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Omaha Magazine

WASPS of Nebraska: Unsung Heroes of the Wild Blue Yonder in World War II

Apr 29, 2021 03:43PM ● By Tamsen Butler
four women walk away from large WWII plane

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Many monuments are displayed in Lincoln’s Memorial Garden, but the monument dedicated to Nebraska’s Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) is likely to give visitors pause, as many realize there is a piece of history from World War II they may have never heard.  

The women listed on the monument were pilots during a time when so many men off at war created opportunities for women to take on roles that were typically considered to be for men.

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 The WASP program was birthed from another military program: the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, a program for female pilots whose primary responsibility was to fly planes from factories to military bases. The WAFS—along with the Women’s Flying Training Detachment—became the WASPs in 1943. More than 1,000 women served as WASPs, yet none of them were considered military veterans until legislation in the 1970s granted them veteran status. Until then, they were considered civilian employees.

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 Mark Strehle, education director of Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, knows the WASP pilots were special because his aunt Katy was one. “Aunt Katy was confident and self-assured,” Strehle said. “Highly intelligent, and a businesswoman in her own right, she knew herself well and interacted with her environment accordingly...both in the air (so I was told—because I only flew with her once) and on the ground.”

Nebraska boasts 19 WASPs from throughout the state. 

Alice Riss of Omaha was one of 49 graduates in WASP class 44-1 in February 1944. She piloted the PT-19, BT-13, AT-6, C-45 and the UC-78. 

Dorothy Bancroft of Lincoln piloted an impressive roster of aircraft: PT-17, BT-13, AT-6, B-24, and the UC-78. She, along with her fellow Nebraskan WASPs, was inducted into the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame.

Eileen Kealy of Omaha was honored by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2005. During World War II, she flew out of Maxwell Field in Alabama and Greenville Army Air Base in Mississippi.

Esther Mueller of Thayer piloted an impressive eight types of aircrafts as a WASP and was Nebraska’s first female licensed parachute rigger. Mueller was inducted into Kentucky’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 2003.

Evelyn Sharp of Ord died while in service to the WASPs when her P-38 crashed, making her the sole Nebraska WASP to die while serving the country as a pilot and one of 38 WASPs who died while in service. 

Dr. Grace “Betty” Clements of Elmwood was inducted into the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame in 2019. After the war, she enrolled in Red Cross training and eventually became a physician.

Helen Turner of Cairo piloted “pursuit” planes, which are now designated as fighter planes. The Air Force’s first female fighter pilot didn’t serve until 1993.

Isabel Tynon of Peru logged more than 14,000 flying hours as a WASP pilot and has a bench and a plaque dedicated to her at the Aurora Airport in Oregon.

Jane Waite of Scottsbluff was one of 112 graduates of the WASP class 43-W-4 and was assigned to Love Field in Texas. 

Kristin Swan Lent Gos of Minden once said in an interview that the bombing of Pearl Harbor is what prompted her to get involved in civil service. 

Lois Boien of Omaha took a job with the Department of Defense after the war and joined the Air Force Reserve. She eventually had a career with the Internal Revenue Service.

Lois Bristol of Bayard joined seven fellow WASPs in the 2014 Rose Parade to ride a float honoring the brave group of women pilots.

Margaret Nispel of Lincoln trained at Avenger Field in Texas and piloted both the PT-17 and the BT-13.

Mary Beecham of Omaha was one of 49 graduates in WASP class 44-1 in February 1944 and piloted the PT-19, BT-13, AT-6, AT-11, C-45, and the UC-78.

Mary Jershin of Omaha was honored by the 175th Wing of the Maryland Air National Guard, along with eight other WASPs, in 1997.

Mary Williamson of Omaha was still in WASP training when the unit was disbanded so she never actually flew a mission. She eventually joined the faculty at UNO.

Marybelle Lyall of Hastings was a test pilot for the BT-13 but also piloted the PT-17. She was among those honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.

Millicent Peterson of Chappell initially took pilot training in Ogalalla and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010 for her WASP service. 

Roberta Mundt of Berea piloted a variety of planes as a WASP: AT-10, AT-6, B-17, B-24, B-25, C-47, and the PT-19.

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 Papillion La Vista South High School social studies teacher JD Davis said the story of the WASPs isn’t one that’s commonly taught to history students. “The history of WASPs is an example of a part of history that wasn't taught in school, just like the Tuskegee Airmen, the 442nd Infantry Regiment, and the Navajo Code Talkers. The fact that there is not much information readily available shows there is much more work to do in finding out and telling history the way it actually happened as opposed to the way it was told (or not told) in the past.” 

This article originally appeared in the May issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

This article originally appeared in the May issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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