Female aviators honored for war role World War II pilots freed men for combat

March 10, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Nine aviators, all members of the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) during World War II, were honored yesterday by the 175th Wing of the Maryland Air National Guard.

The ceremonies attended by nearly 100 people at Martin State Airport in Middle River were part of the Air Guard's celebration of Women's History Month.

The WASPs unit, which formed in 1943, played a critical role in freeing men for combat. The women flew every type of aircraft in the military inventory at that time, said Elaine Danforth Harmon, 77, one of yesterday's honorees.

Harmon, who grew up in Waverly and attended the old Eastern High School at Broadway and North Avenue, spun yarn after yarn, telling of women pilots who towed targets 30 feet behind their planes as rookie gunnery officers trained with live ammunition.

"The women would land with [bullet] holes in the tail of the planes," Harmon said.

She said Col. Barbara Erickson London received an Air Medal for flying 8,000 miles, logging 40 hours in the air within five days.

"That was a good month's worth of flying," Harmon said.

More than 25,000 young women showed interest in joining the WASPs, but only 1,830 were accepted and 1,074 graduated from training that generally required 115 hours of flying and 180 hours of ground instruction, she said.

The WASPs unit was deactivated in December 1944, but it was not until 1977 that Congress recognized its aviators as the "first military women pilots" with full honors and the benefits bestowed upon their male counterparts.

Scotty Gough, 74, of Bethany Beach, Del. recalled saving money earned from parachute jumps to pay for her flight training, so she could get a civilian pilot's license and join the WASPs.

"Even though we were denied military benefits for so long, I still would have paid to fly those wonderful planes," she said.

Others honored yesterday were: Toby Felker of Springfield, Va.; Ethel Finley of Rehoboth Beach, Del.; Florence Marsten of Clinton; Lorraine Z. Rodgers of Alexandria, Va; Mary "Jersh" O'Rourke of Arlington, Va.; Jane Straughan of Silver Spring; and Mary Ruth Rance of Gaithersburg.

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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