NASA Headquarters Oral
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Cocoa Beach, Florida – 19 July 1999
1942, the Army Air Forces created the Women Air Force Service Pilots,
the WASP. Twenty-five thousand women offered their services for this
program; 1,830 were accepted, and 1,074 graduated. Today we're going
to speak with Dawn Seymour, a WASP.
This oral history is being conducted in Cocoa Beach, Florida, as part
of NASA's oral history efforts. The interviewer is Rebecca Wright.
Today is July 19, 1999.
We welcome you and thank you for your participation in today's program.
you for inviting me, Rebecca and Carol [Butler]. It's a privilege,
really, to be here, and I'm thrilled to attend this launch [STS-93]
that's going to happen tonight, my first one, and I've looked forward
to a launch since the original program started, the Mercury Program.
you've been here for a couple of days, visiting?
we came in Sunday, rented a car in Orlando, and we're over here on
the beach. Yesterday we were at the complex, the [Kennedy] Space Center,
and enjoyed the tours and the way people treated us. Absolutely amazed
at the complexity of this operation.
you have a chance to visit with anyone yesterday?
had a briefing, and at the briefing we met very interesting people,
including a representative who talked about the Chandra X-ray imaging
telescope and the fact it's the only object really in the launch [STS-93],
in the Shuttle, and they're carrying up at such a weight.
you come yesterday as a WASP or as a visitor?
I come as a WASP.
because my invitation from [STS-93 Commander] Eileen [Collins], which
I was delighted to receive. And it was completely unexpected, it has
"Dawn Seymour, WASP" on it, and that's how I registered
on the database. I feel it's a personal honor to have this invitation.
I’ve corresponded with Eileen through the years, and she is
a nearby neighbor, actually, because she came from Elmira, and we
live on Canandaigua Lake in western New York. It's called the Finger
Lakes, and it's only about maybe forty minutes away. So I've invited
her to be a speaker at various events, which she was unable to do
because of her heavy workload. But I've talked to her mother through
Interestingly enough, on the third of February 1995, my daughter had
a baby girl, the same moment, perhaps, that she [Eileen] launched
into space. And the daughter's named Emma Louise Seymour Morse, and
she's four years old. So when the anniversary comes around, this year
I wrote her, because I'm thinking of her then, about this long delayed
has such a historic moment tonight, but yet your history goes back
a few years. Tell us how you became interested in aviation as a young
actually I wasn't so young. I had graduated from Cornell [University].
My class is 1939. In fact, I had my sixtieth reunion this year. This
was 1939, and that fall I was an instructor. My job was as an instructor
in the College of Home Economics. I was in the economics department.
I had become a research subject in a fatigue study, believe it or
not; volunteered for it. This man who was doing all the instrumentation
for the study asked me one day, "The CPT program, the Civilian
Pilot Training program, is coming to Cornell, and I've been asked
to be the director of flight research. Would you like to be interested?"
I said, "Well, Dr. [Richard] Parmenter, I've never been up."
So he took me up in a yellow [Piper] Cub on an October day when, of
course, the leaves have turned, and suddenly the world is completely
different. There's a sense of freedom. I was hooked with this love
of flying. He said, "All right, I'll see what I can do. You'll
join the program?"
I said, "Yes." Then he found out that the dean of engineering
of the college [of] mechanical engineering, would not accept women.
So he went to Washington and he found that, sure enough, one out of
every ten—nine men, one woman—was acceptable, and then
I was accepted.
Then I went to my professor and said, "I'd like to learn to fly."
"Oh, Dawn, you cannot learn to fly," she said. "You
have to be here between eight and five." [Laughter]
And so that put me in a dilemma. Ground school was at four o'clock.
So I figured out a way. I was actually the weather ship. This was
now getting into winter, November and December of '39, going into
1940. So I was learning to drive at the same time, and the snow came.
Anyway, I found my way down to the field, and I was the first ship
up. If it was too windy, everybody else was grounded, but in the meantime
I'd had the experience. I soloed on skis. We did simulated forced
landings on the frozen lake, Cayuga Lake, or on the inlet, and so
I had a wonderful experience.
However, my ground school was lacking. I had to do it myself. Well,
in a way the test is quite simple, in the sense that all the answers
are there. It's selective answers. So that worked out fine.
did that lead you into becoming a WASP?
I received my private pilot's license, and from there my job took
me to various places. I was working for Cornell. Eventually the war
did come. '41 came along, December, and I found myself down in Poughkeepsie,
New York…Duchess and Columbia Counties. I was setting up New
York [State] War Council work in home economics, nutrition, home bureau
work, actually was the Extension Service I was working for, and the
War Council, and Eleanor Roosevelt was on my committee. It was very
fascinating. And also Eleanor Morgenthau…her husband was the
Secretary of the Treasury. They would come without any escorts at
all at that time. They were very free to move around the country.
Let's see what happens then. Then Jackie Cochran is setting up the
program. In the meantime, I wasn't able to fly; I was too close to
New York City and "they" had banned all private flying within
the coast. I think it was 100 to 200 miles of the coast. And I applied.
I went down to New York City, had the interview, and, sure enough,
she [Miss Ethel Sheehy] said to me—this was the beginning of
March of 1943—she said, "I'm sure you're acceptable. All
you have to do is pass the physical, and you look strong to me."
So I was on the sidewalk and I flipped a nickel. Heads, I go that
month, or, tails, I stay home [and get more flying time]. And it was
heads. So I quit my job and took the physical in Rome, New York, at
the big base there. And came home and then I decided I had to get
some more flying time. I took four and a half hours of flying time
at Rochester Airport, to just be sure I could do it. Can you imagine?
And I joined the class of '43-5.
So I had very little [current] flying experience to join, and I just
kept my mouth shut when I arrived. I just dug into ground school and
all the things that I hadn't learned, and went through the program
and never had anything as rigorous or as centered as the five months
we were there. We received our wings on September 11, I believe it
was, of '43. But because of that, there was no distraction in your
life. Very few dates because there were very few men around, and you
had no responsibilities other than getting up and falling in line,
going to breakfast, going to the flight line, going to ground school
and to link training [and PT]. So at that time, when [I] graduated,
I was flying twin-engine AT-17s. We called it the twin-breasted Cub.
Just before we graduated, two of my very dear friends were killed
in an AT-17 with their instructor on a CAVU day, which is "ceiling
and visibility unlimited," just near Sweetwater, Texas. This
one girl had a garden, and she was growing flowers. When she left—when
anybody washed out, their mattress would be folded up and they'd disappear,
you never even said goodbye to someone who washed out. But this time
this girl left a flower garden in this Texas sun. It was remarkable.
Her name was Peggy Seip, Margaret Seip. She's in my book [In Memoriam].
Years later I [with help from Jeanette Jenkins and Sid Bergemann]
was able to accumulate the information about thirty-eight women who
were killed in World War II, flying for the WASP, and she's one of
them. That's, I'm sure, my motivation.
that your first trip away, so far from home, to go to Sweetwater,
no, I'd been away all through college and this job, as I explained
to you. So I was used to being on my own.
was Avenger Field when you got there? Was it something that you had
was a program that was completely set up and it was smoothly running
when I was there, in the '43-5 class. Helen Snapp, yesterday [interviewed
July 18, 1999] was in '43-4. Half of that class was in Sweetwater
and half were in Houston, of course, which is near Galveston. My good
friend "Greenie," Frances Green, came from Galveston, and
she was my buddy through the next phase of my work.
us about the planes that you learned to fly and then how that took
you on into your assignments once you graduated.
loved the twin-engine plane, and I loved the comraderie, having a
co-pilot and talking to people and being in the air, so that was probably
very easy for me then. After I graduated, Jacqueline Cochran gave
me my wings, and that was a moment of great achievement. Believe it
or not, they [the silver wings] were cold, and I don't know why. It
was a hot day, because it was September 11th in Texas. She shook hands
with her right hand, and then she presented the wings with the left
hand, and I remember squeezing and saying, "I did it!" [Laughter]
So it was a big moment.
Then I was sent to the Second Ferrying Command in [Wilmington] Delaware,
and at that time I was only there two weeks, checked out, did ground
school and checked out in the PT-19, which was our primary trainer,
and received orders to proceed at once to Lockbourne Army Air Base,
which is in Columbus, Ohio. At this time what do I find but the B-17s.
There were a hundred or more on the flight line at that time. I was
sent into the squadron, 1174th Squadron, and Major Freddy Wilson was
our CO [commanding officer]. He had selected three married men as
instructors [First Lieutenant Logue Mitchell was my instructor] for
the WASP. There were seventeen of us started, and thirteen of us finished.
The four who weren't able to finish, actually they were excellent
pilots, it's just that the planes—sometimes a plane is more
than a person wants to handle, and I'm sure that's probably what happened.
But thirteen of us finished that course.
That was a rigorous course, but this time we had men in our world,
and they were returning combat pilots from Europe. They'd had their
twenty-five missions and they were coming back for advanced training.
Some had gone over with very little training. We took the combat pilot
training course. In other words, we had to know everything about the
engines, everything about all the systems. We had a whole series.
Every other night would be night flying, so we had all that experience:
day, night, and cross country. We got our instrument ticket, and we
did that in the airplane, most of it. Some of it in the link, but
most of it in the airplane.
I'll never forget my first night solo. Of course, you had a co-pilot.
Here Greenie is mine and I'm hers. We had a crew chief who was a little
apprehensive, I'm sure, at first, because he was the only man on board.
It was one of these wonderful winter nights. The lights were sparkling
and we saw the lights on the field, the blue lights on the runway.
I remember coming down [final] and saying to myself, "I'm a pilot!"
[Laughter] It was a wonderful feeling.
Then after that I was sent—Freddy Wilson gave us silver dollars,
and on the silver dollar was embossed—was glued, actually—the
small wings, and he called it our lucky piece. From there the orders
were given to go to right near us here, Fort Myers, Florida, where
there was a big gunnery school, flexible gunnery school, and the field
was called Buckingham Army Air Field. Not a base; a field. There's
a difference. Less protocol on a field than on a base.
Here we were, we were in the civilian women's quarters. They were
barracks. This was our assignment. Now we're earning our pay. We were
flying missions to train the gunners how to use the .50-caliber machine
guns in the air. They had had all the ground school, all the ground
shooting and so forth. And this was fun, because we were just five
of us, I think five of us [WASPs]. Six of us altogether.
Should I go on?
Was there ever a typical day?
typical day. Yes. One day you'd fly from 6 a.m., you'd have to be
at the flight line at 6 a.m., and you'd fly till noon. The next day
would be from 12 o'clock until 5:30, 6:00. We'd fly over the gulf
[Gulf of Mexico]. This was on the gulf side of Florida. The sky yesterday
[July 18, 1999] reminded me of the skies that I was so used to. The
clouds here are white, and they flower. They build up during the day
until you have these anvil clouds, and they're exciting clouds to
We'd fly over Sanibel Island. You know where that is. There's a lighthouse.
We would prearrange to meet a B-26 Marauder. They called them AT-23s.
We would rendezvous and then go down the range toward Marco Island,
over the water, and we flew over the water. I was reminded today of
how flying over water is so much different than flying over land.
The clouds and the sea meld together. Oftentimes there's no horizon.
So you have a sense—vertigo is possible. And I was thinking
of John F. Kennedy [Jr.]. We don't know what happened, of course,
on that [airplane] accident Saturday. But it's a different kind of
We'd fly on the sleeve, and the gunners would then have bullets different
color-coded, and they would fire on the sleeve. Later, after the sleeve
was dropped, they could see if they actually hit the target. We'd
go down [range] until each gunner had a chance to fire. It's the first
time they'd been in a moving platform. So the whole idea of aiming
and distance is always more difficult.
Then we would go perhaps to altitude. We'd go to 23, 25,000 feet.
This time we'd all put oxygen masks on at 10,000 feet, and the guns
would get colder and colder the higher you went, and they had to learn
the differences in temperatures and so forth. Then we'd come back
down and fly over Naples—we're still over the water—at
Naples, Florida, and the P-39s and old P-40s would come up. Then we
had film in the guns, and the boys would try to do simulated attack.
That was the fun part for everybody. [Laughter]
…The other part of the mission you'd work in would be splash.
You'd fly as close to the water as you could, and the boys would fire
into the water and with a burst, and then they would try to hit that
burst. So everything to learn on a moving target. They had two aerial
missions. They were eighteen-, nineteen-year-old kids, and they were
shipped overseas. The first batch we were training were going to Europe
for D-Day, and the second batch we were training for B-29s. After
that, they just picked up their crews, with further training, of course.
But, I mean, they were on their way.
I'll never forget the first graduation. I realized, I guess, the importance
not only that I was finally contributing to the war effort, because
the training had taken so long, but would I be able to drop [bombs]
on—would I be able to do a combat mission? And it's a consideration.
You have to decide for yourself. Of course, that war was so—I
mean, we were so willing to fight for freedom for people all around
the world, that there's no question of what you'd do.
times that you were piloting the B-17 and had this line of ammo shooting
at the target, but it was also near your plane, did you feel like
you were at risk or in danger?
also flew—I had had thirty hours in the B-26, pulling the sleeve,
just as co-pilot now. Yes, sometimes I'd see tracers in the B-17 going
toward the plane, the B-26, and you'd put on the mike and say, "The
sleeve, guys!" [Laughter] "Aim at the sleeve!" But,
no, I don't think I had any fear.
I'm thinking of fear now after going through Cape Canaveral yesterday,
or the Kennedy Space Center, I call it, and seeing that huge, huge
complex, the Shuttle arrangement that's going off tonight, and I wonder
about fear. You have to cross the river and let the river drain your
fear. I think Eileen Collins perhaps feels that way. We didn't have—why
should that be fearful, what we did? I don't think so. But she's an
unusual woman. I think it's her quiet confidence that affects me today.
It permeates this whole mission.
that a necessary ingredient for you and the rest of the WASP as you
went through your journey, working on these bases? There were such
few women surrounded by these men. I'm sure you got mixed attitudes
and mixed perceptions and possibly mixed comments from different people
that worked on the bases.
I think so. Oh, I think so. I think so. It's part of this change.
When men accept women as partners, this is all going to change. We're
partners in life.
you feel that when you were on the bases?
felt perfectly belonging. I had no sense of being an outsider. I think
anyone who had a feeling I was an outsider, it's their problem.
were able to spend many months doing your service to your country,
and at some point—in fact, it was in December of 1944 they disbanded
the WASP. Tell us how you felt when you heard that there was going
to be a program.
it was a kick. I mean, it was a blow, because, one, you had to be
sent home. We had to pay our own transportation home, clear the base,
and just—goodbye. No, actually I don't think it affected me
until after I read Betty Friedan's book [The Feminine Mystique], that
I realized. I had sent everything home. I wrote my family quite often,
maybe every other day, so I have a complete record of how I felt at
the time. I haven't reread all those letters. Too many other things
to do to read them yet. [Laughter] But that's on my mind. That's another
story. We'll get into that.
Let me just finish what else I did in the B-17, because I'd like you
to know that when I was sent to our [next] base, for the gunners—was
changed over from B-17s to 24s, B-24s, and I did have a ride, left
seat, in the B-24, and I said, "Oh, I'll take my tail dragger
anytime over the B-24." [Laughter]
I was sent to Roswell [Army Air Field], New Mexico, and there we were
in engineering test flights, and we would do all the slow timing of
the new engines and any components that were placed on the engine,
or on the plane, from engineering. That was fun. We could do one and
two a day, test flights. You waited around for your [B-17]—you
know, there's a lot of waiting around to fly. There were only three
of us [WASPs] at the base at Roswell, and we had an interesting time.
Then, of course, this disbandment came along.
you at Fort Myers longer than you were in New Mexico?
yes. I think from January of '44 until maybe [late] September of '44.
Quite a few months.
then were you in New Mexico when the program—
to the last part of the program.
as you mentioned, you had to pay your way back, but you also had to
pay your own way to get to Sweetwater.
we were civilian employees. We were paid less than second lieutenants,
which is interesting.
Now, one other thing I must tell you about. The WASP would never have
been able to have their program if it hadn't been for a select group
of American women pilots who joined the Air Transport Auxiliary [ATA].
They were recruited by Jackie Cochran in '42, 1942, early '42, and
they were shipped in batches. They would go up to Dorval [near Montreal]
in Canada and check out in an AT-6. If they were accepted, they were
put on freighters and were sent overseas. And I'm [still]—I
had known these girls for a long time, maybe since the end of the
eighties, and I'm just now urging them to write their memoirs. Now
they're saying yes, they'll work with me, and we're going to do a
booklet, something like this [In Memoriam to Thirty-Eight Women Pilots],
so that they'll be recorded, who, where, when, and how. That's my
latest job to do.
One girl came over this last week, a couple of weeks ago. She flew
her own plane, a Piper [Arrow], from Beverly, Massachusetts, to Canandaigua
International Airport. We call it international airport. It's a nice
airport. And she had a dog with her. She spent the night at the lake,
went back the next day. She brought me her letters, her diaries, actually,
and some tapes, and we have a list of eight ATA women who are still
alive today, and we're corresponding with them and hoping that they
will cooperate and help us find out about the others, so we'll have
twenty-three. Other American women joined this program, but they weren't
recruited by Jackie Cochran.
The Air Transport Auxiliary had pilots from all over the world, men
and women, paid the same amount of money, and it's a remarkable story.
"Hap" [Henry] Arnold, who's the [commanding] General, the
[US] Army Air Forces at this time, because these women did such a
great job, he allowed Jackie Cochran to start her program. So we are
indebted to them. And I hope some day you'll be able to have an interview
with some of them.
it's part of the history and it must not be left out. They call themselves
"the forgotten pilots," but they cannot be forgotten pilots.
us about your relationship with Jackie Cochran. You mentioned that
she recruited you. Did she also interview you and tell you about the
wasn't interviewed by her, but I received my wings and later kept
in touch with her through the program. If [we] had any problem during
our time in Buckingham, I was able to write her a letter and say,
"We aren't getting first pilot time," and she was a mover
and a shaker, and I'm telling you we had a letter then from the CO
saying, "Yes, on these flights you are first pilots, and you
can have first pilot time." That might have been the only time
I had some discrimination, because we were qualified first pilots,
and she was able to help us in that way. She did come twice to the
base, to be sure everything was going well, and kept an eye on all
Fascinating woman. Absolutely fascinating woman. In two short years,
maybe two and a half years, she was able to accomplish more for women
than anyone I know, and opened doors. She didn't really open the door;
she opened the transom. We jumped in the transom. [Laughter] And then
when that closed, military aviation was closed to women, you see,
for many years, [many] years [1944 to the mid-1970s]. I think Eileen
Collins understands this. She understands that she's part, just like
I understand, we're just part of a continuum of women flying. Right
near my home is the Glen Curtiss Museum [Hammondsport, NY]. And Blanche
Stuart Scott was the first woman to solo. So that's maybe 191,
and here we are 1999, we're going into space. It's exciting.
is exciting. And so many women wanted to be part of the WASP.
think so, yes, and the qualifications were tough in a sense. When
I joined, you had to be twenty-one and you had to have at least fifty
hours of flying time. It gradually lowered—age and amount of
time. The college degree was once used, or maybe some years of college.
She [J.C.] liked to have—she thought education was important,
because she had not had [formal] education in her lifetime.
there a lot of competition among the women that were in Sweetwater,
or did they all build together and help each other as a team?
think we built. I think so. The competition was with yourself, because
you wanted to succeed and you didn't want to wash out. [Laughter]
Some people were washed out, I'm sure, who were very capable pilots,
but it was just the timing, that particular timing. I think probably
the program yesterday talked about our check rides. We had civilian
check rides and we had military check rides. The military check rides
were the tough ones to overcome if you had a pink slip.
a different type of person checking you out, I guess, on that military
many of the military pilots wanted to be overseas. There was that
visit again some of the times that you were still a WASP, and I'm
sure you had many, many nice memories. Can you share one or two memorable
moments with us that seem to be so significant even today?
perhaps—yes. One in Roswell, New Mexico. Roswell, New Mexico,
is desert, high desert country, and you have tumbleweed every so often
that will come rolling down the runway, and sometimes it can be a
huge mass and you cannot get out of the way of the tumbleweed, and
you go right through it, which is fun.
But perhaps the best landing I ever made was at Roswell. It had rained
and the field was damp, so the runways were still damp. I came around
and I remember coming in and getting the tail down just right and
the wheels just right, and there was no squeak. [Laughter] No bounce.
I kept saying to myself, "This is wonderful!" And it turned
out to be my very last landing. So it's a wonderful memory to have.
But because the field was wet and the wheels, you see, didn't stick
and they came down. It was just one of those lucky landings.
Landings were important, because maybe you only made one or two a
day, and if they were not a good landing, what you'd consider a good
landing, I'd feel I had failed somehow. I wanted to get them and have
a good landing. And you prided yourself on this. I think most pilots
had many continual hours sitting in that left seat.
you were piloting.
trying to focus.
see, I was in the Training Command. I was not in the Ferrying Command.
So that makes a big difference.
those days of you being an active WASP stopped, you have continued
working as a WASP, hoping to let other people know about the participation
and the contributions that the WASP have given. Tell us about some
of those activities.
interesting. That's a good question, how my interest renewed itself
in the WASP. In 1972, I attended a reunion in Sweetwater, Texas, and
Jackie Cochran came to this reunion. It's the last one she came to.
She died in 1980. She had a heart monitor on at that time, and [she
stayed] in a big motor home, air-conditioned motor home. I was found
[I was lost on the WASP mailing roster until 1972]. I had been found.
My names had been changed. I was Dawn Y. Rochow when I entered the
WASP. I had married in the WASP. I was Dawn Y. Balden. And then actually
later on when we had a militarization and became a veteran, I was
Dawn Y. Seymour, which is, of course, my name today. So I had many
names. Jackie Cochran was smart. She just kept her own name, and so
did Amelia Earhart. That's my counsel to anyone who asks me today.
So then I was found.
At that time, Bruce Arnold was there as a speaker. Bruce Arnold was
the son of "Hap" Arnold, and he was at the podium. I remember
we had had this meeting beforehand, and we were talking about the
fact that some of the women didn't receive any veterans' benefits
or health benefits, and they were needing help. I have a photo in
my album about talking to him, Bruce Arnold, and saying would he do
something to help us. This was just when our "militarization-renewed-interest"
Then I went to another reunion in Colorado Springs. And [later] was
asked to put my name in as presidential candidate for the National
Board in 198. You might look on my sheet and see if that's correct.
Then I had no opposition; no one wanted to be president. [Laughter]
So I was elected. And suddenly I'm president of this organization
and had little experience between the time I had left the WASP and
at that time, and I had to catch up.
We had changed our bylaws from an organization called Order of Fifinella
into the WASP World War II, Inc., and I was the first president to
open that door. So because of that and because of our militarization
having taken place in 1979, and the first WASP was given her veterans'
benefits, we were just veterans now, you see. Had never become real
military. That's another story.
So Pat Pateman and I went to Washington. She was a lieutenant colonel,
had Vietnam experience, and lived nearby, and she had that little
sticker on her car that let her go into all these bases and the Pentagon
parking lots and all that kind of thing. But we became a true veterans'
organization. We established ourselves as a veterans' organization,
and that was 1982 or '84. I misspoke. I was elected in 1982. And since
that time I've been on board the national organization, first as advisor
to the next president and then as chairman of the memorial committee.
And through that I had this great opportunity to meet, just like I've
met with you and your husband [Bobby Wright] in Galveston at the Lone
Star [Flight] Museum, [Galveston, TX]. You have all these opportunities
to speak to different groups and tell them about the WASP story, because
we were unknown back in '82. Very little had been written about us.
Sally Van Wagenen Keil had written her book, Those Wonderful Women
in their Flying Machine, and there was one young man [Nelson Adams]
outside of Washington who had a tape [PBS documentary, Silver Wings
and Santiago Blue, 1981]. It's a very fine tape of the WASP, and that
was the first really national publicity that had come about since
the war, that I'm aware of. Marty Wyall, [WASP, 44-W-10], will be
able to help you with that, too. She has a wonderful memory on those
things, because she's been our historian.
So through that, to establish ourselves as a veterans' organization,
that meant we were shoulder to shoulder with other World War II veterans.
And then as the war—the anniversaries came about, we were more
and more asked to participate, so that helped. That was fun.
Then for some reason I felt a great obligation to Jacqueline Cochran.
Well, I know the reason; it's because of her opening this transom,
as I call it, to women flying military airplanes. And I wanted recognition
for Jackie. The first thing I was able to accomplish was to have her
named—she was inducted [October 15, 1993] into the National
Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, which is the birthplace
of the Women's Rights Movement. As you know, last year was the 150th
anniversary of the Women's Rights…the signing of the Bill of
Sentiments, and that was in 1848 that this came about. It's a fascinating
story. I was asked [November 15, 1988] to present Sally Ride, in absentia,
her medal. I not only had counted down "ten, nine, eight, seven,"
I had everybody at the edge of their seats, I'm sure, but I also said
that I would deliver her medal to her. And it took me a year or more,
two years, perhaps, to find her at La Jolla [California] at NASA—I
have it here. I think I wrote it down. She was working for NASA at
the La Jolla University of California Lab…
Then coming back to Jackie Cochran, I became interested in stamps
and first-day covers, and on March 9th—there we go, another
9…1996, we have the…set of first-day covers…I worked
for the stamp for Jackie for ten years. That's an interesting story
of how one gets a stamp through the United States Postal Service,
and certainly they did a wonderful job. But I was asked where would
we like the ceremony, and I chose Indio, California, where her ranch
is located, and was able at that time to find people who knew her
way back—Yvonne Smith and Ann Wood-Kelly. So this is where we
had our wonderful opening of the postal stamp.
seems very appropriate that you had them here.
Well, tonight I'm going to—I have other stamps and there will
be a postmark, a commemorative postmark, cancellation, it's called,
and I'll have these recanceled with Jackie, because she's the first
woman to fly faster than sound, in 1953. So it's part of this same
continuum that we talk about.
Now back to Jackie. Then the other thing that happened is, on my sixty-fifth
birthday, my sister gave me a little statue, a seven-and-a-half-inch
bronze statue of a WASP that was created by an artist and a WASP,
Dorothy Swain Lewis, "Dottie" Swain Lewis. And I loved this
little statue. I'd look at it on my desk and I thought how appropriate
this is. When Sweetwater, Avenger Field, and people in Texas wanted
to have a memorial to the WASP, they had a zigzag design that they
had selected, and it just didn't seem appropriate to this flat land
of Texas and the location of it. They were going to save the wishing
well, where we used to dump people after they soloed.
So anyway, I had this statue in my pocketbook and showed it to the
committee at the site, and everyone had goose bumps because it was
so appropriate. So therefore, as memorial chair, I was able to ask
Dottie if she would create this statue for the first WASP memorial,
and that was in Sweetwater, Texas. And [U.S. Attorney General] Janet
Reno came and Ann Richards, the governor of Texas, came. It was a
big to-do in Texas, and that was a thrilling moment to have that [achieved].
The other memorials followed along. We had one at the United States
Air Force Museum at Dayton, Wright-Patterson. It's in the courtyard
and it's a testimony to the women who flew the first military aircraft
or the first [women] military pilots. There's one now at the Jimmy
Doolittle Memorial Garden in Midland, Texas, at the CAF Museum, which
is just a lovely one. And there's one now at the United States Air
Force Academy in the honor court. It is a beautiful one. So if you
ever go in these places, you'll see these bronze memorials. [The statues
were created by D. Swain Lewis.] They look skyward and they follow
the motto of the WASP. The motto of the WASP at that time was "We
live in the wind and the sand, and our eyes are on the stars."
[Jewel Estes, a WASP, created a handsome bronze for the entrance to
the WASP archives at Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas.]
So those are the projects that we were able to complete. I feel good
you could tell somebody what you would want them to know about the
WASP, how would you sum up the feeling of these women, of their contributions
to their country at this time? How could you, in a synopsis, tell
somebody about the WASP and the sacrifices that they made so that
they could do what they did?
first of all, they're a happy group. They're a wonderfully happy group,
and they don't think of themselves as having achieved anything but
this wonderful ability to have flown the planes, these beautiful,
wonderful airplanes, the opportunity we had to serve our country at
the same time. [Interruption]
guess the question that we'd like to look at now would be, you mentioned
Jackie Cochran opened the transom, not necessarily the door. Do you
feel like the door is open now?
absolutely. Oh, today? Yes. Tonight? Yes. It took some time. Just
like we talked about the Bill of Sentiments was 1848. Now here we
are 151 years later and we have a woman going into space as commander
of a space flight. So we're talking about—when I say the word
"continuum," I mean years, decades, hundreds of years. I'm
even thinking of a millennium of how women have been treated. American
women have more opportunities today than they've ever had in history,
that I can see. So we've always known we belonged in the world, but
now we have the legal reasons to belong.
Now, I don't think that when you think about it, the right to vote
was not as important as Title IX was. [Of course, I realize that legal
progress for women is step by step, but Title IX affected me personally.]
Title IX opened athletics to women. [Interruption]
IX, which opened athletics to women, with the same amount of training,
equipment, so forth, was more powerful than anything that's happened
in…[my lifetime]. [Recently,] you saw that with the soccer game,
the World Cup game, with American women. It [Title IX] affected my
daughters' lives. My daughters were going out for cheerleading, and
suddenly Title IX came along and they were playing soccer with the
best coach and the best equipment. And they are powerful women. They're
much different perhaps than I am. I mean, I have all the constraints
of my mother, of my mother's generation. [Laughter]
But I also want to say there's quite a difference in the WASP story
and Eileen's, because we did not fly under the glare of media cameras
didn't. We might have had people make comments to us and stare at
us, but I didn't have any discrimination of that sort.
yet it's a different pressure in a sense that you had a job to do.
As I said before, we felt confident we belonged. Isn't that great?
Yesterday, I wore my WASP shirt yesterday, had just the WASP wings,
and I was thinking, I wonder if anyone would recognize these wings.
And I was at the [launch] Pad Number Six, [Kennedy Space Center],
and who should come up to me but a good-looking red-haired lady who
said her name, introduced herself as a 99 pilot from Washington, D.C.,
and she had two friends with her. Her name turns out to be Linn Buell.
She's president of the National Soaring Museum, which is right near
Elmira. She knows Eileen Collins well. They sponsor the Eileen Collins
Camp Scholarship. We were delighted to meet each other.
The next person I met who recognized the wings was a Blake Wilson,
who's head of the Chamber of Commerce in Mississippi, whose mother
was the president of the WAVES in Delaware. So there's an interesting
And the third person who recognized my wings was a person who was
[shopping] in the Walgreen's [Drug Store] last night, who came up
to me, recognized the wings, and she said, "Oh, I would have
loved to have been a WASP," she said, "but I joined the
WAVES and I very early worked in San Diego," and so forth and
so on. So we had a wonderful conversation.
I said, "Are you a member of WIMSA?" WIMSA is the Women
in Military Service Museum in Washington, D.C., with the memorial.
The best story, I guess, besides flying the B-17[G] at Lone Star [Flight
Museum] in Texas would be flying in a C-141[B] with all-women crew,
a flyover for the opening of this great memorial for women veterans.
There was the pilot, the co-pilot, the navigator, the engineer, and
a cadet from the Air Force Academy, and myself, all in one plane.
It was just an absolutely smooth and beautiful, flawless ride. Something
to remember all these years.
So I think my advice, as you asked me before, what difference—what
were the WASPs and what was their meaning in this particular time?
And I think it is they listened to a voice inside that urges each
one of us—we each had this—urges us to try. Find a way.
You do the hard work. And I think that's my message.
a wonderful message, and you all left such a wonderful legacy.
we move on into another historic moment for women in aviation as we
move into tomorrow and Commander Collins takes her place in history
as well [launch of STS-93].
her place and we all move up.
thank you for visiting with us today and sharing your memories with
pleased to. I'm pleased to. I'm thrilled to be here.
just let the excitement of today and the event carry us on, and you'll
have one more memory to add as you go and visit others.
salute—all the WASPs salute Eileen Collins.
you so much.
bring that message.
she'll get that before she goes, but we'll definitely make sure she
gets it when she returns.
know we're proud of her.