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North Dakota

‘Unsung heroes’: Meet the women pilots from North Dakota who risked their lives during WWII – InForum

VALLEY CITY, ND — If granted her want, Allison Veselka would journey again in time to satisfy the women of North Dakota who performed necessary however largely unknown roles in World War II.

As Associate Curator at the Barnes County Historical Society Museum in Valley City, Veselka has researched the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, as a part of the museum’s “North Dakota Women at War” exhibit.

With skilled male pilots briefly provide after the assault on Pearl Harbor in 1942, these women have been referred to as upon to haul planes from factories, tow gun targets, transport tools, and restore flight-take a look at planes earlier than males have been allowed to fly them once more.

Only 1,102 of them served, based on the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, Texas.

Veselka has discovered proof of a few dozen WASPs who have been both born and raised in North Dakota or lived right here for a time.

“They’re pretty much unsung heroes,” Veselka mentioned.

There was no less than one WASP recognized with connections to Barnes County, and the Valley City museum has a small exhibit on them.

Viola Thompson Mason was born and raised close to Fingal earlier than her household moved to Fargo the place she discovered her flying at Hector Aerodrome.

In 1942, she turned the first North Dakota girl to obtain a industrial pilot’s license, Veselka mentioned.


Allison Veselka, affiliate curator of the Barnes County Historical Society Museum in Valley City, North Dakota, has been gathering info on Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who have been from North Dakota or had ties to North Dakota. WASPs served during World War II.

Chris Flynn / The Forum

Thompson Mason joined the WASPs in 1943 and after coaching in Sweetwater, Texas ended up as a goal tower at Camp Stewart, Georgia. This meant that they flew with a goal connected to the plane and goal capturing college students adopted them and tried to shoot at the goal for follow functions.

“It was incredibly dangerous work. It took a lot of courage,” mentioned Veselka.

During the quick interval that the WASP program existed, from August 1943 to December 1944, it’s estimated that the feminine pilots flew a complete of roughly 60 million miles on their missions.

Efforts to nominate them as members of the US army initially failed till the WASPs acquired honorary veteran standing greater than 30 years later in 1977.


An exhibit at the Barnes County Historical Society Museum in Valley City, North Dakota options Viola Thompson, who served as a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) during World War II. She was born close to Fingal, North Dakota and later moved to Fargo as a younger woman.

Chris Flynn / The Forum

Against her mom’s needs

According to Veselka’s analysis, no less than one WASP was born in Fargo.

Dorothea Johnson Moorman skilled at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas and Houston Municipal Airport. She was then assigned to Romulus Army Air Base in Michigan.

She was one in all two women to fly the B-29 Superfortress skilled by Paul Tibbets Jr., Veselka mentioned.

Tibbets is greatest referred to as the captain of the B-29 Enola Gay that dropped a Little Boy, the first of two atomic bombs utilized in warfare, on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II.

Vivian Gilchrist Nemhauser was born in Wisconsin, however her household moved to Jamestown, North Dakota, the place she later labored as Secretary to the President of Jamestown College.

smiling young woman in military uniform

Vivian Gilchrist Nemhauser, a member of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, stands outdoors her household’s house in Jamestown, North Dakota, someday in 1944.

Photo courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota

Against her mom’s needs, she joined the civilian pilot coaching program and signed with WASP in October 1943.

Gilchrist Nemhauser was despatched to Newcastle Army Base in Wilmington, Delaware, the place she transferred plane.

One of their flight fits is on show at the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum on the grounds of the State Capitol in Bismarck.

Smiling senior woman in military uniform

Vivian Gilchrist Nemhauser, whose household lived in Jamestown, North Dakota, is proven October 18, 1997 in her World War II uniform.

Photo courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota

Gretchen Gorman Graba was from Bottineau, North Dakota, the place she graduated from highschool after which attended the University of North Dakota.

After becoming a member of WASP, she was assigned to Love Field in Dallas, Texas, the place she additionally operated plane.

A 1943 article in the Grand Forks Herald states that in 400 hours of flight Gorman Graba had “not a mishap, not an emergency landing, and not a scratch on the aircraft or on the person”.

The WASPs had a mascot, which in hindsight could have been an odd selection.

Fifinella was a Walt Disney-designed feminine gremlin that the WASPs have been allowed to make use of as an emblem on their jackets.

Veselka mentioned that if something went mistaken with their airplane, the pilots would blame the Gremlins.

Eolyne Yvette Nichols was born in Mandan in 1918 however later moved to the Chicago space.

She served two years with WASP as a goal tower, which she summarized in a 1944 interview with the San Antonio Express.

“When you’re towing a target up there, all you can think about is getting away as quickly as possible,” Nichols instructed the newspaper.

smiling woman in flight gear

Eolyne Yvette Nichols, who was born in Mandan, North Dakota, was a part of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II.

Photo courtesy of Barnes County Historical Society Museum

She later turned fluent in Dutch, French and Portuguese and was employed as the Deputy Operations Manager for Iranian Airways.

Kathryn McGilvray was one other WASP member who graduated from Minot State University.

Their job was to move bombers from the factories that constructed them to military airfields, Veselka mentioned.

The journey for Deborah Truax, who hails from Velva and Minot, was a bit completely different than most.

Truax had no flying expertise however was eager to grow to be a pilot, based on 1943 articles in the Bismarck Tribune and the San Francisco Examiner.

She labored as a purse and jewellery purchaser in California by day and studied aviation by night time.

Truax tried to enroll in a flight college, however most have been occupied, coaching younger male pilots.

She discovered a faculty in Arizona that might prepare her to fly and later discovered her option to WASP, the place she ferryed planes from California’s Long Beach Army Airfield, which was close to most main airplane factories, Veselka mentioned.

Many of the WASPs turned their flying expertise into different aviation jobs after the warfare ended.

Joan Whelan Lyle labored as a flight teacher at Minneapolis Airport till September 1943, when she entered the WASP program and labored as a goal tower.

After the warfare, she purchased an Army surplus airplane and have become the director of a flight college at the airport in Pembina, North Dakota, Veselka mentioned.

The WASPs’ work was fraught with hazard, and 38 of them died in the line of responsibility, together with Grand Forks’ Kathryn Lawrence.

According to a 1943 article in the Grand Forks Herald, Lawrence acquired her non-public pilot’s license when she was simply 18 years previous.

The University of North Dakota graduate started WASP coaching in July 1943 at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas.

Just weeks later, on a routine coaching flight there, one thing went mistaken with their airplane.

She jumped off and sadly her parachute did not open, Veselka mentioned.

Years into service, Ailsa Connolly Simonson vented her frustration that WASPs doing harmful work weren’t handled like male pilots after the warfare ended.

In 1974, when she was in her early 50s, based on a narrative in the Valley City Times-Record, she mentioned the army wanted a physique for each kind of fly, they did.

“It’s the discrimination that you see there,” she instructed the newspaper.

smiling older women gathered, some in uniform

In 1996, a gathering of Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) was held in Anaheim, California. Jamestown’s Vivian Gilchrist Nemhauser is seated in the entrance row, third from the proper.

Photo courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota

Originally from Iowa however based mostly close to Crosby, North Dakota, Connolly Simonson flew P-47 jets and B-17 flight forts.

Men acquired their GI advantages whereas WASPs had little greater than their reminiscences.

“We deserved a salute but didn’t receive GI benefits because we weren’t military,” Connolly Simonson instructed the paper, noting that the WASPs’ accomplishments have been waning they usually have been nonetheless attempting to get a invoice by Congress that to ensure that it to be accredited army standing.

About three years after this interview, in 1977, the WASPs have been granted army standing due to laws signed by President Jimmy Carter.

Veselka is at all times on the lookout, scouring archives and web sites for extra tales of North Dakota women who served, together with the WASPs.

“The info is on the market. households are on the market. I do know if I maintain hacking away we’ll discover extra,” she mentioned.

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