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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Violet Thurn Cowden, 2007

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Object ID: WV0399.5.001

Description: Primarily discusses Violet Thurn Cowden’s service in the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) from 1943 to 1944.

Summary:

Cowden discusses her childhood on a farm in South Dakota, working for room and board to attend high school in the nearby town, paying her way through college, and then working as a teacher. She shares her reasons for wanting to learn to fly and talks about sending a letter to Washington, D.C., offering her help. Cowden discusses enlisting in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) but receiving a telegram accepted her into the WASP before her WAVES basic training, and recounts struggling to gain weight to pass the physical exam.

Cowden describes being in the first group of women to train at Avenger Field and the reaction of male pilots there, the personal qualms male instructors had in training females, and how tough they were on WASPs. Topics from her training at Avenger Field include: a typical day’s schedule; progressing between training levels; night flying; graduation; and meeting Jacqueline Cochran. She gives her impression of Cochran and General Hap Arnold. Topics from her experiences at Brownsville and Love Field, Texas, include: the fears of an male instructor; the support of the male pilots; being the first to fly a new plane; bumping Frank Sinatra from a flight; an estimate of the distance she flew; social activities; meeting General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell and Gene Autry; making a night landing in the rain; and the disbanding of the WASP.

Other topics include why she did not continue her career as a pilot; her opinion of President Franklin Roosevelt; her heroines from WWII; keeping touch with fellow WASP; fighting for veterans’ benefits; parachuting with the Golden Knights; and her family.

Creator: Violet Thurn Cowden

Biographical Info: Violet Thurn Cowden (1917-2011) of South Dakota served in the WASP from 1943 to 1944.

Collection: Violet Cowden Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

Beth Carmichael:

Today is May 3, 2007. My name is Beth Carmichael and I'm at the home of Violet Cowden, in Huntington Beach, California, [clock chiming] to conduct an oral history interview for the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Good morning, Mrs. Cowden.

Violet Cowden:

Good morning.

BC:

Thank you so much for talking with me. If you could give me your full name, we'll use that as a test of our tape recorder.

VC:

My name is Violet Cowden. My maiden name was Violet Thurn.

BC:

And can you spell that for me.

VC:

Cowden, C-o-w-d-e-n, and Thurn was T-h-u-r-n. That was my maiden name.

BC:

Thank you.

[recording paused]

BC:

Mrs. Cowden, I would like to start by talking a little bit about your background. Can you tell me when and where you were born and a little bit about your family?

VC:

I was born in a sod house in South Dakota on a farm. My grandparents lived on the farm in a big wooden house and they were of German decent, and my folks spoke English. But when I went to my grandparents' house, I would speak German. And then when I went to my own home, which was a sod house with three rooms, I would speak English. I was bilingual [laughter] and didn't know it.

And also, on this farm, there was still some siblings that weren't married, and I was the first grandchild. So talk about having a wonderful childhood. I was so involved with them, and so loved that I think it carried my life because I had such a wonderful start.

BC:

That's wonderful. What kind of farm was it?

VC:

It was—the farm was raising grain and cattle, so, and corn, wheat, barley, and we fed a good share of the crop to the animals and that's how we made our living.

BC:

Did you work on the farm as you were growing up?

VC:

I certainly did. It was—learned to milk a cow when I was very young. I could hardly wait to until they would teach me to milk. Then after I learned how, it became a chore. Had to pick the eggs. And we didn't have running water in the house. We had to get the water from the well, carry it. We had an outdoor privy. So it was quite—maybe a hard life, but it was a good life. It was—I think that's why I love nature so much, because you were just engulfed in that world of being a part of the universe.

BC:

Did you have brothers and sisters as part of that big family?

VC:

I was the firstborn. My second sister was three years younger than I am. And she lives in Gardena [California] now. Then I had a brother that was thirteen years younger than I was, and he passed away when he was fifty-seven. I have a younger sister that lives—Betty—that lives in Palm Springs, and she's thirteen years younger than I was. So I was the oldest.

BC:

The oldest. And did you go to school in this same area in North Dakota?

VC:

It was South Dakota.

BC:

South Dakota, I'm sorry.

VC:

Yes. We went to a country school which was about a mile and a half from the house. And we walked when the weather was nice. But when there was snow on the ground, my father would take us in the sleigh with horses. And he would heat up rocks to keep us warm, and then we'd be all cozy, you know, in the sleigh, and he'd be out there in the weather getting us to school. He was such a stickler for being on time that we never missed a day and we were never late.

BC:

It must have been beautiful.

VC:

It was beautiful, but it's very—I mean, when I think of what my parents went through to make it comfortable for us, it's amazing, absolutely amazing that we survived. [chuckles]

BC:

Did you graduate from high school there?

VC:

Yes. That was—the high school was about four miles from where we lived. It was during the Depression. And I—in order to stay in town during the winter, I worked for my room and board. I stayed with a family that had a child with special needs, so I took care of her a lot. And I remember that they were in business. And I would sometimes iron twelve shirts a week just to keep everything going. But I was very active in high school.

BC:

What other things did you do?

VC:

When I was in high school, I played basketball. I was in all the plays, and active as an officer. And at that time, went to church a lot, sang in the choir, and went sleighing and skiing and just had a real good time.

BC:

That sounds great. When did you graduate?

VC:

I graduated in 1934.

BC:

And what did you do afterwards?

VC:

After that I went to the Black Hills [State] University, South Dakota. I had a scholarship there, a working scholarship. I worked at the federal fish hatchery. And the second year I was there, I got money from the YWCA, which was a loan that I had to pay back. But money was very scarce and just didn't have it.

BC:

So what did you study in college?

VC:

I studied to be a teacher. At that time, about the only thing a girl could do was be a teacher, a nurse, or a hairdresser. I knew I didn't want to be a nurse. And I think I could have been a hairdresser, but I really wanted to go to college.

BC:

And when did you graduate from college?

VC:

I graduated—only had two years of college. And in Spearfish, South Dakota, where I was teaching, that's where I learned to fly.

BC:

And what was it that piqued your interest in flying?

VC:

From the time I was a little kid, I used to watch the hawks flying in South Dakota. And I thought, “Oh, if I could only do that.” They would zoom around, they'd kind of float around on the air, and then they'd zoom down and grab their little chicken with, I mean, the speed and everything. And I thought, “Oh, if I could only do that.” And just recently I went hang gliding. In fact, a couple of weeks ago. And I think the air is such a comfortable place for me. I feel so in oneness with life and with the world and everything when I'm in the air. I always say the worst thing about flying was to come to land.

BC:

[chuckles] Come back. Tell me a little bit about going through the process of learning to fly.

VC:

My girlfriend and I were—[phone rings] Darn it.

[recording paused]

VC:

Where were we?

BC:

We were talking about you going through the process of learning to fly.

VC:

My girlfriend and I were sitting out at the airport watching her boyfriend shoot landings. And all of a sudden I just couldn't stand it anymore and I said, “Esther, I'm going to learn to fly.”

She said, “You're kidding.”

I said, “No, I'm not.” So I went up to the fellow that was running the school, and I said “Clyde, I want to learn to fly.”

And he says “Come on, let's go.”

I made my decision to fly, and within an hour, I already had a half-hour lesson. And I—at the time I was teaching and I didn't have a car, and the airport was six miles from where I lived. So in the morning I would ride my bike out to the airport, take the flying lessons, and fly back. And every once in a while one of the kids would raise their hand and they'd say, “You went flying today.”

I said, “Well, how do you know?”

They said, “Well, you're so happy.”

So, I guess I'm just really happy when I'm in the air.

BC:

So you were taking lessons while you were teaching and still in South Dakota.

VC:

Yes.

BC:

How long did you do that for?

VC:

[clock chiming] I imagine it probably took me about six months to get my license, and I already had my private pilot's license when war was declared. So I thought, well, maybe I could help, so I sent a letter to Washington, D.C., telling them that I had my private pilot's license. And at the time I thought I would probably be in the Civil Air Patrol. But I didn't hear from them, and I wanted to do something for my country, so—everybody was joining something—so I joined the navy, because I liked their hats. So when I got my call to go to Sweetwater [Texas], I—at that time I had started my training with the navy, so that's how it happened.

BC:

So you had been accepted by the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy]—

VC:

Yes.

BC:

And then how did you get that call from Sweetwater?

VC:

It came in a telegraph that I was accepted for 43-[W]-4. That's the third—fourth class. There were three classes before me. I was staying with my sister in Gardena at the time. She was going to have her first child and I wanted to be with her. Then I got my call and had to leave before the baby came. And on the day that I soloed in the army was the day that the baby was born. So I always—when I ask Jim, I say, “Well, how old are you?” And then I say, “Well, that's the day that many years ago that I soloed.”

BC:

How did your family and friends react to you joining the military?

VC:

The friends that I had—girlfriends and boyfriends—I think they were all very supportive. My mom and dad didn't—I mean I didn't know if they were really supportive or not, but they didn't stop me. But my grandfather absolutely had a fit. That that was not a girl's job, and I had no business out there, and he didn't want me to get killed. I mean, he really objected. Because I had stayed with him when I went to—I think it was first grade. I stayed with them because the school that I was supposed to go to couldn't find a teacher. So I stayed with him, so I guess he felt like, you know, I was one of his kids.

BC:

And he didn't want anything to happen.

VC:

No.

BC:

Well, tell me a little bit about Sweetwater and your training.

VC:

I think that I'd like to tell the story about taking my physical. I had to go to Long Beach to take my physical and I didn't pass. And the reason I didn't pass was because I didn't weigh enough. And being of German decent, first born, I wasn't going to let that stop me.

I said, “Well, give me a week, and I will gain—.” I weighed ninety-two pounds and I was supposed to weigh a hundred.

And so anyway, he said, “Well, okay. I'll give you a week.”

And my sister was a very good cook, so she cooked all the fattening things and we had malted milks. On the day that I was supposed to crest, I didn't weigh enough, but I had heard that if you drink water and eat bananas, drink water and eat bananas all day, you'll gain the weight. So when I got there, I got on the scale and he looked and says, “You made it.” He said “How did you do that?”

I was just a visual picture of little skinny arms, little skinny legs, and a great big tummy. He laughed and he said, “That is the funniest thing,” he said, “I've ever seen.” He said, “Do you mind if I call in another doctor?”

I said, “No, call in the doctor,” I said, “but first you sign here that I passed my physical.”

But after I got out of the service, the food that we had and the conditioning that we had I think I got up to about one hundred and ten while I was flying.

BC:

So tell me about your training and about being at Avenger Field.

VC:

Well, we—being that we were the first class of women to get in to Sweetwater for training, the male cadets were still there, and we weren't supposed to look at them or talk to them. We were supposed to stay in our unit. And as the months went by, they would graduate and leave and then new girls would come in. And I feel that when we got there, it was a surprise to the instructors and to many people on the field that, you know, this was a class of girls.

BC:

When was it that you arrived?

VC:

March 1943.

BC:

Did you have much interaction with them then, or none at all?

VC:

Wednesday nights or something, we could go to the PX [post exchange] and talk to the people. And we weren't supposed to ever go out with our instructors, but it was amazing on the day we graduated how many girls got married or were going to get married. “Hi, Dad!”

I think being that we were the first class in Sweetwater, I think the instructors that were mostly male, or were all male, I think had a very difficult time. Because at that time they thought that women should be staying at home and raising children and stuff. And to have to teach women, I think was probably very, very difficult for them.

BC:

Did they ever say anything to you or give anybody a hard time?

VC:

They gave everybody a hard time, because that—and I realized later that they gave the same training to the men. I mean they were—the language was terrible, and tried to belittle you, and they tried to make you think you didn't know what you were doing. It was really, very hard, and you just had to keep thinking that, “I'm going to do this.”

And one time I was still in primary [training] and my girlfriend, there were four of us in a flight, and she was going to go up after I took my flying test, and she was so nervous. She just—she was just a basket case. And so when I came in, I said, “You know,” I said “really,” I said, “it really wasn't bad.” And I told her that we shot landings or did chandelles or something, and Colonel Parker was standing within earshot.

And he came over to me and he says, “You didn't think that was bad?”

And I said, “No, I didn't think it was bad.”

Because it was—I mean I could do everything, everything that they had taught me. I had a check ride the next day. Came back the second day; I have a check ride. The third day, I had a check ride. I had five check rides. They never once—I mean, I thought I was a washout the first time. They didn't wash me out, but I got another check ride. By the time Friday came, I was a basket case. I couldn't hold water. I was throwing it up. It was absolutely horrible.

But the reason they gave us this tough training was to teach us that we could think when we had an emergency. So possibly all this was to save our lives, rather than to make it miserable for us.

BC:

What was a typical day like?

VC:

A typical day was up about six in the morning, and there were six of us in the barracks. We shared the four showerheads with six other girls. But usually we took our showers at night. Then we'd go to breakfast and one flight would fly in the morning and the other flight would be going to ground school. And then the next semester we would just change around.

BC:

Okay. And how would the training progress from primary to basic to advanced?

VC:

From when we took our primary, it—I took my training in a [Fairchild] PT-19 and that was 150 horsepower or something like that. And then the basic was a BT-13 [Valiant] and that was about 250 horsepower. And the AT-6 [Texan], which was advanced, was 380, and that had retractable landing gears. We also took night flying. We took training in a twin engine UC-78 [AT-17 Bobcat], and we did night flying in that because there were two of us.

BC:

Was that the first time you had done night flying?

VC:

Yes. It was beautiful, just beautiful. It's a little bit—I felt it a little bit difficult to land, but if you were on the field and the lighting was right it was pretty easy.

BC:

Okay. And how long did your training last?

VC:

I think it changed. The training changed from one class to another. I think we had about seven months.

BC:

So you finished in the fall?

VC:

In August.

BC:

In August of 1943. What was graduation like?

VC:

Graduation—on the day that we were graduating, General [William H.] Tunner came from Washington, D.C., [clock chiming] and he wanted to know whether or not women could really fly. And I don't know how unlucky I was to have a check ride on the day I graduated.

BC:

On the day you graduated they made you do a check ride?

VC:

They could—and if he would have thought that I couldn't fly, I probably wouldn't have gotten my wings.

BC:

Oh my goodness.

VC:

And when Jackie Cochran gave me my wings, I said, “These are my wings, and no one is ever going to take them away from me.”

BC:

So was she at your graduation?

VC:

Yes.

BC:

Did you ever get a chance to meet her, other than when she gave you your wings?

VC:

Yes. Yes, I met her while I was in training. I didn't even know that she was on the field, and I was walking down to the PX [post exchange] and there was one of the cadets was standing there, and he whistled at me. And I turned around and gave him a look, you know, like he wasn't supposed to do that. And Jacqueline Cochran was standing in the office and called me in.

She said, “You know, you're not supposed to be talking to the cadets.”

I said, “Well, I didn't.” I said, “All I did was look at him.”

She's, “Well, you're not even supposed to look at them.”

So that was my first experience with her. But I met her several times after the WASP. She lived out in Palm Springs, and she would entertain the WASPs. So I—you know, several times, I mean, I got to talk to her personally.

BC:

And what did you think about her?

VC:

Very complicated person. And on the day that we dedicated a stamp in her honor, we were out at her ranch, and we were—I was walking up the hill with her secretary. And I said, “How—what was she really like?” Because I had seen different things about her, good and bad.

And she said, “You know,” she said “she was a woman that was everything. She was good, she was bad, she was generous, she was tight, she was beautiful, and some days she wasn't so beautiful, and she was everything that a woman could be.”

So that, I think, pretty well describes what she was. And there was no other woman at that time that could have done what she did. So she had a place in history and she was a courageous person. A lot of people probably would have had that place but wouldn't have accomplished what she did.

BC:

What about [General] Hap Arnold, did you ever—

VC:

I didn't meet him.

BC:

But did he attend your graduation?

VC:

Yes.

BC:

I talked to another WASP who said he was also at hers. Do you know if he attended all of the graduations, or just—?

VC:

Well, he attended quite a few. I know he attended the last one. I have a DVD on that too that I don't have, that he said that we had earned our place in history. And he was, I think, at the time when he gave the okay for us to take training, I think was a really big step for him.

BC:

I'm sure it was. Well, where were you sent after graduation?

VC:

I was sent to Love Field, Dallas, Texas. That was the Air Transport Command, where we picked up planes at the factory and took them to training fields or to the point of debarkation, which was in Long Beach [California] or Newark, New Jersey. And I also took some more training after I was at Love Field. I went to pursuit school, so I learned to fly the pursuits. And that was a great experience.

BC:

Can you tell me a little bit more about both of these things, about your job at Love Field and then pursuit school?

VC:

Pursuit School was in Brownsville, Texas. We had to sit in the back of an AT-6 so we would get used to the long fuselage in front of us. In fact, when you were sitting in most of the—except the P-39, I guess—in most of the pursuit planes there's no way you could see ahead of you. You had to look out the side. And when you were taxiing, I mean, you would turn the plane so that you could see where you were going. So, that's why they trained us in the AT-6.

When I took my training with four other guys—do you want to just cut the tape because I want to—I just have to tell you this.

[recording paused]

VC:

In my—our training at pursuit school, we had to fly in the backseat of an AT-6 and this instructor that was instructing me was on the controls all the time. And the fellows that were in my flight, they would say “Well, how is she doing?”

And the instructor would say, “Well, I don't know.”

And after the third time of saying, “I don't know,” I just knew that I was going to be washed out.

So we came in for landing, and he said, “You know, that is the lousiest landing” he said, “that I have ever experienced.”

And I said, “I want to tell you something.” I had nothing to lose, because I just knew I was going to be washed out. So he said—I said, “That wasn't my landing.” I said, “That was your landing.” I said, “You have been on the controls the whole time.” And I said, “Why don't you let me fly?”

He said, “You know, I have never instructed a woman before.” And he said, “I didn't want to feel responsible for her, so I just thought that if she was killed it would be my responsibility.”

And I said, “Look, I volunteered for this job. It is not your responsibility if I crack up. It's my fault. It is not your fault.” So the next day he let me fly.

Then the guys said, “Well, how did she do?”

And he says, “You know, she can fly.”

But it was—can you imagine how hard that must have been for him?

BC:

He was afraid to give you a chance for fear that something would happen. How did they-the three other men respond to having a woman pilot with them?

VC:

They were—I mean, they were absolutely so supportive. They—by the time we were doing pursuit—going to pursuit school, they realized, you know, that we could do the job, and they were very supportive. In fact, if I had washed out, those three guys would have been a lot more upset I think than I would, because every day they would say, “Well, how did she do?”

And I always had to have pillows. So they would sit out there, and if they needed a pillow, why, they'd take two or three pillows for me to be sure that I had, you know, that I had pillows. And one time I was out flying. I was in a P-47 [Thunderbolt] and there was another P-47 out there. And the other P-47 crashed and the guys thought that it was me, and they were so upset.

And so when I came in, they said, “Why don't you ever call in when you're out there flying.”

I said, “Why should I call in?”

And they said, “At least we would have known then that it wasn't you that had crashed.”

So I mean, I felt they were very supportive at that stage.

BC:

That's great. Did you go back to Love Field after pursuit school or did they send you somewhere else?

VC:

No, I stayed. I stayed at Love Field.

BC:

Can you talk a little bit more about your job there, about ferrying the planes, and any particular incidents?

VC:

At Love Field, Dallas, Texas, we worked seven days a week from sunrise to sunset. Being an eager beaver that just wanted—I just wanted to be in there all the time, we could lay over after we took a flight and delivered an airplane. We could lay over for twenty-four hours for rest. But I could sleep on the airlines coming back. So I would always go get orders again and take off again. So the routine was probably hard, but I enjoyed it so much that, I mean, I just couldn't wait for my next flight.

This one time I went to Hensley Field, which was right outside of Dallas, to pick up a P-51 [Mustang] and they were all supposed to have been tested before we delivered them. And I went out to—and in ship's papers, it hadn't been tested. So I thought, well, I better go ahead and tell them that this plane hadn't been tested.

So when I went in, I said, “This plane hasn't been tested.” So the mechanic went out and wrote down an hour in the ship's papers.

And they said, “The plane has been flown an hour.”

Well, I knew it couldn't have been flown an hour and five minutes. So I thought, “Should I take this plane or shouldn't I?” So I thought, “Well, I have the orders, maybe, maybe I'll just take it.” And it didn't occur to me until I was—the takeoff speed for the P-51 was a hundred miles an hour, and I was just getting up to a hundred miles an hour and I looked down, and I thought, “I wonder if everyone that worked on this plane did a good job.” But I had no choice but to pull back on the stick and go up, and the plane flew. It was the best experience I ever had, because I knew I was the very first person that ever flew this wonderful airplane. And I think that sometimes in life when a challenge comes up and you don't take it, you maybe missed the best part, [clock chiming] because I don't think that you're put in a situation that you're not supposed to be in. You're supposed to be at that place and time. But it was, it was so wonderful.

BC:

Where did you take that plane to?

VC:

I really don't know. It would either be Newark, New Jersey, or Long Beach. And we also flew the P-39 [Airacobra] and the P-63 [Kingcobra]. And we'd have to go to—if we landed in Newark, New Jersey, we'd have to go to Buffalo, New York, and pick up the P-39, which we flew it to Great Falls, Montana. Then the fellows would take it from Great Falls, Montana, to Fairbanks, Alaska, then the Russians would pick up the plane in Fairbanks and take it back to Russia. And in 1990 when forty WASP went to Russia to visit the Night Witches [All-female Soviet Air Forces 588th Night Bomber Regiment] that flew combat during World War II, we met one of the guys that flew from Russia to Fairbanks, so that was a wonderful experience.

BC:

How neat, to really get the whole circle of the trip.

VC:

Yes, it was.

BC:

So once you dropped a plane off, then would you have to fly back? How did that work?

VC:

We had a real high priority on the airlines. The only person that could ever—only party that could ever bump us was the president's party. So, I mean, if we delivered any—we'd—we would just bump somebody to get back. Every once in a while, especially in New York, if there was someone that maybe was going back to their home for bereavement or something, I would try to take a later flight and let them take my spot. But as a rule, I mean, I didn't know who I was bumping. Except one time Frank Sinatra was going to Memphis. I don't know whether I delivered a plane to Memphis or not, but I was on my way back, and I had bumped him. And when I got off at Memphis they expected to see Frank Sinatra. But it was so much fun for me to just walk, walk in there and all the women were out there. I remember it was kind of raining and they were under their umbrellas, but, of course, no Frank Sinatra.

BC:

Not many people can say that though, that they bumped Frank Sinatra.

VC:

I don't think very many, probably.

BC:

Do you have any idea how many flights you made during that time?

VC:

No, I need to do that sometime. I have—one time when I was—somebody asked me about how many miles did they think I had flown, and I did figure it out. With the small planes I had flown, the fast planes, I figured I had, in mileage I had flown around the world fifty-five times.

BC:

Oh my God. That's incredible. What was your social life like at the field?

VC:

My social life at the field—I loved to dance. My barracks was a block from the officers club. And the fellow that checked me out—I had a check ride with him in Dallas—was working at the field all the time. So whenever I came in and if I would spend the night, I would—we would go dancing. And a lot of times, the people would just go over to the club just to watch us have a good time.

It was—my boyfriend that I had when I was in college was in the navy, and he had met another girl, so I got a Dear Jane letter. And the fellow that I was dating, Lee Williams, at the field, he had gotten a Dear John letter. So we said we were never ever going to get serious about anybody again. We're just going to have a good time. And I don't think that I ever had a better time with anybody than with him, because it was just a fun thing, and we had had our hearts broken before, so, I mean, it was a healing process and it was a good time.

BC:

Were there a lot of other WASPs stationed there?

VC:

I would guess maybe thirty, but I never did see them.

BC:

Because you were all flying at different times?

VC:

Sure. Just recently, someone was talking about Vinegar Joe [General Joseph Stilwell]. He was stationed at China. And one night the CO [commanding officer] said that they were going to have some special guests come into the barracks. And they wanted me, being that my room was in the front, to greet them. And there was a dance going on at the officers club, and they didn't come, and they didn't come, and they didn't come. And finally they came, and it was Vinegar Joe and his pilot and co-pilot and navigator and their wives. And no one knew, or it was supposed to be a secret that he was called back to Washington. And these ladies hadn't seen their boyfriends in umpteen [months], so they had always—they were staying on these tin cots that we had and in the latrines that were for men, and they came with black negligees. And I was so upset because I wanted to go dancing. And then I had this wonderful experience with Vinegar Joe and he didn't even know at the time that women were flying. [phone rings] Oh.

BC:

Are there any other memorable incidents or people that stand out from that time?

VC:

[Actor] Gene Autry was stationed at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, and he—his job was to fly to different bases to pick up the pilots that had delivered airplanes. And one time I was supposed to ride back with him. And it was in a—it was with a group of people that were party people, and I didn't want to go back with them because then I wouldn't be able to sleep and wouldn't be able to function the next day. So I refused to fly with them.

BC:

I bet that didn't happen very often either.

VC:

I don't think so.

BC:

Obviously flying was more important to you than seeing Gene Autry.

VC:

Oh, absolutely. Well, I mean I saw him at the—I would see him at the officers club every once in a while, but I never had a close conversation with him. One night I came into Dallas after dark; we weren't supposed to fly, but I don't know, I had some delay. So I wanted to get back to the field, and it was also raining, and I hadn't made too many night flight landings. And when I came into Dallas my radio was out, so I didn't have contact with the tower. And the wind—we have a wind direct light on the field, so you would know which way to land, which way the wind was blowing. And I couldn't land because I didn't know which way to land, which runway to use. So I would just fly around up there and finally an airliner came in, so I knew which way to land, so I landed, and it was raining. So I made a night landing in the rain. And when I landed I had to pull back the canopy so I could see. And I was really upset because the wind tee [wind direction indicator] was out.

So I went into operations and I said, “You know,” I said “this wind tee is out.” I said, “Somebody is going to get killed.”

And they said, “Well, what do you mean?”

I said, “It could have been me. If that airliner hadn't come in and I would have had to land.” I said, “I probably would have landed on the wrong runway.”

[recording paused or recording error; poor sound quality for remainder of interview]

VC:

So anyway, then I thought there was certainly somebody should have some power to do something about that wind tee. So I went over to the officers club, I was soaking wet, and to see if anyone from the field was there. So I can still see him standing at the bar.

And I said, “Do you know,” I said “somebody is going to get killed.”

He said, “What do you mean?”

I said, “The wind tee is out.”

“Well, so the wind tee is out.”

Well, so I said, “My radio was out, so I didn't know how to land.” I said, “I could have gotten killed.”

And so he said, “Well, I'll call operations,” but he said “I doubt if we can do anything this time of the night.”

But anyway, later on he said, “You know, that expression, [lather in the one hand?]?” He said, really, I was horrible that night. I said—he said, “I've never seen anybody so upset.”

BC:

Well, with good reason. How long did you stay at Love Field? Were you there the rest of your time?

VC:

Yes, I was at Love Field the whole time.

BC:

And when did you first hear about the WASP being disbanded?

VC:

I think I've already told you how busy I was. I wasn't on the field very often. So, I really didn't know until the day before. I could not believe it. Because there were so many P-51s that needed to be flown, and the fellows that were coming back from the combat zone were mostly twin-engine pilots who couldn't fly the P-51, and the P-51 would sit in their [unclear]. It was very difficult for me. I couldn't believe it.

BC:

What kind of reason did they give you? Did they explain or did they just say, “That's it. the program's over?”

VC:

“The program's over.” Then when we tried to get our veterans' benefits we had a hard time. We didn't get our veterans' benefits for thirty-some-odd years.

BC:

What did you do after that in the December of 1944?

VC:

I went home. Then I went to—there were some of the WASPs in New York City, so I went to New York City, and I got a job with the [pause] [state?]. And I worked there for about a year.

BC:

Were you flying for them?

VC:

No. And it was so hard to be at an airport and not be able to fly. It was very difficult. Then I went back to [Glenwood, where my—?] back to California, and went into the ceramic business for ten years. And that was very satisfying because I knew absolutely nothing about it. And it was a learning experience, because I didn't want to go back to teaching. It was hard to make the adjustment after having that wonderful experience.

BC:

Did you continue to fly at all?

VC:

No. For one thing, I didn't have the money, and there were no jobs available. The jobs that would have been available weren't hiring women. So, that was the end of that wonderful experience.

BC:

Well, looking back at your time in the WASP, what was the hardest thing you had to do physically?

VC:

[pause] Probably the hardest thing would have been to, probably, get out of the spin in the PT-16. [unclear]

BC:

Okay. What about emotionally? Was there something that was particularly difficult?

VC:

Well, I think I've already told you the most emotional thing was having the check ride every single day, because by the time—the fifth day it was almost unbearable.

BC:

Are there any other funny incidents or people that stand out for you?

VC:

[pause] I can't think who else[?].

BC:

How did you feel about President Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt?

VC:

Well, I really think that Roosevelt was at the right place at the right time, because I think that at least the Depression [unclear] was a part of the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] or something willing to put people back to work. And they were doing good things like making trails and [unclear]. And so it's—and they're doing good things and earning money. I thought that was good. And then his decisions that he made, I think he knew that there wasn't going to be [unclear] and they couldn't declare war because there was such a—people didn't want to get into the war. So I think that after he was in, I think there he made some good decisions. But when it came to Yalta and that part, I don't think he would be [unclear] country. I think at that time, he had probably had had it, you know, because he wasn't making good decisions. But, probably wouldn't be in the war now, who knows.

BC:

Did you have any heroes or heroines during this time, any particular people that you admired?

VC:

I mean a lot of people. I probably admired Amelia Earhart, but I think Jacqueline—I really admired Jacqueline Cochran more. I feel that she was more of a pilot than Amelia Earhart. And I think I admired the men that went to combat.

BC:

Let's talk a little bit about your life after the war and your time in the WASP. What did you do in the ceramics business?

VC:

Well there was one of the WASP and a friend that I had when I was in high school, the three of us went into the ceramic business. And we did that for ten years and we were quite successful. We—well, Al, he did most of the hard work. I just did the artistic work. We got along very well. And it was kind of a combination of personalities that were compatible. And I think that people like to just come in to the ceramic shop and take classes and do things with us because we were always having such a good time.

BC:

So did you stay in touch with other WASPs and stay involved?

VC:

Well, I think—at that time we didn't have an organization, but I did become involved. I went to the different reunions. I was president of the WASP national organization in 1997 and '98. But been very active in the Southern California group, been president a couple of times. Just staying involved with the people that live—I mean the WASP that live around this area.

BC:

Were you involved at all with the effort in the 1970s to get military status for the WASP?

VC:

Yes, I had people sign petitions and also developed cards for our congressman in this area. I was working for the [clears throat] excuse me. I was working for the teachers' resource center here in Huntington Beach. I worked there for ten years. And when I went around to get—in fact, after we were disbanded, the people that I worked with in the teachers' resource center, I hadn't even told them that I ever had been in the WASP. And so then I was taking a petition around. I went to the system's superintendent and said, “I'd like for you to sign this petition, because we've got to get veterans' benefits.”

And he said, “I'm not going to sign it.”

I said, “Why not?”

“Well,” he said, “you volunteered.” And he said “You could have gotten out at any time time, but” he said, “I was drafted that I couldn't.”

So I said, “Well, what did you do?”

And he said, “Well, I was in the brig most of the time.” He said, “I didn't want to be here, so I used—so I'd just do things so they'd throw me in the brig.”

So anyway, then when we did get our veterans' benefits, the press came out and there were photographers and everything came to the reunion and stuff. Then he got on the bandwagon. He cut out the picture that was in the paper and put it up on the bulletin board and said “Our Hero” and stuff like that. So I guess he knows [cough].

BC:

That's great. That must have been just a wonderful feeling when that finally happened.

VC:

Well, I started to need benefits [?], I mean I've had—after all those years, it doesn't matter. And we were having a [social?], and a get—together in Cleveland, Ohio. And I think there must have been about 125 WASPs there. And we were sitting out on the tarmac, and the Golden Knights [U.S. Army Parachute Team] were flying, were parachuting, and the last one that came in [folded?] the flag and gave it to the [unclear]. And I thought, you know what? [unclear]. And it did make a difference. It just did make a difference.

BC:

Well, it sounds like you've been keeping busy and still are involved. You mentioned hang gliding and parachute stuff.

VC:

Yes. I had always wanted to make a jump while I was taking private pilot lessons and during my service I didn't have enough [clearance?] it didn't happen. So my first jump I made I was '76. And then one of the fellows that has been interviewing the WASPs for a movie had gotten called back into the service. And so his specialty was special services. So he was to take seven or eight people to Yuma, Arizona, to jump with the Golden Knights. And he had remembered that I had been jealous, so he called me, and I had the privilege and honor to jump with the Golden Knights.

BC:

And when did you do that?

VC:

When I was eighty-nine, February the twenty-fifth last year. And two weeks—a week and a half ago I went paragliding.

BC:

How was that?

VC:

That was wonderful. Oh, that's as close as you'll get to ever come to feeling like a bird. It just—And I recommend you do that.

BC:

Was that better than flying a plane?

VC:

Oh, yes. Oh my yes. And the instructor let me fly, which was just a piece a cake. If you wanted to go up you just put your arms up and if you wanted to come down you just pull them down. It was just wonderful.

BC:

Somewhere along the line you were married and had a family.

VC:

Have one daughter and I now have three grandchildren. My oldest granddaughter is twenty. She's in her third year of pre-med. My second granddaughter has Down syndrome. And we have her—we've been taking her riding, therapeutic riding the last eight years. She spends the night here and then we take her back to school. And I have a grandson, twelve, that has his black belt in Taekwondo. Really neat pair. And the best part is that they live just twenty minutes from here, so we get to see them quite often.

BC:

Did you think when you joined the WASP that what you were doing was a step toward new opportunities for women?

VC:

No. It was just—at that time it was just doing something that we felt—everyone's doing. We were in this together and everybody was doing their part. We just felt we were just doing our part. And being that we were learning how to fly, that was just kind of natural to do that. I didn't think it was anything unusual.

BC:

Well, I don't have any more formal questions for you. Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you would like to add or tell me about?

VC:

I think we've pretty well covered it. I think that at this place in my life, if I could be, what I have done, can be an inspiration to any young women that she can do anything she wants, she can be anything she wants, and maybe, above anything else, to enjoy life, to see the good things in life. [unclear]

BC:

Well, you've certainly done that. Thank you very much for talking to me today. It was a pleasure to meet you.

VC:

It was a great interview. [laughter]

[End of Interview]