I recently began another explorative journey with a travel partner, and on Monday we left Tucson with a small toy-hauler, loaded with two recumbent trikes, in tow behind the pickup, heading for parts of Texas, mostly unknown to me.
On Wednesday, as we drove toward Dallas, we saw the sign that read “WASP Museum”, located in Sweetwater, Texas. Being curious, we took a small detour and stopped there, at Avenger Field, the training ground for the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II.
The information about these brave and adventurous women is astounding. The museum has handprints of many of the women who earned their wings to fly several different aircraft, often as the first pilots of the aircraft.
In 2010 NPR did a story on these women who filled the void of pilots needed during the war. You can read it at http://www.npr.org/2010/03/09/123773525/female-wwii-pilots-the-original-fly-girls
As mentioned in the article President Obama signed a bill awarding the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by the U. S. Congress. Although this was a civilian award, the WASP eventually were given military status in the 1970s.
Upon graduation from their pilot training they received their silver wings…
The WASP wings–perhaps the most unique wings in all the world, were designed for the WASP–with a diamond in the center that symbolizes the shield of Athena–Greek goddess of war, take center stage on the floor of the hangar. Standing at the top of the WASP Wings is a bronze statue of Fifinella loaned to the museum by the Sweetwater Woman’s Forum. ( http://waspmuseum.org/about/)
Rather than paraphrase the history of how Fifinella became the mascot of the WASP, here is the explanation provided by Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gremlins):
The Gremlins is a children’s book, written by Roald Dahl and published in 1943. It was Dahl’s first children’s book, and was written for Walt Disney Productions, as a promotional device for a feature-length animated film that was never made.
The story concerns mischievous mythical creatures, the Gremlins of the title, often invoked by Royal Air Force pilots as an explanation of mechanical troubles and mishaps. In Dahl’s book, the gremlins’ motivation for sabotaging British aircraft is revenge of the destruction of their forest home, which was razed to make way for an aircraft factory. The principal character in the book, Gus, has his Hawker Hurricane fighter destroyed over the English Channel by a gremlin, but is able to convince the gremlins as they parachute into the water that they should join forces against a common enemy, Hitler and the Nazis, rather than fight each other.
Eventually, the gremlins are re-trained by the Royal Air Force to repair rather than sabotage aircraft, and restore Gus to active flight status after a particularly severe crash.[N 3] The book also contains picturesque details about the ordinary lives of gremlins: baby gremlins, for instance, are known as widgets, and females as fifinellas, a name taken from the great “flying” filly racehorse Fifinella, that won both the Epsom Derby and Epsom Oaks in 1916, the year Dahl was born.
“It was “The Order of Fifinella” and Fifinella, of course, was our little good gremlin that took care of us and sat on our wings, supposedly. Walt Disney made the design and we got permission to use it and that’s how we started “The Order of Fifinella.” ~ Faith Buchner Richards, 43-W-4, Oral History (http://www.twu.edu/library/wasp-fifinella.asp)
Too often women’s history has been moved aside, allowed to fade, only to become almost a myth, it seems to me. So stumbling onto this museum has given me the motivation to once again put at the forefront a women’s history of powerful, brave, adventurous, and daring women who prevailed during a difficult time in this country’s history. These women were the women of my mother’s generation. They stepped forward into a “man’s world” to show that they could achieve on an equal basis the same as men, and maybe more.