WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE A WASP
By Dottie Hines Mosher Class 44-W-6
JOURNEY TO JOIN-UP
Late October, ’42. When Roddy, Bunny and I started flying we had little hope of qualifying for the two groups of women pilots then existing; the WAFS – Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, and the 319th A.A.F.F.T.D. – Army Air Forces Flying Detachment. Required were 200 solo hours, impossible! No matter, we just wanted to learn to fly.
Spring, ’43. Great news! The two groups were combined into one, the W.A.S.P. – Women’s Airforce Service Pilots with famous pilot Jacqueline Cochran as Director. The prerequisite flying time was reduced to 35 hours – we were ecstatic! School out for the summer, we procured jobs on the “graveyard shift” in a defense plant and went right from work to Rubikam Airport and took turns flying our 55 h.p. Taylorcraft, “Skylark”.
A recruiter for the WASP traveled around interviewing applicants; we waited and waited in vain. We all had our Private License and were starting to get antsy. A momentous decision was made – we would go to Washington, D.C. as we knew Jackie had an office in the Pentagon. Scraping together a little “moola” (we were always almost broke), we bought 3 round trip tickets to our Nation’s Capitol.
The bus was old, full of fumes from a sputtering engine and chugged protestingly along until – just outside Gary, Indiana the poor thing gave a last gasp, and quit. A mechanic labored over the archaic engine and we were finally rolling again. Sleep was difficult in a sitting position but any discomfort was transcended by our soaring spirits, our eager anticipation.
At 5 A.M. on a warm, hazy September ’43 morn we pulled into the bus station in downtown Washington and were met by Bunny’s brother, a sailor at the Naval Base in D.C. The couple he was rooming with had kindly offered to put us up during our stay.
A jolting discovery – bunny’s wallet was missing! With the seats in the reclining position, it had probably slipped out of her pocket. Roddy galvanized into action; hailing a cab, she sped off after the bus. Shortly she returned, dejected; she had found the bus, but not the wallet. They had combined their money, so it was a double blow. But we soon bounced back, as was our custom; my skimpy shekels would just have to stretch further. Onward, ever onward!
The couple’s home, in a nice suburb, was cozy and inviting. Slipping into clean clothes, we were ready for the BIG interview.
The Pentagon – what an awesome experience! We were all agog like a trio of country bumpkins, gaping and gawking at the size of that imposing structure. We were given a guide who led us up one hall and down another, and ushered us into a pleasant room with a table along one wall.
Then there she was, a lovely-looking lady greeting us with a friendly smile. It didn’t seem possible, but there we were too!
Jacqueline Cochran sat down across the table from us, looking over our records as she chatted in an easy, relaxed manner. Was she ever pretty! – especially those big, brown, penetrating eyes. Suddenly she became extremely serious. “I must be sure that you are totally sincere about entering this flying program. Our training course is very condensed, and it will take tremendous dedication and hard work on your part. If you have doubts, now is the time to quit. Girls, this is a very important matter, and I must know that you will make every effort to succeed, and will not drop out.”
She said something else deserving of mention. “You have the qualifications necessary to become trainees; you will most likely be assigned to the January class. Welcome to the WASP – see you at graduation!”
“Nobody, but nobody” could have been as happy as the three young gals who emerged from the Pentagon on that wonderful September day. We wanted to laugh, to shout, to jump for joy. Our feet were on the ground but we were flying high! Farewell to college joys, we were on our way to be pilots for the Army Air Forces!!!
J-4’s CHAOTIC FIRST “SMI”
Today we had our first taste of Army inspection. I shall never forget that SMI (Saturday Morning Inspection) – it was a veritable riot!
When it was announced that an inspection of the bays would be held, we baymates in J-4 worked feverishly to tidy up our messy room and get the blankets on our Army cots nice and tight, nary a wrinkle in sight. Other bays started their cleaning last night, but we thought there was plenty of time, as zero hour wasn’t till ten hundred hours (10:00 A.M.). So did we break our necks today; the clean-up took longer than we had anticipated and the floor (cement) wouldn’t come clean, despite our resolute and repeated scrubbing.
The six of us were a sight to behold. “Dimples” was having a last go at the obdurate floor with a big stringy mop – in the buff, she didn’t want to get her clothes dirty! We were all scurrying around like crazy when somebody hollered, “Oh my gosh, here they come!”
Pandemonium broke upon the scene – Dimples screamed, threw down the grungy mop and made a skidding dash to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. It was a false alarm, thank goodness; “Lady Godiva” came out of hiding to join the ensuing hilarity.
When the furor subsided we finished the job and made ourselves presentable, then continued the old Army slogan, “Hurry up and wait”.
Finally the Inspection Group arrived. It consisted of two Army Officers and a girl with a pencil poised to record any possible demerits. As the serious trio circled about slowly checking our room, we stood at attention at the foot of our cots. The contrast of our disorderly cleaning to the calm orderliness of the inspection was so comical we had a hard time maintaining our composure as we stiffly faced one another in all that quiet.
It seemed like eons before the dignified threesome departed, as we had reached the breaking point. At long last they did, and we doubled up on our neat cots, the pent-up laughter exploding.
And surprise, surprise – we didn’t get any demerits!