I have a plastic disc on my keychain which says, “I am a writer. I make up things.” Many writers have their own favorite era/topic, and one of mine is the World War II era. A bit of research sets the imagination spinning. The drama which unfolded at Avenger Field at Sweetwater, Texas, near my hometown in West Texas, spurred the idea for The Case of the Outrageous Octogenarian. It’s a WIP. Keep reading for a sneak peek--but first, read the facts:
Early in WW II, aviators Nancy Love Harkness and Jacqueline Cochran both felt women could contribute to the total war effort through flying planes in the United States and freeing men to fly overseas. Two distinct organizations materialized: the Women’s Flying Training Detachment and the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron which merged in 1943 as the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots in 1943. Though they fully expected to be militarized before the end of the war, they were deactivated on December 20, 1944. (This is a very simplified, bare-bones history--be sure to read more on one of the links below.)
Thirty-eight young women between the ages of 21 and 35, many with more flying hours than male combat pilots in the USAF, died in the line of duty. Many more lived to tell their stories. One in particular was Margaret “Maggie” Ray Ringenberg who died at the age of 87. Just months earlier, she had competed in the 2,312-mile women-only Air Race Classic. Flying from Bozeman, Montana, to Mansfield, Massachusetts, she and her co-pilot finished third.
Read more about Maggie Ray and the WASPS in Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of WW II and Maggie Ray: WW II Air Force Pilot, and watch “Wings for Maggie Ray” on Amazon (available for Prime).
NOW here’s the first few paragraphs of The Case of the Outrageous Octogenarian:
Rosalie never thought she’d see her eightieth birthday. Her parents predicted she’d never see thirty when she left a boring office job to join the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots in 1942. Why they’d had such a fit about the WASPS when they hadn’t minded paying for her flying lessons starting when she was seventeen, she never understood. But she’d ignored their prophesies of doom and signed up anyway, ending up at Avenger Field outside of Sweetwater, Texas.
She kept Eleanor Roosevelt’s words pinned to the wall above her bed in the barracks:"This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and every weapon possible. WOMEN PILOTS, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used." - Eleanor Roosevelt, 1942
Not only did she read them twice a day--when she got up and before lights out at night--but she believed them with all her heart. She liked everything about being an attractive woman and had no desire to be anything else, but she didn’t like to be told she couldn’t do what had heretofore been considered man’s work.
Well-known woman pilot Jackie Cochran hadn’t had to work too hard to recruit Rosalie, who’d never felt as free as she did in the air. “Don’t take any chances,” her mother pleaded before she left for training.
“Mother, life’s a chance,” she’d replied patiently.
“But this is. . .”
“I’m not going to war, you know. I’m making it possible for every available man to go do what I can’t--fight our enemies.”
“But. . .”
“I’m going to do my bit, and that’s that. I know you’ll worry, and I’m sorry, but I’m a grown woman and capable of making my own decisions.”
Rosalie enjoyed towing targets for gunners in training. Even a couple of near misses with live ammunition couldn’t dampen her enthusiasm. But her favorite job was ferrying new planes from factories to air force bases. Their sleek beauty, the new smell of leather and metal, the soaring quiet high above the busy, noisy world--all of it was balm to her restless soul.
The crushing disappointment when WASPS were disbanded at the end of 1944 instead of being militarized as expected stayed with her for years afterwards. However, she found a silver lining in her cloud of despair: newly-minted 1st Lt. Robert Ward Gaynor.