Last month we told you the story of Betty Jane Williams, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II – the WASPs. She and her fellow WASPs were being honored on Veterans Day. Williams passed away on Monday. Here's more from her conversation last month with KPCC's Brian Watt.
Betty Jane Williams: There were a little over a thousand of us, and our mission was to fly stateside to release men so they could go to combat, because we needed pilots badly.
And it turned out to be one of the most successful pilot programs in aviation history, proving that women can indeed – especially when you love what you're doing, that's the key!
And we all loved flying – you couldn't buy that kind of time no matter what you were doing. We flew 77 different types of aircraft, everything from the smallest to the largest. We delivered 12,650 aircraft – that's a lot of airplanes!
Brian Watt: And when you say delivered that means they needed–
Williams: –picked them up from the factories and ferried them to points of debarkation or to using squadrons. But we didn't only do that.
We tested the aircraft, we towed targets for raw recruits on the ground to use live ammunition to practice firing at a moving target – checked out every type of aircraft. There were 38 of our gals killed, made the supreme sacrifice.
Watt: Of the 38 who were killed, what were some of the ways that some of them passed on?
Williams: Could be many things – the aircraft was faulty, they were maybe a co-pilot and the plane went down, so down they went too.
Watt: And this would be over the U.S. territory.
Williams: That's right, right right right.
Watt: So while testing the planes, for example –
Williams: Our safety record was just as good as the guys'. But accidents do happen.
Watt: What did you do once you were done with the WASP program?
Williams: I never stepped out of aviation. I was a commercial pilot and flight instructor. I produced the first aviation television show in the United States, in 1947, in black and white. Once the Air Force became a separate service, we were given direct commissions in the reserves.
I was called back to active duty during the Korean War, not as a pilot, but in TV. One other woman and myself, and 98 guys, started television in the Air Force during the Korean War.
Shirley Jahad: That's Betty Jane Williams, a member of the World War II WASPs – the Women Airforce Service Pilots. She died on Monday at the age of 89 of complications from a stroke.
Another of her achievements was helping persuade Congress in 1977 to finally grant the WASPs full veteran status. In her conversation with Brian Watt last month, Williams said all of the struggles she endured were well worth it.
Williams: Well, when you're doing what you love doing, it's easy. When you can do something you love doing for your country, there's nothing better than that.