Veteran’s Day Talk Topic: Dawn Seymour of the Flying Fortresses

Image from Twitter/TheMoth

Image from Twitter/TheMoth

She was born to be a pilot. Dawn Seymour, 97, tells it with great, good-humored zest on NPR’s Moth Radio Hour: On her very first training flight as a (female!) pilot in World War II, she was in the left-hand seat of the big four-engine B-17—the Flying Fortress that was making raids over Germany—when Engine No. 3 caught fire. She and the instructor got it out, she says very calmly. Her reaction? “Oh my goodness is this is the plane for me!”

Seymour was one of America’s first female military pilots—members of the volunteer Women’s Auxiliary Service, called Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Their mission: do the aircraft ferrying, towing targets, serving as instrument instructors, and conducting the student-gunner training sessions that would free up male flyers for combat. There were 1,102 of them, and they flew some 60 million operation miles in 78 types of aircraft, including the heaviest bombers and fastest fighters. Seymour was part of a very select group: Only 13 women completed the B-17 flight training.

She reports with calm dignity the lack of ceremony with which the women’s program was ended, with a letter from General “Hap” Arnold, at the end of 1944, after Congress failed to reauthorize the program. “It was a blow. Here we thought were doing a good job, the war wasn’t over, and the message we received was, ‘Girls, go home; we don’t need you anymore.’ So we packed up: No ceremonies, just farewells to our friends at the base, and off we went to new lives.”

The WASPs were forgotten. However, some 30, years later, women were finally accepted as military pilots and women entered the military academies.

More than 65 years later, the WASPs (who had finally been granted military status in 1977) received the nation’s highest civilian honor awarded by Congress, the Congressional Gold Medal for their service during World War II.

Read more: Military’s First Flying Women Honored for World War II Military Service

Listen to Dawn Seymour’s story:

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