What IWASM Has Done for Me
September 1, 2023, the International Women’s Air & Space Museum named me the 2023 recipient of their Lifetime Achievement Award. The second woman on whom they have bestowed this honor, I follow in the footsteps of Caroline “Connie” Luhta, the recipient of IWASM’s first Lifetime Achievement Award – in 2022.
The following is inscribed on my award: “On behalf of the museum and communities around the world, thank you for your tireless efforts to preserve and showcase the history and experiences of women in World War II aviation. Your dedication and advocacy ensures the WAFS and WASP stories live on for generations to come.”
And … the museum asked me to give a short speech.
This Is What I Said …
“Three women – Joan Hrubec, Nadine Nagle, and Nancy Batson Crews – are the reason I am here tonight. Collectively, the three of them put me on this journey that literally changed my life. Joan was the administrator of IWASM when it located in downtown Centerville, Ohio (suburban Dayton) in 1986. She made IWASM tick in “the ’80s and ’90s” in Centerville and in the early 2000s in Cleveland. Joan was “a walking encyclopedia of women’s aviation.” She opened up that world to me. I first met Joan when she and IWASM board chair Nancy Hopkins Tier and vice chair B Steadman came to ask me – then the editor of the Centerville-Bellbrook Times – would I write an article about the new museum?
IWASM Held the History of My Heroines…
… Amelia Earhart, Louise Thaden, and all the other women pilots of note. And the museum had chosen to settle in my town! I was delighted! I ran the article on the front page and I became an IWASM advocate. A year or so later, Joan asked me if I might write about Dayton-area IWASM member and supporter, WASP Nadine Nagle.
This sweet, lovely woman literally brought the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) to life for me. Nadine had never been in an airplane but when her husband of less than a year died in January 1943 – in a B-24 crash-landing in England – she made a decision. Our country was at war. She would fly in his place.
Nadine entered training with the next to last WASP class (44-9), April 13, 1944. She graduated November 8 and was posted to South Plains Army Air Base in Lubbock, Texas. She actively flew whatever she was assigned during those final six weeks of the WASP existence in November-December 1944. Nadine and I became close friends. We lost her in 2018, a month before her 100th birthday.
Two Jobs, Two Novels, and a Masters Degree
In 1989 I left the newspaper to pursue my dream of being an author. What followed was a very busy ten years.
First I took on two freelance jobs: writing and editing for the Kettering Foundation and writing and editing the City of Centerville’s
bimonthly newsletter. I also enrolled in the non-residential Individualized Master of Arts program at nearby Antioch University Ohio. Finally I was on track to get my masters degree in creative writing. FYI: During the long days of Covid, I took on the extensive rewriting of the novel that WAS my master’s thesis. Titled Quilted Lives it is now making the rounds to potential publishers, courtesy of my agent Liz Trupin.
On the side I volunteered for IWASM. Joan and I started a lecture series and decided to gather and present an eight-person WASP panel. Nadine would lead it. But we were missing an Original WAFS – a representative of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, the 28 women Nancy Love brought together prior to the organization of the WASP.
Our WASP Panel Was a Hit
The WAFS were the first women to ferry U.S. aircraft in WWII. Recently I had read about one of them, Nancy Batson Crews. Her story fascinated me, so I suggested we invite her to represent the WAFS as part of our WASP panel. She agreed to come. Nadine and I picked her up at the Dayton Airport. Our WASP panel discussion was a hit!!!
Nancy and I became close friends. I finally gathered the courage to ask if she would let me write her biography. “No, Sayruh,” said the Alabama native, “I want you to write the story of Nancy Love and the WAFS.” That is when my life changed! “How?” I asked. I envisioned a lot of traveling, interviewing eight women scattered across the U.S.!
“I’ll Have a Reunion,” said Nancy
She invited the other eight living WAFS to come to the reunion, which she held in Birmingham in June 1999. She did this so I could meet, get to know, and interview the WAFS for “our” book. Five of them came. What a time we had!!! Nancy’s introduction led these marvelous women to trust me and to readily tell me their wartime WAFS – and later WASP – stories. I was in Heaven! I went to work on the book, the story of Nancy Love and the 28 WAFS.
It is to Nancy Batson Crews that I owe the fulfillment of my life’s dream – my success as an author. It began when my book – The Originals, the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron of World War II – was published by Disc-Us Books in July 2001. The rest is history. I’ve now had the privilege of writing about the WAFS and the WASP in, as of now, 13 books … and counting!