Thirty-eight WASP perished performing their patriotic calling — flying for their country in World War II. All were young women, age 20 to early 30s — women whose futures would never be realized.
Cornelia Fort, a southern gentlewoman from Tennessee, loved flying. She also was on her way to becoming a proven writer. Early on, Cornelia dedicated herself to writing the definitive story of Nancy Love’s original WAFS (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron) — and, who knows, possibly the unfolding WASP saga beyond.
Cornelia, the second woman Nancy Love accepted, September 1942, was the first woman pilot to die on active service for the United States military. She was the victim of a senseless mid-air collision in which the other pilot survived. She was ferrying a basic trainer from California to Texas when the accident occurred, March 21, 1943.
Telling the WAFS Story As It Unfolded
Likely, the scarcity of WASP literature in the years immediately following WWII would have been remedied had Cornelia lived. Much admired and well liked by her fellow WAFS, she had the drive, dedication and resources to tell the story when it was fresh. The world might have known about the WASP long before the very late realization that such a program actually existed — that women pilots really flew for the US in World War II.
In all, Nancy Love lost three of her original WAFS.
Second to perish was friendly, outgoing, all-American girl Dorothy Scott. From tiny Oroville, Washington, up on the Canadian border, her desire to fly took her to the University of Washington, into the Civilian Pilot Training Program there, and thus to the WAFS.
She had the minimum for admission — 504 hours — but she was a truly fine pilot in whom her mentor, Nancy Love, saw potential.
Dorothy served as flight leader on ferrying trips with incoming WFTD graduates at the 5thFerrying Group WAFS squadron in Dallas May through July 1943. That fall, she was the welcoming liaison for the new WASP joining the Dallas ferrying group. She earned Love’s trust. Nancy chose her for a copilot on a C-47 delivery when Dorothy was building her twin-engine time.
Dorothy Pursuit School Bound
Nancy assigned Dorothy to the very first class at Pursuit School, December 1, 1943.
Dorothy died in a preventable mid-air collision on December 3, her third day in Palm Springs. She and her instructor were landing a BC-1 trainer when a faster P-39, also trying to land, overtook her. The deep, late afternoon shadows prevented him from seeing her in time. The control tower’s warning came too late. He came down on top of her and both aircraft crashed.
Dorothy, her instructor and the P-39 pilot all died that day.
And then there was Evelyn Sharp. Accepted into the WAFS on October 20, 1942 — her 23rdbirthday — Evelyn had logged an impressive 2,968 hours by the time she joined the WAFS.
Evelyn was the fourth woman, after Nancy Love, Betty Gillies and Barbara Erickson, to check out in the twin-engine P-38. She did so on March 26, 1944. Over the next three days she familiarized herself with the working of this magnificent aircraft with its two 1,425 horsepower engines. On March 29, she completed her transition.
We know the rest of the story. The following day she set her P-38 on a course for the docks at Newark, NJ — clear across the country. It was a trip she had made countless times in a P-51. On April 3, after being weathered in overnight in New Cumberland, PA — and having had problems with oil levels in both engines — she took off.
Barely in the air, her left engine belched black smoke and quit. Evelyn did not survive the subsequent crash. The impact drove the retracted nosewheel up into the cockpit and threw Evelyn into the bubble canopy breaking her neck.
Nancy Love had lost her third Original WAFS. The young woman who had put many a 1930s canvas, dope and plywood aircraft down in the fields of Nebraska gave it her all and tried to bring the steel and aluminum dynamo back to earth safely. To no avail.
Hometown Airports Named for All Three
All three of the original WAFS who died while flying for the Army Air Forces in World War II have had a hometown airport named for them: Evelyn Sharp Field — Ord Municipal Airport, Ord, Nebraska; Dorothy Scott Memorial International Airport, Oroville, Washington; and Cornelia Fort Airpark, a small private airport located on the banks of the Cumberland River in Nashville Tennessee. Unfortunately, the airpark was badly flooded in 2010 and it is now part of Nashville’s Shelby Bottoms Greenway and Nature Park.
Tennessee’s own Rob Simbeck wrote the story of his fellow Nashvillian, Cornelia Fort. Daughter of the Air was published in 1999. Nebraska’s own Diane Ruth Armour Bartels—a Nebraska Ninety-Nine—wrote Sharpie: The Life Story of Evelyn Sharp, published in 1996. And yours truly, Sarah Byrn Rickman, wrote Finding Dorothy Scott, based on Dorothy’s wartime letters home, donated to the WASP Archives at TWU by her twin brother, Edward Scott. Published 2016.
Cornelia’s, Dorothy’s and Evelyn’s stories live on.
From Sarah Byrn Rickman: Thank you for reading my Blog. I hope you enjoy learning more about the WASP, the women who flew for the USA in World War II.