have courage. take heart. bear witness.
David: I guess a good question initially is how did you become interested in flying?
Anna: Well, I was interested ever since I was eight years old, when Lindbergh made his crossing. My mother told me to go up to the neighbors'—to Carlie Matsen, his name was. "Go up to tell Carlie Matsen that Lindy made it." So, I did. I ran up to Carlie and said, "Lindy made it." And then I went home and I said, "Who's Lindy and what did he do?" So she told me about it. And then, I was hooked. I thought, "Flew across that great big ocean, all by himself." I think he had a ham sandwich with him.
I thought that was . . . that was a hero. And I wanted to fly and that's all I ever wanted to do as a kid. I mean, I wasn't old enough to realize it took money and a lot of other things.
David: Did you look at airplanes or draw pictures of airplanes?
Anna: Oh, I did. I drew pictures, and made models, and hung around the airport with my brother and his friends, and carved propellers, and everything. And I subscribed to everything I could find—you know, magazines. And I drew a pen-and-ink picture of G8 and his Battle Aces. And that was an old publication that came out way back when I was a kid. And I drew little sketches of airplanes. And I wasn't much more than ten or eleven. I was into it. I was into it a hundred percent. My mother thought I was crazy.
My father bought tickets for myself and my brother to go for a ride in an airplane—a little passenger ride. They would have an air show or something like that. And there'd always be somebody there to take people up for a ride. I think it cost three dollars, or something, at that time.
David: Was it a, like, a Stearman?
Anna: It was called a Bird. It was a biplane, and I don't remember too much about it—it was an airplane. That's all I cared. It was something else. I was impressed with the ground. It just looked like a big carpet. And it didn't appear that you were moving too much, because they were kind of slow right then, anyway. But I can't even explain it—being separated from the earth like that, way up there, where nobody could touch you, and you weren't involved in the trouble down there. It was just a brand new freedom and I liked it.
But the chance to fly didn't come along till I was twenty-two, and I went to work at Piper Aircraft, in Lock haven, Pennsylvania.
David: How did you come to work there?
Anna: I had a friend who was a pilot, and I started corresponding with her. And one time she sent me a wire and said, "We got an opening here. You can come down and get a job and you can stay with me."
David: What were you doing at the time?
Anna: I was typing. I had a humdrum job. It was awful. It was so dull in that office that my boss would fall asleep all the time. Every day, I'd hear a pencil clatter to the floor; I'd know that he did. Then, to go from a job like that down to where they make airplanes—that was something for me.
David: They made a lot of different aircraft, didn't they? Or did they?
Anna: Well, they made different models. I mean, they started out with the Piper Cub, but then they went into what they called the Super Cub, which was a little more power. And then they had the Tripacer, which was tricycle landing gear rather than a taildragger.
Mr Piper wanted everybody to fly, naturally—he wanted to sell airplanes. So, it cost three dollars a year to join the club, and we were able to fly for fifty-six cents for a half-hour, whether it's dual or solo. How could you miss? And I wasn't the only one that went down that path. There were a lot of other girls, and boys, too. Everybody that worked there wanted to fly.
David: What did you do at the . . .
Anna: I worked in the factory. I was putting, uh, what do you call them, rivets . . .
David: You were a riveter.
Anna: A riveter. But they were soft rivets. I didn't use a riveting machine. I just used a little hammer. And that was in the aileron department. I worked there for quite a while, and then in the woodwork department, and also some soldering.
David: So what year was this?
Anna: I went down there in 1942.
David: But these weren't military aircraft, or were they?
Anna: Eventually, they started selling them to the Army. That's how the WASP got involved. Except they weren't WASP then. They were WAFs. And there was a group of twenty-five girls to start out with, and they came in one day and started hiking off with our airplanes. Up until that time, the employees had a chance to deliver them. So we were a little annoyed to think that they were taking over.
Then I thought, well, okay, maybe I could join them. So I asked about it, and they indicated that it took a lot of work and a lot of money and a lot of other things I didn't have. A lot of time, a lot of heavy flying time.
But eventually, a recruiter came around when Jacqueline Cochran took over, because she was setting up a school, in Sweetwater, Texas. Cochran, was the head of the WASP. She was the director and was probably responsible for getting the show on the road, so to speak. She was, of course, a famous aviatrix in her own right, and she had a lot of influence in Washington. So she sold them on the idea of having the school. I signed up and so did about twenty other girls. By the time that I joined, I had a hundred hours. And that's how we got started.
David: How did you family react to the whole idea?
Anna: Well, at first, my father did not want me to go to learn how to fly. He didn't want me to leave home. So we kind of argued about it for a little while. And then finally he said, "Well, if you want to try it, go ahead. Always know you've got a home to come to. So he was pretty good about the whole thing. And I never realized, until I had kids of my own, what he must have been going through.
My brother, of course, died while I was in Sweetwater. So he lost his only son. He had gone in the Air Force as a bombardier. And he got sick while he was there. It was like . . . like the flu, or something, and he had a bad heart. And it just gave out on him. He was only twenty-three.
So, but the rest of the family, my stepmother didn't have a whole lot to say about it. She said, "Well, that's okay. Do what you want to do," because she left home when she was younger. She came from Canada, and came to the United States as a nurse. So she knew about leaving home and doing things like that.
David: And so what happened when you said, "Well now, I'm going to be in the military"?
Anna: They never said anything. Not to me, anyway. I didn't think anything of it at the time. I didn't think I was causing anybody any anxiety. That's the way kids are.
David: So whatever they thought, they kept it to themselves . . .
Anna: Mm hmm.
David: . . . at that point.
Anna: Suffered through it.
David: So you signed up to join the school . . .
David: Was it paid for, then? I mean, was . . . everything was government-sponsored?
Anna: Well, when we joined up, we were Civil Service. We were paid, I think it was a hundred and fifty dollars a month for the training portion, and then two hundred and fifty dollars when we got into the actual duty.
David: What was the training like?
Anna: It was just like they had for the men, for the cadet training—six months of primary and basic and advanced training. I went down there in April, and I was there until October, so it was the hottest time of the year.
David: What kind of an environment was it at the school? Was it, like, pretty military, or . . . ?
Anna: It was military. We had barracks. Of course, the hangars were right there, too, and the ground school. So we'd go to ground school half the day and we'd fly half the day. And we marched everywhere we went. We got up in the morning and marched over to the mess hall and back home, and then out to the flight line. And everything was . . . was military, including the coveralls that they draped us in. They were outsized, but that's what we wore. Everybody had two pair of those coveralls. You wear one and wash the other one.
David: Did you get time off, to get leave, go to town?
Anna: They had what they called open post, where you could go in town. You had to get a pass, and you couldn't stay overnight. You had to be back at a certain time. And if you didn't, you got demerits. I never went in very often, because it wasn't much in there to do. You go to the movies. Or shopping.
David: What else was going on at this base? Was it all women?
Anna: At the base it was just all women, all three phases—the primary and the basic and the advanced training. Different sized airplanes, different kind of training. I think this was probably the only field in the country where they had that.
David: So the war was . . .
Anna: The war was going on.
David: . . . a big deal. You weren't really in the military, but you were sort of close to it.
Anna: We felt as though we were in the military. And the only thing that really made any difference was the way we got paid. We got a check from, you know, Civil Service. And if we wanted to quit, we could. There were some that quit for medical reasons or because they were needed at home. And a few, a handful, found out they didn't like to fly. They got sick or something else. But there were very few of those.
David: Was there a command structure in your groups?
Anna: Yes, to a certain degree. Well, they divided us up into flights, and they were further divided up into smaller groups. And there was one girl that had to be in charge of them, to lead them in marches, to make sure they got up in the morning and make sure that they followed the rules, and somebody to go to if you had questions. We called them flight leaders, I guess.
And then further up, as we got out into our bases, then there was a girl that was the commanding officer. Usually it was one of the girls that had been around a long time. Ours was the WAFs, the first group that went in with Nancy Love. She was the director of the Air Transport Command girls, the ferry pilots. So they were the top, most experienced, and generally, they were the commanding officers.
David: And so as you moved up through this, then, you got into bigger and faster aircraft?
Anna: Yes, uh huh, you started out with the 175 horsepower, and then the basic was 450, and the advanced was 550 or 600, I can't remember. By the time we finished and graduated, then we were ready to move airplanes around.
David: Which one did you really enjoy flying?
Anna: It's a toss-up between the P-51 and the P-47. Beautiful aircraft, both of them.
David: What were the differences between them?
Anna: Well, the 51 was fast and crisp, I guess you'd say, and the 47 was heavy and powerful.
David: Sort of the difference between a sports car and a big limousine, or something, huh?
Anna: I would say so, yeah. They both have their bright points about them. The 47 was the hardest to see out of, because they had that big radial engine up front, so you were kind of s-turning through the skies, more or less. And the other thing was, we had to slow-cruise them. And when you do that, the nose is a little bit higher than it normally would be.
David: So did you have to sit on anything to see out of these?
Anna: Well, the parachute. And I had a briefcase that I could boost myself up a little bit further. But if you got up too high, then your feet don't reach. But it was okay for me. I didn't have to have anything built, like some of the short girls did. Just something that clamped on to the rudder pedals.
David: Like a block of wood?
Anna: A little block of wood, yeah.
David: That's sort of the old joke, I think, about driving cars when you're too little. You have to put blocks of wood on the pedals.
Anna: Same thing.
David: Which of the airplanes did you like least?
Anna: One that I didn't like was the P-40. The gear was too close together. You were right on the edge of a ground loop all the time. You had to be very, very careful. And when you brought it in for landing, if you didn't have the tail wheel going in an absolute straight line, it would start to chatter, like that, and knock your feet right off the rudder pedals. So I didn't like that about it. I never got in any trouble, but it made for kind of hairy landings.
David: You didn't ever have to fire any weapons at all during this whole period of time?
Anna: We had to carry a .45. And we had to be checked out on it on the firing line, and we had to dismantle it and put it back together. But I never used it. It was in the bottom of my briefcase most of the time.
David: What was the idea of giving you that?
Anna: Because some of the aircraft had classified equipment on it, like the bombsight and things like that. And we were instructed that, if we were ever forced down into a field and somebody looked like they were going to steal it, we were supposed to shoot. Nobody ever did, but that was behind the idea.
David: What do you think you would have done?
Anna: You know, I don't know. I don't know whether I would have pulled the trigger.
David: Did you get away with the gun at the end?
Anna: No, I had to turn that in. It was a mess and they scolded me for it being so dirty. "Here, take this over to ordnance and bring it back sparkling." So I did. 'Cause I didn't even have a holster. Just the gun. And it was in the bottom of my briefcase, you know, all full of lint and dust and hairpins.
David: Probably wouldn't have gone off if you'd tried to . . .
Anna: It would have gone off in my face. Yeah. No, I didn't save any of that stuff.
Anna: At first, we would pick up the airplanes at the factory and take them to the fields or to the embarkation points where they shipped them overseas. But later on, the WASP got into the training command, where they were towing targets and flying the airplanes for navigators and bombardiers.
David: And then the navigators and the bombardiers get to practice.
David: What were the targets?
Anna: They were sleeve targets—like a windsock. You know, a big tubular thing that just stretched out there on a cable. And they were dragged along about three thousand feet behind the aircraft.
David: And what was shooting at them?
Anna: Live bullets. Students.
David: In other planes?
Anna: That's why they dragged them out there three thousand feet. Like one of the girls said, "Hey guys, I'm pulling this target, I'm not . . . I'm not pushing it." Aimed at the wrong one.
David: What's that story?
Anna: They came back with stories of holes in the tail end of the plane. I don't know how often that happened, because it was a long tow target.
David: Were they shooting from the ground or from other aircraft?
Anna: Both, yeah.
David: How did the pilots that got sent into combat feel about you guys stepping in?
Anna: I think that if they wanted to fly combat, they were probably happy. Or if they'd rather stay there and tow targets, they thought we were putting them out of work, which was foolish. There weren't enough of us to do any damage that way. We had a few soreheads that claimed that we were taking their place, but most of the time, got along fine with them, you know?
David: The military fliers, did they have any problems with the idea that you could actually handle these aircraft? Because these weren't little commercial . . .
Anna: No, they were high-performance aircraft. They had their doubts, a lot of them, and expressed them from time to time. But I don't recall any time when anybody ever kept me from doing anything or made life miserable for me.
We just had this one fella that was a sergeant. He was driving a Jeep and he was going to take me out to the airplane, you know—load my baggage on, and everything. He didn't have a whole lot to say until he asked me what I was flying, and I told him. And he got mad and started beating on the steering wheel and I said, "What's wrong?" I thought maybe he'd gone to the wrong end of the field or something.
And he said, "You know, I've got over ten thousand hours," (flying for some airline). And he said, "I tried to join up, and they wouldn't let me off my job. I got frozen in my job. And then I got drafted, and look what I'm doing—driving a Jeep.
I said, "Well, you know, if I quit tomorrow, would you be flying? He said, "Probably not." So that was the end of it. But that was the only time that anybody ever actually said anything to me about it. He got a raw deal. You know, what a waste for a guy with that much time.
David: Yeah, he had a reason to have a . . .
Anna: Yeah, he had a reason.
David: It sounds like he was madder at the deal he got than he was at you, anyway.
Anna: I think so, yeah. Because he calmed right down.
David: Did you have to tow targets when you were . . .
Anna: I didn't, no. Towing those targets was a dangerous job. I think that was the most dangerous job that the WASPs had. First of all, they didn't have brand new aircraft to use. They were old and not too well maintained. A lot of times they were flying them red-lined, which means there's something wrong with them that needs to be fixed. It could still be flown, but you have to watch out for this and that. If it was red-crossed, you didn't touch it. That meant it was grounded. But there were a lot of them that were redlined, and they were blowing tires left and right, oil leaks, and things like that. So that was not fun.
We had one girl that was killed. And what happened was her airplane was redlined because the canopy, once you got it closed, you had to have it opened from the outside. You couldn't get it open yourself. Well, the engine quit on takeoff, and they went down. They crashed, it caught fire, and she couldn't get the canopy open. So that was kind of bad.
But we had a group of girls, about eighteen or twenty of them, that learned how to fly the B-17. Now that was a big one—four engines. Afterwards, they were flying for student navigators and bombardiers.
David: So did you have, like, a group of close friends in that crowd, or, I mean, was everybody . . . I guess you were in barracks.
Anna: Well, when we were in training we did, because we were all together. But then afterward, when we got out and started moving around, you didn't see too many people over and over again. You'd be with different people or you'd be by yourself, so they were pretty scattered.
David: Did you like that, or . . . ?
Anna: Yes, I liked being on my own. Didn't have anybody depending on me and I wasn't depending on anybody else. Now, when we got to Farmingdale—that was the last place I was based—I was rooming with a . . . with a girl, and we used to . . . on rainy days we'd go over to New York City—it wasn't very far—and just play around. That was about as close as I got to anybody.
David: What would be a typical mission?
Anna: First we'd go over to the offices—see if anything was posted. And it might tell us that we were leaving the next morning. And we would go to a factory somewhere.
David: How would you get there?
Anna: Military air transport. Sometimes on a bus, but very rarely. Usually, we flew to the factory—say it was in Buffalo—we would pick up an airplane there and maybe take it to Fort Dix, New Jersey, or maybe to El Paso, Texas. We never knew, because all the trips were different. And you flew with different people. So maybe there was four or five people in a group, maybe you go by yourself. Every day was different. That was kind of the charm of it for me.
David: How many times would you have to stop and fuel between New Jersey and Texas?
Anna: We would fly between one and two hours at a time. You know, any longer than that, it was exhausting. "You have to have eyes all the way around your head," they told us. Watch your instruments, watch the air around you—all the time.
David: No autopilot.
Anna: No autopilots. And we didn't have that much gas in there anyway. It would take about ten hours to take a P-51 across the country. So we wanted to stop often.
David: Wasn't there constant pressure on your legs, though?
Anna: It wasn't physical pressure that way. In fact, I feel asleep one time. Don't tell anybody. But it was just having to stay alert, and that's pretty tiring.
David: Wait, wait—you fell asleep? I want to hear about that.
Anna: What can you say about falling asleep, except you wake up and wonder what the rest of your group is doing way over there. Well, what happened was—this was after the war and we were ferrying some private airplanes from Durant, Oklahoma, out to El Monte, California. And somebody got the bright idea that, when we got there, instead of waiting until afternoon to take off, we would take off early in the morning. And that way, we could get back in two days instead of three. We thought that would be neat.
Well, it wasn't so neat. How we got there was in a travel bureau car. And, of course, we were driving, like, all night, so we were pretty tired when we got there. You try to catnap in the car, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.
But at any rate, as soon as we got there, which was just about daybreak, we decided to take off and go. We were going to go as far as we could that day. And it was at the end of that day that I got in trouble. I was flying right into the sun, which is hard on your eyes anyway, and I got extremely sleepy.
The next thing I know, I was way off to one side. And what woke me up was the fact that the nose would go down and then the engine would go faster, and that would bring it back up. And it would go up until it would kind of lose speed and it would go back down. You don't drop out of the sky. It just goes like that, and after a little while, I woke up. We never did that again.
David: Well, I'm always amazed, when I see the pictures of the P-51, that they're much bigger than . . .
Anna: They are. They are. And they're higher off the ground.
David: We see them in old movies and, you know, those kinds of images, and you never really get a sense of the size of them. When I see pictures of you—I think there's one of you sitting on a wing, or nearby—and the thing looks big. It's a big aircraft.
Anna: Big one. Like, the P-47 was eight tons. It was a big airplane. It was high off the ground.
David: So when you were flying those kind of things, you told me one time, I think, that you were more or less the quality control people. In other words, nobody had flown them.
Anna: That's kind of a myth that they've carried on—that we were the first ones to fly it. But, no, they were checked out at the factory by test pilots there. So they had at least a half-hour in the air before we got to fly them.
David: But you had trouble with them?
Anna: I never did, except that gas leak. But that was . . . that was not a new airplane.
David: Tell me this story.
Anna: Went down there to pick up two P-47s. I was supposed to take it to El Paso. And I went to take off and I noticed there was this strong odor of gasoline, but I thought they had just refueled so, you know, what could you expect? But it got worse. And I was taxiing out. And then when I turned around to take off, it got so bad I had to open the canopy. And then I noticed my feet were wet. Gas was pouring right into the cockpit. So I wasn't high enough to jump. I thought about it. I got my hand on the hatch and started to rock it back and I looked at the altimeter and I thought, no.
So I called the tower and asked if I could turn around and come right back in. So they said, "Yes, and get it off the runway as soon as you can." I suppose they didn't want any, you know, bonfires in the middle of their working runway. But anyway, I turned around and landed it. Had to pull it off in the grass, and jumped out, ran out the wing, and jumped off, and it was still going. But the fire trucks were right there and they got it all covered with foam, and that was the end of it, so . . .
David: So it was just a fuel line that was off? It's amazing it would drive.
Anna: No, they left a gasket off underneath the gas cap when they were putting the airplane back together. It had been in mothballs, and they didn't do a very good job reassembling. They said they were going to clean it up and did I want to take it out that afternoon, and I said, "No, I don't ever want to see that airplane again." So they had another one, which, you know, I was taking a chance, but I didn't have any trouble with that one.
David: Didn't you tell me one time that you had to land one that ran out of fuel? Was that part of the WASP thing?
Anna: I never ran out of fuel. The engine just quit. And it was because a piece of sand or something got into the carburetor. So it quit. It might just as well have run out of gas. That was my cartwheel.
David: What happened?
Anna: I didn't have any power, but I had a nice field that I was going into.
David: Was it just a field you picked, or were you near an airstrip?
Anna: One I picked. It was an old cornfield. And I was pretty well lined up, and a gust caught me and it just flipped me up this way. Then I hit a wing, the nose, the wing, and the tail. Like that. I didn't get hurt, but it didn't do the airplane any good. And I didn't lose my job—the two things I was worried about.
David: Well, which way did you land—on your top?
Anna: It finally fell back on its right side up. It almost went all the way over, but not quite. That was a Luscombe. That was after the war. And I was able to get out all right and wave to my buddies that I was all right.
David: Did you have a lot of weather when you were flying?
Anna: We did. We did, and that was the reason that I wound up on my back in that AT-6, or AT-16. They call it the lake . . . I've forgotten the word now. It was the wind that blew off of Lake Erie . . .
David: Lake effect.
Anna: Yes. Anyway, we went up to Canada and brought down these AT-16s. It's like the AT-6, but it's the Canadian version. This cold air that swept over Erie produced snowstorms where they weren't expected. I ran into one of those. Couldn't see where we were going—it was me and another girl. They had cleared us out of Montreal and told us we wouldn't have any trouble. So by the time we ran into it, it was more than half way, so we couldn't go back. So the idea was to get on the ground.
David: What did you do?
Anna: Well, we were kind of circling.
David: And in a whiteout?
Anna: Almost—occasionally it would open up, and you could see what's down there. And I saw an airport that I had gone over, or I should have gone over, but it didn't have a decent runway. Hadn't been plowed, except for a short strip.
I could have landed on the highway, but that would have been against the rules altogether. Probably would have been safer, but then I would have had to answer to the authorities. So anyway, that's why I decided to try for the runway . . . the driveway, I guess you could call it. And it was okay as long as I stayed on the strip, but then the wing caught a drift and over on my back I went. And I got it pretty well slowed down before I went over, so I didn't get hurt.
David: What did your friend do?
Anna: I don't know what happened to her. I kept saying, "Where's the other airplane?" And they said, "There's no other airplane." They thought I got hit on the head. But she landed at another field, there in town, and she was okay, the airplane was okay. And there were two other girls went down in the same storm. One of the them did something to her airplane, I don't know. The other one was okay. So there was nothing big came out of it except a lot of messed-up airplanes.
David: What happened? So there you are at somewhere . . .
Anna: Well, they put me in an infirmary overnight, just to check me out, but they let me go the next morning. I was okay. I had to get on a bus and go back to my base and face the inquiry. And they tried their best to blame it on me.
Did I have an A-66B computer with me?
Yeah. It was in the bottom of my briefcase.
What a stupid place for a computer.
Well, you don't do your computer while you're flying. You do any computing you've got to do before you leave the ground.
And then he discovered that I didn't really know that the instruments were Canadian, so the gasoline was in liters, or something, instead of gallons. Anyway, they tried to blame it on that, but it didn't fly, because if I was half way there, I knew I didn't have enough gas to get back, because I'd burned up half my gasoline.
David: What kind of a computer did they have in the Second World War?
Anna: It's just like a slide rule.
David: You could compute fuel to distance and all that?
Anna: Yeah. To plot your course, factor in the wind, and make sure that you've got enough fuel. All of that. Most of the time we just drew a line on the map and followed the railroads.
David: I guess some of the women just didn't make it, got into accidents. Was there a lot of that?
Anna: We lost thirty-eight girls. Various ways. I mean, the engines would quit, or collision. But the numbers weren't any different than they were for the men. I'm not talking about combat, now; I'm talking about here in the country. So it was about even. Yeah, we lost thirty-eight of them out of one thousand seventy-four that graduated from the school.
David: Did the military show much appreciation for all this at the time?
Anna: The ones that showed the appreciation were the operations officers, the ones that had to deal with moving the airplanes. They appreciated us. The rest of them just wondered what we were doing there, you know?
When they decided to send a group of the girls to their training command, a lot of times the CO there didn't know they were coming, didn't ask for them, didn't know what to do with them. And Cochran would send somebody or would go and tell them, "Find them something to fly." Sweetwater was turning out more and more pilots, so she had to find places for them. And I think that's where she got the idea that she'd like to have a separate branch of the service just for the women pilots. Well, there weren't enough of us, so that fell through. Nobody bought it.
And they said, "Well, you join the WAC if you want, and be a flying branch of that, and she said, "No. Once we got in there, what's to stop them from turning us into clerk typists or somebody to peel potatoes?" She didn't want to lose control. So she said no. And they said, "Well, it's that or nothing." So she said, "It's nothing, then. We're going home."
David: So that was . . .
Anna: They didn't ask us. We wanted to stay. In fact, the girls at Long Beach and the girls at Webbington all sent wires to the president and the press and the generals, offering to continue to fly for a dollar a year for as long as the need existed. They turned us down, of course, so we didn't do that.
David: Why would they turn you down?
Anna: They just said, "No, it's over with. You're out of here." So, okay. So we had the dubious distinction of being the first group, I guess, to be all done before the war was over.I just did not want to get out of the airplane
David: So do you remember your last flight in the WASP?
Anna: Very well, yes. I was flying P-47s out of Farmingdale, Long Island, to Newark. It was like a twenty-minute flight. We moved two or three of them a day.
The very last flight, that was kind of handed me on a platter. We were at the going-away dinner that they gave us. And we got word that they needed one more WASP to move a P-47. Everybody wanted that one, so we drew straws. And I won. So I went over all by myself to Farmingdale and got this P-47.
And I knew when I was flying, that was going to be the last time that I ever flew a military aircraft. And so I was trying to think of ways to take my time, drag it out. But you can't drag it out. It was a half-hour flight and that was it. And I just did not want to get out of the airplane. When I finally did, it was a tough thing to do.
David: What'd you do then?
Anna: Just went home. I was home for two or three months before I went to Ohio. But being home was kind of funny. I felt that I'd been squeezed out. There was no room for me anymore. There was nothing to do, nothing I wanted to do. I mean, I could go back typing or whatever I wanted, but I didn't want any part of that. I wanted to fly.
So, went to Ohio and got my instructor's rating and taught for that summer, and then the rainy season started, so I went to California. But, unfortunately, every pilot in the world was also in California, so the jobs were pretty well picked over by the time I got there.
David: To fly commercially, though, were you rated to do that?
Anna: We were rated. We were. Mine was zero to three thousand horsepower, twin engine. Yeah, I was qualified, but they were not hiring women. So, I gave up that idea.
David: And so after that it was all, pretty much . . . did you fly . . .
Anna: All downhill?
David: Yeah, well, no I don't mean that. I meant, it's all smaller, little . . . little airplanes?
Anna: Yeah, smaller, little airplanes.
David: You never owned one, right?
Anna: No. I had part ownership in a glider one time. That didn't last too long.
David: Did you fly gliders?
David: You like it?
Anna: I loved it! I loved it. That's altogether different. You're like a bird, now, you know, and you're just flying on the currents.
David: How did you do as an instructor? Did you teach men and were they comfortable being taught by a woman?
Anna: Yeah, I'd teach . . . I wasn't teaching military, I was just teaching civilians.
David: No, no, right, exactly, but I mean . . .
Anna: So, men, women—kids, up to people sixty years old or more. I didn't really like it. I mean, what fun is it just going round and round the traffic pattern? But it was flying and it paid. So I did it because that's what I knew how to do. I had some good students and I had some bad ones.
David: Did you have some scary ones?
Anna: I had one scary one that, coming in for a landing one time, I thought he was going to put it over on its back. He came in under power, you know, on the wheels, not taildragging, like you're supposed to.
And I yelled at him, I said, "What are you doing? Let me have it!" So he let me have it. And I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "I was going to do a wheel landing." I said, "I didn't tell you to do a wheel landing. You do what I tell you to do." I was furious.
And then another one had decided to do power turns at five hundred feet, which is a good way to kill yourself. I yelled at him, too.
David: That's more air show stuff.
Anna: Yeah, that's good for air shows.
David: Did you ever do any experimenting along those lines in a fighter?
Anna: No, I didn't. I was very, very, very cautious, because I was aware that some guy was depending on that airplane for his life.
We did air shows after the war. But all I did was go up with this airplane and throw out a roll of toilet paper, and go back and forth, you know? It's easy to do, but it makes a great show. And I towed gliders a little bit.
David: So you never hot-rodded them?
Anna: No. A brand-new airplane, you have to slow-cruise it the first ten hours, otherwise, you might damage the engine. So, no, I didn't. I . . . I was a mouse, I tell you. I did exactly what they told me to do. Probably saved my life.
David: Were you a good pilot?
Anna: I was average.
David: What makes a good pilot?
Anna: When you can walk away from them, and I walked away from all of them.
David: So you were a good pilot, in that sense, I guess.
Anna: Yeah. A good pilot. That's a good question, because I had a lot of students. Of course, I had to think whether they were good or bad. And if you make mistakes, you're not aware of what's going on around you. That makes a bad pilot.
David: What do you think you came away from all that piloting that paid off later?
Anna: As far as the flying, you mean?
David: Yeah, but . . . or just, you know, kind of, attitudes or skills or . . .
Anna: I suppose it gave me a good feel for mechanical things, and you had to know math and all of those things. We went to ground school, of course, and learned about meteorology and engines. That was a college education.
David: You think it made you less shy or more courageous or more of a . . .
Anna: Yeah, I got over my shyness to a great extent, because I was a real mouse when I was a kid—afraid of my shadow. But in the service, you're thrown in with a lot of people, and you learn cooperation, and you learn patience, tolerance, and a lot of those things that I might not have had otherwise. But it was an education.
David: How do you learn patience?
Anna: How do I . . . I don't know. You get thrown in with a lot of people that you'd like to kill. You just don't kill them, that's all. You learn patience because, I did, because I didn't know what else to do with them except walk away.
I was thinking of students, perhaps. You'd like to keep them as a student because it's money in your pocket, and you'd like to see them learn how to fly so they don't kill themselves, but you can't be roaring at them all the time, because you'll drive them off. So you have to bite your tongue. So I learned to bite my tongue. It's full of holes, but I learned how to bite it.
David: Having conquered those machines and gone up in the air and done all that stuff, I mean, as you look back, where does that fit as a high or low or . . .
Anna: It's very small but it was a really high point in my life, and I learned a lot from it—about things and people. So it turned out to be almost as broad as it was high. But as far as my life is concerned, that doesn't stand out. Just as a peak. Because it didn't help me wash diapers, or anything like that. It didn't help me cook.
But it changed this much—that when I finally got married, and having kids, I never felt like I was trapped. I felt like, okay, I'd been there. Now I could get down to business. I've had my dessert; now I'm going to eat the potatoes.
David: That's good. I like that.
David: When you went back to Washington, DC, that was a big deal.
Anna: Oh, that was. None of us were really expecting the Gold Medal. We didn't really ask for it, but I guess somebody thought that they better do something before we all died. So they scurried around and got that done. They did the same thing for the Tuskegee Airmen and Navajo Code Talkers. So we're in good company.
They took wonderful care of us. We didn't lack for anything. They had more people in that Emancipation Hall—I think was where they had it. They've never had a crowd like that before, ever, they said. And they had so many people there they had to cancel the luncheon that they had set up for us, because they couldn't handle them. But that was something. That was . . . that was something.
David: How many of the WASPs actually showed up for that?
Anna: Just under three hundred. That's all that's left. And we've lost a few since then.
David: You said that when you left there, when you were outside people were really aware . . .
Anna: Oh, yes. When we came out onto the street, people, of course, saw the uniform, knew why we were there. And a lot of them stopped us and talked to us. And, you know, when we were flying back, the pilot and the stewardesses, they made a big deal out of it.
David: So after all this time, I mean, how did you react to that?
Anna: Well, I kept thinking to myself, you know, we're not heroes. There's plenty of people out there that are heroes. We were . . . we appreciated what everybody did, but we never felt like we really earned it that way. And, as a matter of fact, the Gold Medal was not an individual award. That was awarded to the group. And the ones that should have got the Gold Medal, the one that's in the Smithsonian now, probably should have been Cochran or Hap Arnold or whoever's responsible for putting that show on the road. But just to be a part of it was great.
David: But you were there doing the work.
Anna: Well, if you could call it work. We were enjoying it, the flying. That was wonderful. Our work was seeing to it that we carried it off and proved that it could be done, for the girls coming along today. We've had a lot of them come up and express that to us. They felt that we kind of paved the way for them.
David: It must have been a little bit out of the normal view that people had of what women did or didn't do, at the time.
Anna: It was, back then, because there weren't that many girls flying, although I don't know why they would think it's a gender thing. It isn't, any more than skating or dancing. It isn't. Flying is flying. But there weren't many of the girls doing that back then.
So for me, that was kind of a big step to take. I'd never been away from home before that. I'd never done anything out of the ordinary, even to wearing slacks. You know, that was something new for me.
David: I would have thought you were kind of a tomboy.
Anna: Well, I was, kind of. I liked to go on bike rides, and I liked to play baseball, and things like that. Didn't care too much about playing with dolls. But, at the same time, I was pretty laid back. I was not a daredevil. Never was.
But I felt that if there were something I wanted to do, I could go ahead and do it. I learned how to play the steel drums, in '87. Just a whim. Somebody said, "What are you going to do with that? It's not going to be a career." I said, "I don't care. I like the sound of it."
You know, it doesn't stop me from trying something. Of course, bungee jumping, that's out. I don't try anything like that.
David: I always wondered—because we had not actually gotten together when Viet Nam was going on—were you aware of my age and thinking about whether I was involved in that?
Anna: Oh, all the time, I wondered where you were. If you were still around, you know. Which way you'd gone—were you in the service? Yeah, I wondered.
David: I always thought about that, because, of course, you knew my birthday, so you would know.
Anna: I'd know. Every time your birthday came around, I'd think, "Where is he now?"
David: I stayed clear of it.
Anna: Well, you know, I could have—when I worked for the police, when I worked for the hospital, when I worked for an attorney—I could have found you. But then what? You know? I had no business. I had no business to do that. But I was sure glad you did.
David: Well, I kind of felt the same way for a while, but my parents, who raised me, told me that my mother's name was Ann Flynn, or Annie Flynn, I think was what they said, and had been a pilot in the Second World War.
Anna: Oh, I see.
David: And I think that whoever told them this—and I think it was one of the nuns, the sisters—had also said that you had lovely eyes. Then, for some reason, when I read that little article, about one of the WASPs passing away, and there was a quote—just a little thing about, you know, no more than two paragraphs—by some woman and, they said, from somewhere, California. They gave a name and a city.
David: I just called information in this little town and got a hold of this woman and started quizzing her, kind of surreptitiously. I think I said I was doing some research. I was pretty vague about it.
Anna: Yeah, that's what she said, too.
David: And then, she, of course, wasn't going to give anything up, so she wrote you a letter, I think . . .
Anna: Mm hmm.
David: . . . is what happened. But up till then, I had . . . I'd actually tried a couple times, when I was younger. When I was about twenty, I went over to Astoria, and I found the birth record . . .
David: . . . that had my little feet prints on it. So I thought that was . . . that was a trip. And then I went and badgered Catholic Charities. That was like beating your head on a stump. That was no good there, so . . .
Anna: You make a good detective.
David: I suppose if I'd really been a good detective, I'd have latched on to the WASP part of it a long time ago and pursued that, but I was reluctant also to interfere. I mean, I didn't want to . . .
Anna: Yeah, I didn't know what . . . how you felt about it or . . .
David: Well, and furthermore . . .
Anna: . . . just spring something like that on you. Maybe you didn't know, you know?
David: That's true, from your standpoint, but then from mine, I didn't know what to expect at all. And it was only until both parents had passed away, which for some reason was another reason I was semi-reluctant. I don't know what that was, but I supposed some sort of loyalty or not wanting to muck that up . . .
David: . . . in some way. Anyway, the time seemed to come, so . . . happy that I did.
Anna: I'm happy that you did, too.