35 WASP and 3 WAFS Died in WWII
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 still to come.
But Cornelia, the second woman Nancy Love accepted into the WAFS, September 1942, was the first woman pilot to die on active service for the United States military. Ferrying a basic trainer from California to Texas, she was the victim of a senseless mid-air collision, March 21, 1943. The other pilot (male) survived.
Telling the WAFS’ Story As It Unfolded
Much admired and well-liked by her fellow WAFS, Cornelia had the drive, dedication and resources to tell the WAFS story when it was fresh.
In all, Nancy Love lost three of her original WAFS.
Second WAFS to perish was friendly, outgoing, all-American girl Dorothy Scott. From tiny Oroville, Washington, just south of 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.
Like several of the younger WAFS, she had just over the minimum 500 hours required for admission — she had logged 504 — but she was a truly fine pilot in whom her mentor, Nancy Love, saw a lot of potential.
Dorothy served as flight leader on ferrying trips with the new graduates of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) who joined the 5th Ferrying Group squadron in Dallas. She also 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 Scott Pursuit School Bound
Then Nancy assigned Dorothy to the very first class at Pursuit School, December 1, 1943.
Tragically, 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.
Evelyn Sharp the Third WAFS to Perish
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. That young woman who had put many a 1930s canvas, dope and plywood aircraft down in the fields of Nebraska when learning to fly, 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 were memorialized when a hometown airport was 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 no longer exists. It was flooded beyond repair in 2010. Now, what was the airport, is 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—who is 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,(published 2016). Dorothy’s twin brother, Edward Scott, donated her letters to the WASP Archives at TWU. Using her letters to tell her incredible story was a labor of love.
Then I, too, wrote about Cornelia. Published by Flight to Destiny Press March 2023:
Cornelia Fort WAFS Pilot: Her Life for Her Country is aimed primarily at today’s young women – our women pilots of the future – the most recent to celebrate the WASP’s wonderful gift to women’s aviation. Adult women will enjoy the book as well.
Both Finding Dorothy Scott and Cornelia Fort WAFS Pilot are available on Amazon.
Cornelia’s, Dorothy’s and Evelyn’s stories live on.