WWII Female Pilot Tells Exhilarating Secret Stories of Wartime Exploits
by MAGGIE KENNON
July 3, 2012
My Interview With
World War II Veteran
Why They Served
"We did it because our country needed us."
On February 29th, I interviewed Deanie Parrish. I learned of Deanie and her WWII history by researching the women of WWII. I was amazed by what I learned and what she shared with me. Come listen to our conversation...
During World War II, women stepped up into the jobs once held by men. They became mechanics, steel workers, plumbers and, for Deanie Parrish and 1,101 other women, pilots for the U.S. military. The Women Airforce Service Pilots, known as the WASP, helped train male pilots for combat, ferried aircraft, military personnel and cargo around the country, and allowed more men to serve overseas.
But Deanie never talked much about her adventures in the air; it wasn't until 1993 that she began to share the stories of her service. Now Deanie and her daughter are recording interviews with surviving WASP. Of the more than 1,102 women who volunteered and flew every type fighter, bomber, transport, cargo, and trainer aircraft in the Army Air Force inventory 68 years ago, only about 200 are still alive.
MAGGIE: Thank you for allowing me to speak with you. My mom and sister are also listening in on the speaker phone. We are honored that we can share in learning about your time as a WASP.
DEANIE: Thank you. I did get your questions ahead of time. We can go through them if you like. Why don't you begin.
MAGGIE: Do you remember the moment that you realized you were going to enter the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)
DEANIE: No, I don't remember the exact moment that I realized I was going to enter the WASP. What I do remember is the letter that was sent to me from Jackie Cochran who was the second most famous woman pilot. (After Amelia Earhart) Jackie sent me a letter stating I was accepted if I could pass the tests.
I was twenty when I received that letter. Twenty one was the age requirement, and I sent in my application as soon as I turned twenty-one. In all the twenty-one years that I had lived, I remember I thought that day that I got the letter as the best. I actually had no idea that you could lie to the authorities and give a false birth date.
I had to take and pass a physical exam before I could be accepted. The physical was the first time in my life that I had ever been to a doctor. I took the exam at an Army base near my home town in Florida, After I passed the physical and was accepted, I went to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas to enter military flight training.
There was a height requirement of 5 foot 2 ½ inches. I may have been ¼ inch shy...but I told the doctor I "needed" to be listed as 5 foot 2 ½ inches, and he helped me.
MAGGIE: Did your family approve or disapprove of you becoming a pilot during the war?
DEANIE: I don't recall them being one way or the other. They never rejected the idea.
I remember the good looking cadet instructors, that interested me and I wanted to show them that girls could fly.
When I was 18, three years before becoming a WASP, I had my first solo flight. As you know, that means that I would be flying all alone in the plane. Can you believe that the joy stick came off as I was up in the air?
A joystick was the most important control in a plane at the time. I really didn't get scared. I knew my instructor was watching from the ground - wondering what the heck I was doing.
I actually climbed, from the back seat, into the front cockpit in order to gain control of the plane.
MAGGIE: Did you have any siblings that served during WW2?
DEANIE: I was the middle child of 7 children in the family. Yes, I had one brother that was a marine, another brother that was in the Air National Guard and two of my sisters worked at the Army's Bombing Range.
MAGGIE: Did you have friends that thought this was not the "proper" thing for a woman to pursue at the time?
DEANIE: Not that I remember, some other gals from home became air wardens and Rosie the Riveters. When the war began, it really changed the roles for women in the USA.
MAGGIE: What was the hardest part of your Army training?
DEANIE: It was 7 months long. There was only one place in the USA for women to train to become pilots. That was at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. The primary training was 70 hours. Then you went to basic training and then advanced training. I enjoyed all of the training.
MAGGIE: Did you get teased by the men in the military or do you think they respected you?
DEANIE: I never had a problem with any of the men. However, "some" commanding officers weren't necessarily happy about us.
But, Sister Theresa, (formerly Anita Paul) from Nashua, New Hampshire had to spend time stationed with some WACS (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps.) The WACS were not behaving properly. They were having men hang out in the women's quarters.
MAGGIE: Were you ever scared?
Okay, there was one time during my primary training. I landed a plane on the field and I was taxiing the plane. You understand, that it wasn't possible to go in reverse or to back these planes up. There was a barbed wire fence and I could not tell if my wing of the plane would hit the fence. What made me so nervous about this was that the rules were "One error was considered a wash out" and you would be sent home.
Deanie in a B-26
MAGGIE: Did all of the female pilots have to pass physical and mental exams that were the same or different from the tests that male pilots had to pass?
DEANIE: For the most part, the physical and mental exams were the same.
We flew every type of plane. The same planes as the men. We flew every type of mission that could be flown in the USA.
I use to fly B-26's "Twin Engine Bomber" It was called a "flying coffin!" We would be used as "target" practice for the men. We would tow a target behind our plane and up in the sky, the men in their bomber planes would shoot live ammunition from their gunners of their B-24's at our target. We did this over the Gulf. The bullets were color coded so they would know which men had shot which bullets at our target. One of those B-24 pilots, Lt. Bill Parrish, instructed his gunners to aim close so he could meet the blonde girl pilot - they came so close, they put a few holes in the tail of my airplane.
MAGGIE: Did your plane ever get hit with bullets.
DEANIE: Yes, twice in the tail. But...I ended up marrying Lt. Bill Parrish!
MAGGIE: Why were your records sealed after the war?
DEANIE: Because we were women, they seemed to think it would degrade them. Maybe they were embarrassed to have relied on womanpower during the war and saw that as a desperate action that needed to be hid. Some of the records were marked secret and some were marked classified.
Because our records were sealed, historians never wrote about us in any history textbook or any book they wrote. In 1977 the Air Force announced they were graduating the first ten women pilots in American history to fly military aircraft. Well you can imagine how we felt. This was the final straw. We had flown military aircraft during World War II, and that made us the first women to fly military aircraft. It was as if they had just forgotten about us. So we organized ourselves. We became a force to be reckoned with. It took months, but a group of WASP went to D.C. with Barry Goldwater - a U.S. Senator at the time, along with General Henry "Hap" Arnold's son. We lobbied Congress to open our sealed records. Unfortunately, I was not there at that protest. At that time, I was with my husband at Haneda Air Field in Tokyo, Japan. If I had known and could be there, I would have been there. After that seven months, which I did help contribute to when I discovered about it, Congress approved that we should be given Veteran status.
President Jimmy Carter signed this into law on November 23, 1977. Although it would have been nice for us and thoughtful on Congress' part, none of the WASPs were invited to the signing ceremony. Still, this opened up to us many benefits of Veterans - even if it was thirty-three years late.
However, the most important part to many of us is that we will now be able to have an American flag on our coffins. Sadly, we had thirty-eight WASPs killed in training or after graduation that had not been allowed us to put the American flag on their coffins.
Congressional Gold Medal
Deanie Parrish (C) of Waco Texas, accepts the Congressional Gold Medal while flanked by House Minority Leader John Boehner (L), Sen. Harry Reid (2nd R) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)(R), during a ceremony at the US Capitol on March 10, 2010 in Washington, DC. The ceremony was held to honor the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) of WWII. The WASP was a pioneering organization of civilian female pilots employed to fly military aircrafts under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.
In 1984 we were awarded World War II Victory Medals and Theater Service Medals. And finally, in 2010, we were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. It was given to the WASP to honor our service, and a ceremony was held in our Nation's Capitol in Washington for us. Over sixty years after we had answered the call of the nation, and after many of us have already passed on, our country is finally able to look upon and acknowledge the wonderful effort given and achievements that we made as pilots in WW II.
MAGGIE: What do you think is the best way to educate Americans about the female pilots of WWII?
DEANIE: We have interviewed 115 WASP pilots. There were at total of 1102 and sadly less than 200 are alive today. Having their interviews on file and on our website is a source for educating people about the warriors of WW II. Additionally, my daughter has helped do a documentary because she was upset when she found out there was not any information out there. She said to me "That's wrong!"
We have also written a book that we would love to see in every school library in the country. Personally, I think the best way to educate American students would be history textbooks which included the WASP.
Click here to purchase book
MAGGIE: Why don't you sell your story to Hollywood - after all, they just made the movie "Act of Valor" so this subject seems like a hot topic now.
DEANIE: Sure would be nice but we don't know where to begin.
MAGGIE: What about textbook publishers - have you approached them or vice versa?
DEANIE: Again, no - we haven't done this but would like to try.
MAGGIE: Were you ever Privy to Classified Information that you still know but can't reveal?
DEANIE: No, but later, after I married an Air Force Pilot - I had other jobs at bases where I was privy to classified information.
MAGGIE: Have you ever reached out to female pilots from allied WWII countries, like Great Britain? Were there any from other allied countries?
DEANIE: Yes, 20 WASPs made a trip to Russia to meet up with Russian women from WWII. The Russian women were pilots that actually flew in combat. They were called "Night Witches" and flew single engine planes.
Russian Night Witches
Jacqueline Cochran, the most outstanding U.S. female pilot, was both the Founder and Director of the Women Airforce Service Pilots. In 1943, twenty-eight civilian women pilots, who had been hired as civilians to ferry aircraft for the Air Transport Command, together with their Squadron Commander, Nancy Love, merged into Jacqueline Cochran's WASP and became WASP.
Some of the WASP transported parts of the Atom Bomb.
MAGGIE: Are you in contact with female warriors from current American wars? Whether you are or not, what would you advise them?
DEANIE: Yes, in fact we are meeting at a convention this weekend in Dallas. There are two groups: - Women in Military Aviation, and Women in Aviation International that I am a member of.
WASP Deanie Parrish meets A-10 PILOT and USAF Captain Kim Campbell
MAGGIE: Did you keep up your flying after the war, whether professionally or as a leisure time activity?
DEANIE: No, I became a wife and mother and left the flying to my husband.
MAGGIE: Did you stay in touch over the years with other pilots?
DEANIE: Yes, putting together reunions.
Gateway to Arlington - the women's memorial and the Kalamazoo Museum in Michigan are projects that we are involved. Of my five "baymates" there is just one other that is alive today.
MAGGIE: What do you want us to know about you - more than anything else?
DEANIE: I (we) never forgot our values: Honor, Integrity, Patriotism, Service, Faith and Commitment
I also always remember what Jackie Cochran (a pioneer American aviator, considered to be one of the most gifted racing pilots of her generation. She was an important contributor to the formation of the wartime WAAC and WASP.) had told us when we were training. ""Remember you are a lady and when you get out of the plane act like a lady." Jackie always looked like a million bucks. Many of us kept brushes and lipstick in the planes with us.
MAGGIE: Thank you Mrs. Parrish, this was so nice of you to give me your time and to share your story.
DEANIE: Thank you Maggie and please spread the word so others will learn. Good luck with your school project. A great month for this as you know it is Women's History Month!
DEANIE PARRISH, Women Airforce Service Pilots: Every single one of these ladies deserves to be standing where I am standing. Over 65 years ago, we each served our country without any expectations of recognition or glory. And we did it without comprising values that we were taught as we grew up: honor, integrity, patriotism, service, faith, and commitment.
Learn more about the WASPs - click here
This publication is based on Maggie's handwritten notes of her telephone conversation with WASP Deanie Parrish, and re-written as if in Deanie's own words.
Maggie Kennon is a 7th grade student at St. Augustine School in Westchester County, New York. She completed this interview as part of a special Social Studies project.