My Friend, WAFS Nancy Batson Crews

 In Sarah Byrn Rickman, WAFS/WASP Pilots of WWII

Meeting Nancy Batson Crews Changed My Life

Nancy Batson Crews, WAFS pilot in World War II, and I met January 12, 1992. WASP Nadine Nagle and I picked her up at the Dayton Airport that evening. That meeting changed my life.

In January 1990, I went to work as a communications consultant for the International Women’s Air and Space Museum (IWASM), then located two blocks from my home in Centerville, Ohio. [IWASM is now located in Cleveland, OH]  The fledgling museum was a repository for papers, photos, and memorabilia of the early women pilots of Amelia Earhart’s era and those who came after.

Joan Hrubec, IWASM Administrator, hired me. My first assignment was to interview Nadine — my first WASP — about whom I wrote in last week’s Blog.

IWASM Invites Pioneer Women Pilots to Speak

That fall, I helped IWASM launch a series of programs featuring pioneer women pilots to be aired for the cable television viewers in south suburban Dayton, Ohio. We videotaped the women—sometimes panels, sometimes single speakers—before a live audience. We recorded their voices, images, and their stories for posterity—a form of oral history.

Joan and I worked with the Miami Valley Cable Council to produce these programs on MVCC’s community-access channel. Between November 1990 and March 1994 we taped an even dozen programs that, to this day, still air via South Dayton’s Community Access Channel.

Knowing that, in 1992, the WASP were coming up on the fiftieth anniversary of their founding, Joan and I decided to put together a WASP panel. We asked Nadine to moderate the program and nearby Springfield, Ohio, resident WASP and museum supporter, Caro Bayley Bosca, to be one of the panelists. Caro brought in two more WASP,  her best buddies from WWII Kaddy Landry Steele and Emma Coulter Ware. Joan invited nearby Ft. Wayne, Indiana, WASPs Marty Wyall and Margaret Ringenberg, as well as Anne Madden, a museum trustee from back east.

Nancy Agrees to Come From Alabama

I suggested Nancy as the panel’s representative original WAFS. I had just read about her in Sally Van Wagenen Keil’s book about the WASP, Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines. What Keil wrote about Nancy assured me that she would be a delight to have on our program. Nancy’s desire to tell the WAFS’ story prompted her to say “yes,” she would join us. Nadine and I met her at the airport.

The taping was scheduled for Monday evening, January 13. It was a huge success.

As I got to know Nancy over the next two days, I was entranced. What I learned from her was that the few existing WASP books available at that time told only part of the story. The surviving WAFS, she said, felt that their very different beginnings and service needed to be told in a separate account.

Nancy Love and Her 27 WAFS Were the First

The familiar story of the 1,074 women who earned their wings through Army training in Texas is actually Part Two. Part One is the story of Nancy Love and her twenty-seven professional women pilots who went straight into the Ferrying Division to ferry trainer airplanes the fall of 1942. They were not military, rather, thy were civil service employees.

Nancy and I agreed to stay in touch.

I left the museum in 1994 to earn my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. With 20-plus years of journalism under my belt, I wanted to return to my first love, fiction writing. I earned my degree in 1996.

By 1999, I had written three novels. The first I wrote with a friend, a mystery novel — The Woman in Wax. Not bad for a first novel, but sadly it is still in the drawer. My second novel was Quilted Lives, my thesis for my Masters.

Masters Focus: Southern Women Writers and Suffrage

Quilted Lives is a three-generational story set in Middle Tennessee, where I was born. I placed my first-generation heroine—the grandmother—in the midst of the Suffrage Movement in the South. Why? Because Tennessee was THE state that cast the final vote FOR the 19th amendment—Woman Suffrage—in 1920.

Nancy and I renewed our friendship in 1999 when she came back to Dayton for the reunion of The Wilmington Warriors, the men AND women pilots who ferried aircraft out of New Castle Army Air Base, Wilmington, Delaware, for the Air Transport Command. The WAFS (later called WASP) squadron was an integral part of that.

One Pilot Told Me About His Trip ‘Over the Hump’

Again, Nancy and I hit it off. She took me to the reunion gathering so I could meet the guys she flew with. One of them told me about one of his scariest flights “over the Hump.” He was talking about the route over the Himalayans that the male ferry pilots flew to get supplies from India to Kunming, China. That airlift help keep China in the war. Fascinating!

Back at the hotel having a late dinner in the bar, I gathered up my nerve and asked Nancy the question I wanted so badly to ask, but was afraid to ask. Would she let me write her biography? She looked at me thoughtfully. “No, Sayrah, [that Alabama accent] I want you to write about Nancy Love and the WAFS.”

There it was. She had decided that I was the person to write that all important, but untold story.

“How,” I asked, flustered. I didn’t have the money to travel around the country and do interviews. And why would the surviving original WAFS even want to talk to me. By then they had been burned by other writers with big dreams and empty promises. And I was an unknown quantity.

Nancy proceeded to tell me how we would do it — and then she made it happen!

And that is next week’s blog post.

[Reminder: We celebrate the 100th anniversary of  the passage of the Woman Suffrage amendment this coming August 18!]

Thank you for reading my blog. To see my books on the WAFS and WASP of WWII, please check out this link: 

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=sarah+byrn+rickman&hvadid

Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment