft. “We came out of the woodwork and started to fight,” Kruse said.
“We got the same flight training as the men could get,” Simon stated, “except not training for combat.” Indeed, sometimes they were braver than the men. When the B26 came online for testing, none of the men wanted to fly it. Kruse said a WASP named Dottie Dougherty took along another WASP and flew it to the base, while the men gaped.
McCreery was wearing overalls with the rank of colonel. When her daughter objected, she said, “I should have been a colonel,” and insisted that had she been able to stay in service, she would have been. “When I went through, I kept my mouth shut. I wanted to get these wings and I knew I had to keep my mouth shut. Yes sir, no sir, that was it.”
Donations still needed to fund the float
The float is being sponsored by the Wingtip to Wingtip Association, a non-profit that has raised money for the Rose Parade entry. “Wingtip to Wingtip” refers to the flying ability of the women, who were so adept they could fly wingtip-to-wingtip with the men.
The organization is still in need of money to fund the float. The eight WASP who are riding on the float and eight others who came out to see the parade paid all their own expenses, and by and large the donations have come from former WASP and their families. Readers can donate by clicking the link. They are also selling merchandise such as collector’s pins and T-shirts.
After the war
“I wanted to fly all my life,” Kruse said, “but there was no flying after the war. I tried to be a [commercial] pilot, but they laughed at me.”
Simon had better results. Her class, 44-W10, was the last to go through training and she didn’t get to fly in the service, but after the war she got a job ferrying surplus Air Force trainers from all over the US to California. Asked if she loved flying, she gave an emphatic “Yes!”
As an only child, McCreery always wanted a sister. “These women are my sisters,” she said. What did she do after the war? “I had 10 children!” she retorted.