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From Making Dinner to Dodging Bullets
I am a senior in high school and I wrote this story for my World War Two English class. I used accurate historical information from my research and combined it with a creative story about a female pilot.
Frances Taylor, or Frankie as everyone called her was born in November of 1917, a kid of the great depression. Her life wasn’t lacking in excitement with weekends spent playing in the California sand and weekdays learning how to cook with her mom and going to the Air Force base with her dad. Growing up as an Air Force General’s daughter wasn’t always easy, he was constantly away, but she didn’t wish for anything else. He taught her to be a strong individual, tough and brave. “It’s especially important for women to be independent,” he’d always say. To reinforce this he'd take her to the Hamilton Air Force base on some workdays. He taught her how to fix up cars and planes, things typically only men did in this era, and would even occasionally take her on test flights. This went on throughout high school; she had watched him fly so many times she felt she practically could do it herself, and when she turned 15 he trained her on how to fly. By 17, Frankie had done dozens of solo flights and knew everything about planes by the time she graduated. Although Frankie dreamt of becoming a pilot in the Air Force she knew there was a slim chance that women would be able to fly for the military in her time.
Once Frankie graduated high school in 1934, she left her family behind and moved to attend college in Oregon, the first female in her family to do so. At 17, she started an entirely new life and followed her dad’s wishes; she went and earned her education. She wanted to become an engineer, something that wasn’t typical of females at the time. In 1936 Frankie sat next to a boy in her math class named William Adams. She started to look forward to that math class every day, even though she loathed math, and she loved talking to him. Realizing that they were both going to become engineers, they were continuously in similar classes. Before long they started dating, and they fell in love and became inseparable. Will proposed to Frankie in the summer of 1937 and they planned on getting married after they graduated. By December of 1938, they graduated together with engineering degrees, both at the top of their class, and married one week later with both their families attending the celebration. They decided to stay in Oregon after school, and Will got a job working on a new bridge right away. Frankie couldn’t find a place that would hire a female engineer so, like her mom, she became a stay-at-home wife with a part-time job during the afternoon nannying two children for the couple next door.
By 1939, there were rumors of war. FDR promised that the United States wouldn’t enter the war, so it was only of minor concern. Frankie’s father informed her that things were heating up on his front, but that the US is still not getting involved yet. However, he urges her to start packing and stashing provisions just in case things go haywire, as it’s better to be prepared. As 1939 progressed, Will advanced with his job while a couple of his single coworkers started registering for the draft in preparation for the unknown. After listening to the radio one morning, they learn that there are two sides of the war, the Allies and the Axis powers. On September 16th, 1940, Will along with all other men between the ages of 21 and 45 were now required to register for the draft. Although this was the first peacetime draft, it caused Frankie and Will to start to worry about the ongoing war in Europe; America was yet to become involved, but there was concern that Will may be sent off to war. Worried, Frankie called her father again to ask what has been happening on the military front, and he told her America has been sending military supplies and some assistance to the Allies. Will begins to stash money.
Anyone who knew Frankie and Will could tell you they were happily in love. Even though they were newlyweds and in their honeymoon phase, everyone could tell they were a couple that were going to last. On their third anniversary, in December of 1941, they were thinking of kids and they both knew they wanted a big family, a couple of girls and boys. But then they heard the news. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, and they both suddenly knew their perfect life was about to shatter. On December 7th of 1941, America declared war on Japan, and three days after that Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. and we officially became involved in World War Two.
Although Will had registered for the draft, there was still a chance he wouldn’t be picked from the lottery. Ever since the US became involved in the war, Frankie had been praying he wouldn’t have to leave. A week passed before they received a telegram from the US Government, it stated “You have been proven eligible and therefore selected from the draft to become a part of the United States Army. Report to your nearest recruitment station immediately upon receiving this telegram for more information.” Frankie began to cry as Will hugged her, they know they can’t hide from this and that Will will have to leave for the war. Frankie told him to go to the recruitment station to learn about what was going to happen next and that she would cook his favorite meal, macaroni and cheese, while he was gone. They hugged again and Will left for the station.
Several hours pass, and finally, Will arrives home. Overwhelmed by the whole situation and all the new information he learned from the meeting at the station, they sit down and have dinner in silence. After the last few bites of mac and cheese, Will decided to speak. He relayed that he would have eight weeks of basic training at Keesler Field in Mississippi, and after that, he was to be sent overseas to fight in the war, to serve for one year. He didn’t know where he was going yet but will be informed of the location after he completes basic training. He was told he had three days to pack and say goodbye to his family and then he will leave with other men selected near him to train in Mississippi.
Those three days were the most painful thing that Frankie had ever experienced. They didn’t know what to do with what could be their last days together. Will said he just wanted to do normal things, so he continued to work during the day and would pack a little each night. On the last day, he told his boss he was going off to war, and then headed home to meet Frankie. They went out to a nice dinner and he told her he had been saving money for her to use while he was gone; that he would only be gone for a year and that when he comes home they will start a family. Frankie, although young, agreed to his plan and they set off for their last night together. When the morning came, Will got up before dawn without waking Frankie and left for the station.
Now that Will was gone Frankie didn’t know what to do with herself. For the past few years, they’d spent every waking moment together minus the time Will was at his job. Lost and alone, and with little money, she decided to get a job. One day on a routine grocery shopping outing, Frankie noticed a yellow poster on a storefront’s window. As she approaches the window she is fascinated by a woman wearing a denim shirt and a red polka dot bandana, flexing her muscles like a man, and the caption “We can do it!”
Shocked, as she’d never seen something like this before, Frankie became inspired. She began to think about all the skills that her father taught her and what would be immediately useful for a job. Then it dawned on her that although she couldn’t fly planes for the Air Force yet, she certainly knew how to repair them. With her mind racing, she then turned towards home and after putting away the groceries, set off driving to the nearby Portland Air Force Base to apply for an aircraft mechanic job.
Frankie worked as a mechanical engineer, helping build and fix planes. She loved the job, no matter the harassment she faced in the workplace due to her gender. The men would taunt her and ask why she wasn’t in the kitchen making her husband dinner. She ignored them and stayed strong and meanwhile had lots of fun. One night after a trying day of work in January of 1943, one year after Will had left, Frankie heard a knock on her door during dinner. A messenger was standing in the rain holding a telegram with a grave look on his face. He blurted, “I’m sorry ma’am.” Confused and slightly scared, Frankie didn’t say anything but rather took the telegram from his hands and as he walked away she opened it. The telegram read, “We regret to inform the family of William Adams that Will was killed in action fighting bravely in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His remains were unsalvageable, and we were unable to send him home. We thank him for his service in World War Two.” Frankie felt her heart shatter as she began sobbing and crumbled to the floor, and the rain poured onto the hardwood from the open door.
In July of 1943, five months after Will’s passing, Frankie overheard her boss asking a coworker if they’d seen the new LIFE magazine about the “female pilots.” Frankie, confused, took her break and went to buy one of the magazines. She began to light up as she read the story on the “WASPs,” or the Women Airforce Service Pilots, and they were currently recruiting for their first class of official WASPs. They were civilian women with pilot’s licenses, hired to free up job space so the men could go fight in the war. The WASPs weren’t actually fighting in the war, but they still did crucial work to help out with the war effort. Feeling an urgency and motivation to become one of these powerful women, Frankie knew it was her calling. The article said they needed more women; civilians who knew how to fly planes, it seemed as if they didn’t want to waste time on teaching people how to fly. This job would make all of her dreams about flying for the airforce come true. Although she was half an inch shorter than the 5’2’’ height requirement, which she knew she could work around, she had logged almost double the 500 required hours of flight time. Frankie researched where the nearest training facility was located, then quit her job to become certified and apply to the WASP program. She decided to pack up and fly out to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, the moment she received her acceptance to become a WASP. Using a plane she built from scratch at her job, funded by the money Will left behind, the now 26-year-old widowed Frankie Taylor-Adams arrived in Texas with nothing but clothes, cash, and a strong will.
When Frankie arrived, she saw thousands of women and like her, their faces were the picture of hope, all dreaming to become a WASP. The place itself was in the middle of nowhere, it was hot as hell and you could see for miles because the land was so flat. Avenger Field had one main hangar with many little ones scattered about, and the rest of the space was filled with a couple of long low buildings. Frankie signed in and then walked out onto the runway where everyone else was gathered. A few minutes later one woman suddenly appears and jumps up on the wing of one of the airplanes, and introduces herself as Jacqueline Cochran, a pilot and the leader of the WASPs. She said “25,000 women originally signed up to become WASPs, and the 1,803 of you standing in front of me here were accepted. Some of you will be sent home, but I thank every one of you for your courage to be here.” Jacqueline went on to say how when she started this program, her goal was to train thousands of women to fly for the army. She wanted an organization separate from the men and believed militarization would follow if the program was a success, additionally she wanted “to break stereotypes and prove men wrong, that us women could in fact do men's jobs, and do them even better.”
The women then learned what it would mean to be a WASP. They would not participate in combat, and they were not part of the military but rather civilian employees. They would be trained like the men before them minus the combat training. After they were assigned to bases, their primary job would be to ferry planes of all different types. Additionally, they would also be assigned to Training Command. Frankie knew this meant she would be flying a plane and towing a target where others in the air and on the ground would practice shooting the target with live ammunition. Lastly, the exceptional pilots could become flight instructors and test planes.
The women were then split up into groups to be given a tour of the place and assigned rooms and a bunkmate, as they would share a room with three other people. These assignments were temporary, just for the training before they would be spread across the country. Frankie grabbed her bag and headed inside to her assigned bunkroom. On each of the beds there was a leather pilot’s jacket with baggy pants, boots, a long sleeve and short sleeve shirt, and hat, these were their training uniforms. The next person to walk in the room was a tall woman with light blonde hair and an excited grin. She introduced herself with a thick southern accent, “Hi! I’m Mabel Rawlingson. I’m 26 and from Iowa, and I guess we’re bunkmates! What’s your name?” Frankie laughs, for the first time in a while, and says “Frankie Adams-Taylor, and I’m 26 as well but from Oregon.” The girls laugh and then meet their other roommates Beth and Doris a few minutes later. They relaxed, and knowing they had time before dinner they chatted and put their new clothes on and shoved their suitcases under their beds. As Frankie leaft for dinner laughing alongside her new best friend Mabel, she felt as though she finally found her place in the world amongst the WASPs.
Frankie and Mabel trained, talked, and ate together. They discovered they were both recent war widows, both loved mac and cheese, and grew up with a love of flying. The next 27 weeks consisted of waking up at 6 am to a day filled with vigorous exercise, cleaning their barracks for inspection, marching, drill training, and flight instruction, as well as studying weather, navigation, physics, math, aircraft, engines, and more. Before long they knew how to fly all types of military aircraft, including B-26 and B-29 bomber planes, fighter planes, and basic training planes. Frankie, her three roommates, and the other girls who passed were officially WASPs, and given their hard-earned silver wings by Jacqueline. During this training about 800 women left the WASP program to go back to their jobs, either not passing inspection or realizing it wasn’t a good fit. These women were the first class of WASPs and nicknamed themselves “Avenger Girls,” as they were the first women to fly for the U.S. military. Their mascot was “Fifinella” drawn by Walt Disney which was atop some signs and painted on their planes. The girls found out they were both assigned the same base, Camp Davis in North Carolina, and they flew out there together to meet their new boss, Mary, at the base.
They settled into their new rooms… actual beds this time and then read their assigned tasks. They found out they will be doing routine ferry flights and since they got some of the highest marks during training the two of them will be able to test flight some planes and teach the new recruits that come in. During their off time, Frankie and Mabel along with other WASPs off duty would sunbathe outside, do some mechanical work if they knew how, exercise, study, and do other activities to keep them entertained.
A couple of months later, Frankie was towing a target and suddenly her plane was shot, one of the airmen firing missed the target and hit her plane. The front of the plane began to smoke, and warning alarms started to sound. Frankie stayed calm as her father always taught her, and remembered her training. If the plane caught fire she needed to jump using the parachute. But Frankie decided unless she really needs to jump she won’t since the parachutes don’t fit her as they’re built for men and not a 5’2 woman. So if she were to jump, she may slip out due to the force of the wind. Flying above trees, she looked for a clearing as she radioed her coordinates back to base, and big black puffs of smoke began to block her view as she tried to land. Minutes later, she touched down and has a coughing fit as she runs from her plane. Hiding in the trees, she heard a loud “BANG,” and saw the engine explode. Frankie knew she was lucky and how close she came to what could have been her end. She waited out in the woods for a couple of hours and as the sun started to set, she saw another plane flying above, they noticed the smoke and landed nearby. Frankie returned home that night and told Mabel of her harrowing story.
Another week full of intense flights, listening to inspiring women empowerment speeches from Eleanor Roosevelt on the radio, and spending time with her friends passed. One afternoon as Frankie is finishing up her lunch, the base's WASP leader, Mary, comes over to tell her that she wanted her to test fly a new plane with Harry, one of the male instructors, to see how the plane flies at night. At one point when working on a plane, Mabel came up to Frankie and told her she's scheduled for a night flight at 9 with an instructor, Frankie told her she was too but hers is at 6. Frankie then went for a run and after showering headed to bed to take a nap. Frankie was woken up by laughter outside her room, and sleepily looked at the clock which read 5:50 pm. Frankie panics and rushes to get ready, eat some food, and get to the runway. As she rushed to the cafeteria to get a snack she saw Mabel who was just finishing dinner. She told Frankie that she should sit and have dinner and they’ll just switch flight times. Frankie, relaxes and sits and makes sure that's okay with Mabel, who reassures her it was. Frankie hugs Mabel then goes to get some food as Mabel heads to the runway to meet Harry.
A couple of bites into dinner, Frankie and the rest of the cafeteria hears a siren. They all knew that sound, it indicated there'd been a crash. Someone yells “Fire on the runway!” They all rush to get outside and Frankie’s heart drops. She hears nothing but the blood pumping through her body, as she sees the plane she was meant to fly partially down the runway, completely immersed in fire. Harry is lying in the grass next to the runway, ejected from the initial blast, and as Frankie’s hearing comes back sounds of screams coming from the plane fill the air. Frankie begins to sprint for the plane but other WASPs race after her and stop her because the plane was seconds from exploding. Then it happened. A loud “BOOM” filled the air as a plume of smoke and fire flew high into the air., and the screams stopped. Smoking metal from the plane was scattered about, and the paramedics that someone called rushed to get Harry and the firefighters sprayed water on the remnants of the plane. As the fire is extinguished Frankie sees Mabel’s body being dragged from the plane. The screaming resumed, although sounding different this time and Frankie felt an arm around her shoulders and someone saying “shhh, it’s okay. It’ll be okay.” Frankie realized the screams are coming from her own mouth and as she choked back a sob, she realized her best friend just died in an accident meant for her
Two days pass before Frankie left her room. After Will’s death, Frankie did everything she could to distract herself into coping, but after Mabel’s death Frankie became immobilized. She didn’t eat and when she shut her eyes to sleep she saw the explosion of flames all over again. But, she realized she had to get up and deal with it and try to organize Mabel's funeral. Due to the WASPs being civilians, and even though they flew for the airforce, they were not military so the military didn’t have to pay for their funeral services or for Mabel’s remains to be sent home. Frankie and other pilots mustered enough money to purchase a casket and send Mabel’s body home back to Iowa, Frankie and two others accompanied the travel.
Once they got to Iowa, they were greeted by Mabel’s family who was in tears. They went back to the Rawlingson’s house for lunch, although nobody was really in the mood for eating. The funeral was that day and Mabel’s mom had brought her own American flag and draped it across the casket before her daughter was lowered into the ground. The service was sad, as she died so young but would not be forgotten along with the other WASPs that gave their lives to the cause.
The next day, Frankie and the other women traveled back to Camp Davis. By now it was May 1944, almost a year into being a WASP. Upon their arrival, their director Mary greeted Frankie and offered her condolences. Mary asks her if she was ready to fly again, and Frankie thought on it for a moment and realized it could be therapeutic for her and says yes. “In that case,” Mary said “I have a job for you.”
Frankie and another WASP Ethel, were to flight test the two new Boeing B-29 Superfortress dubbed “Ladybird” and “Enola Gay” for Colonel Paul Tibbets. They’d heard this job was supposed to be given to the male Airforce pilots, but they refused thinking the mission was too dangerous. Frankie and Ethel laughed at that, as although it was dangerous the girls were up for the job. After they trained on “Ladybird,” they were to ferry it out to New Mexico for the Colonel. Frankie and Ethel set off for training. On one flight they experienced an engine fire, but it wasn’t anything they couldn’t handle. They fixed the plane and showed everyone, including the men, that B-29s could be flown.
A month later, Frankie heard about D-Day and the planes used, C-47s and P-41s, remembering how Mabel and another girl ferried those planes out just a month ago. Frankie knew Mabel would have been proud, as the invasion into Normandy was, by the sounds of it, a major turning point for the Allied side of World War Two.
Life continued for Frankie as usual, she spent her days training new recruits, testing planes and doing her other duties as a WASP. As months went by, Frankie and the other girls heard rumors of the program possibly being shut down. There was backlash regarding whether or not women should be flying “men’s” planes. In the summer, some flight programs were closing, and male instructors were losing their jobs. As the war was slowing down, and the allies were winning, some men were beginning to return from combat duty. Specifically, male pilots were concerned that they wouldn’t get their jobs back, the jobs that the WASPs had taken over so the men could go off to fight. As the WASPs were still considered civilians, although not for lack of trying on Jacqueline’s part, and as they were women there wasn’t a good chance of them staying as a “part of the Airforce.”
By the time November rolled around, the WASPs knew their time was coming to an end. A little over a year after the program started, it was disbanded in December 1944. 37 WASPs, including Mabel, had died by then. Those still training could finish, “The Lost Last Class,” and served two and a half weeks before being sent home on December 20th with all the other WASPs. On most bases, there were no parties thrown or celebrations happening, Frankie and the other women like her began to pack up and return home. Frankie settled back at home after a year and a half of being away, but would rather have been back in her tiny room with Mabel than in her quiet house filled with memories of a dead husband and an unknown future to be contemplated.
32 years later in 1976, the Airforce finally came out to say they were going to admit women into their flying program and it would be the “first time the Airforce has allowed women to fly their aircraft.” After Frankie and the rest of the WASPs heard this, they were outraged. The WASPs most definitely were the first women to fly Airforce aircraft, and they decided credit should be received where credit was due. The WASPs united and lobbied congress to be militarized as they were the only branch of women’s service in WWII to not receive military status and the only branch to be disbanded before the end of the war. The WASPs persuaded Senator Goldwater to help; he had ferried planes during the war for the airforce, just like the WASPs. In 1977 the WASPs were at last granted military status for their work during WWII.
San Diego, California
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