Sunday, May 29, 2011

National WASP Museum

About an hour west of Abilene in Sweetwater.

“Grace under fire” took on new meaning Memorial Day weekend 2011 at the National WASP Museum in Sweetwater, Texas.

Twenty former World War II women pilots took their seats in the museum’s hangar for a performance of nearby Highland High School's one-act play about the life of Jackie Cochran, the first Director of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots organization.

Cochran was a contemporary of Chuck Yeager’s, and by all accounts cut from the same daredevil cloth, with extreme flying abilities. She was the first woman to break the sound barrier and won flying races in the late 30’s - 60’s against other elite men and women pilots.

The group of women in their 80’s and 90’s moved with a gracefulness and assurance that perhaps can be attributed to being members of the Greatest Generation with its focus on dignity and perseverance. Their contained, yet assertive panache was likely also because of their unique experiences as a result of being already determined, gifted people who overcame multiple odds and contributed selflessly to others.

A good example of desire and need combining, the women’s stories of becoming pilots involved a fascination with the sky and marked motivation and dedication to learn to fly at a time when not many people were doing so, not to mention many women.

Find some of their individual biographies on Wikipedia or at the museum website. I’m also curious about a documentary about Hazel Ying Lee the first Chinese American woman to fly for the United States military.

Around 1942, the women were recruited as experienced airplane pilots to help the war effort, for example by ferrying planes to forward locations or around the U.S. during 1943 and 1944.

Military training took place at Avenger Field in Sweetwater which is now the site of the museum and the butt of a joke in the script about the dust, wind, scorpions and rattlesnakes found in the area.

One former WASP wearing a sunshine yellow pantsuit, bent over from osteoporosis, slowly walks to her seat in the front row. She is instantly surrounded by a large group of adoring fans.

These high school actors are fascinated to meet her after researching her life and exploits while preparing for their play. She holds court for a few minutes and they all talk animatedly, using fist pumps and lots of smiles. The young girl actresses have their long brown or blond hair in rolled forties style or braids. The older “girls” in the audience have windblown white curls, a gray bob held with a clip, or a low chignon fastened with a decorative clasp.

Old and new - but the same - are represented by a female active-duty Air Force member in a camouflage uniform escorting one of the veterans to her seat.

Appreciation for service and sacrifice and a fun time were had by all. Thanks to much planning, organization and effort behind the scenes.

I have added this movie about the WASP to my netflix queque Fly Girls.

Museum website.

The play "The Fastest Woman Alive" adapted from the full-length version, written by Karen Sunde and published by Dramatic Publishing.