Living Legend Award for WASP Jerrie Badger

“DON’T LET US BE LOST!”

“Don’t let us be lost,” says Jerrie Phillips Badger, who served as a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) in World War II. “Women are so often taken for granted, assuming that they are the underdog – and they are not.”

WASP Jerrie Phillips Badger
WASP Jerrie Phillips Badger, Class 44-10

Badger, 102, knows of what she speaks. In the time these women flew for their country – September 1942-December 1944 – they experienced both good and bad treatment. Where they served, under whom, and what their jobs entailed, are what mattered.

This past January 15, Jerrie received the coveted Living Legend Award from the Women’s Military Memorial in Washington, D.C. Sharon Skellie, an Ambassador from the Memorial, travelled to Atlanta to make the presentation.

WHO WERE THE WASP?

Eleven-hundred-two women pilots qualified to fly for the U.S. Army Air Forces in WWII. Of that number, 303 served as ferry pilots – flying and delivering critically needed higher-powered aircraft to their assigned destination in the continental United States. Another group towed gunnery targets for young recruits on the ground learning to shoot at moving targets.

Yet another contingent test-flew repaired aircraft before the men were allowed to fly them again. Some taught fledgling male pilots to fly. Others flew non-flying officers and personnel to meetings at other air bases. The WASP performed any and every job the AAF handed them – and they did it well! Many a commanding officer sang their praises.

Jerrie was a member of the very last WASP class. They graduated December 7, 1944, and served only 13 days of active duty. But prior to that, before the WASP were shut down December 20, she and her 44-10 classmates had seven months of very thorough training. Jerrie’s classmate Marty Wyall told this author, “Class 44-10 had the best training of all!”

UPGRADE THE TRAINING PROGRAM!

The earliest women to report for training had at least 200 hours of flight time. But by the time the fourth class entered in spring 1943, there were few experienced pilots remaining. A couple of accidents suggested the need of more training. Beef up instruction now! In the fall of 1943, Colonel William H. Tunner, commander of the Ferrying Division, ordered the men training the fledgling WASP at Sweetwater to come up with the absolute best training possible. The women of the last ten classes – all 1944 graduates – benefited the most from this. Jerrie proved to be a very good example.

On September 5, 1944, she wrote home:

Dear Mother & Alice,

There was quite a to-do on the 1st of September.

At 6 o’clock a girl went up to shoot a touch-and-go landing at the Auxiliary Field. She lowered her gear. The landing gear did not lock in the down position. The pilot called the tower for instructions.

The tower told her fly over to the practice area and dive from 6,000 feet – at 150 mph – then perform a quick pull up and release the gear at the same time. She did it. – No luck. 

By 7 o’clock all the other planes had returned to the field. The Tower told her to fly directly over the field doing coordination exercises. This meant rolling the plane  from 75-degrees on one side to 75-degrees to the other. At the same time she had to keep the nose of the plane on a specified point –– No luck!

GIVE IT ONE MORE TRY!

They had her climb to 6,000 feet again and do several power dives – diving straight down toward the runway. She did several at 150 mph, then upped her speed to do one at 187 mph. Her instructions were – when her air speed reached 187 mph, lower the gear, push the power button, and pull straight up. The plane shot up and almost went over backwards. The engine cut out. The pilot semi-blacked out. Then conscious again, she pushed the nose down.

This time the engine caught!

She called the tower. “What happened?’ she asked.

She recognized the reassuring voice that came back. She’d already had a civilian check ride that day and now – by chance – the same instructor who checked her out earlier just happened to be the one talking to her now!  “Lower the gear and land on the runway” he told her.

“ATTA GIRL!!!”

“ Atta-girl!” he called out to her now as she turned on her final approach. “OK, now just make a normal landing, let the plane roll to a stop.” Then he reminded her to secure herself, her harness, and her seat. “So your head won’t hit the instrument panel.”

Students, officers, her former instructors, her present instructor, the fire truck, the ambulance, all were there watching. Pilots in other planes listening on their radios later said her voice was very calm at all times. As the plane got closer to the runway you could hear a pin drop. They expected the wheels to crumble under if there was the slightest bounce.

She landed in a perfect 3-point! Everyone said it was the best landing they’d ever seen. The Tower told her to cut all switches and get out immediately!

It was after 8 o’clock when she climbed into the fire truck for the ride to the hanger where everyone was waiting and shouting. Much shaking of hands, patting of backs, etc. Her instructor shook her hand and put his arm around her. Someone gave her a cigarette. Then the girls made a saddle of their hands and carried her off.

“WHO WAS THAT PILOT?”

“Who was that pilot?” Jerrie wrote at the bottom of the last page:

“Have you guessed yet? – Yes, that was me!”

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EDITOR’S NOTES

* Today, only six of the 1,102 WASP who served in WWII survive.
  • Atlanta resident Martina Schmidt, retired military, contacted the Military Women’s Memorial in Washington D.C. She spoke with Ambassador Sharon Skellie, telling her that Jerrie had not yet received the Living Legend Award. Sharon acted. She came to Atlanta and personally presented Jerrie with the proclamation in January. Schmidt is the founder of She Served Initiative – a newly established, non-profit organization that honors America’s Women in the Military. Jerrie Badger’s story is in the March copy of the magazine published by She Served Initiative.
  • The Military Women’s Memorial Living Legend Program recognizes military women whose stories of service provide inspiration and example for all to appreciate.  These stories serve to increase the public awareness of women’s contribution to America’s national defense and deserve special recognition. The Living Legend Proclamation is awarded to women veterans for any of the following reasons:
    • Women Veterans who reached their 100th  birthday.
    • Women whose story of service are particularly inspiring – not necessarily because she achieved a rank or accomplished a “first,” but because of their commitment to serve and how that service guided/inspired their life even after discharge,
    • Retirements from a career of notable service.
  • See Sarah’s 13 books about the WASP on Amazon.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Great article Sarah. It seems that Betty Dybbro is candidate for this award.
    Do you know if you will make Sweetwater this year yet? I saw “tentative” on the program.
    Also, I wrote you about a possible option on the Nancy Love book, but I haven’t heard back.

    Hope you are well,
    Debbie Jennings

  2. Wonderful blog, Sarah! Mom was so pleased to hear it. I could feel her re-living that day as I read for her. Thank you,
    Laura

  3. Amazing story, well told.
    Good to hear of the continuing honoring of exceptional women.
    Robby Dale

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