March 12, 2014 - World War II veteran and Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) Elizabeth (Betty Wall) Strohfus visited the EAA Museum on March 7 with a group of University of Wisconsin-Green Bay students who are performing a theater production about the trials and tribulations serving as a WASP.
The tour was meant to be a simple one, but it turned into one of recognition for 94-year-old Strohfus when she saw the EAA Museum's T-6 with a decal including her name.
Knowing that that she flew T-6s during the war, EAA staff affixed a new decal to museum's own with her name. Local news media, UWGB students, and EAA staff made up the small group that gathered around the aircraft as Strohfus climbed on the wing to get a closer look.
"Oh, that's so beautiful. I love it," Strohfus said. When asked by a member of the crowd if the aircraft brought back memories, Strohfus replied, "It sure does."
A program started by famed air racer and pioneering aviator Jacqueline Cochran, the WASP were trained on a wide range of aircraft so they could ferry, test, and deliver them for repair, as well as instruct male pilot cadets, and a variety of other tasks, according to the official website for the U.S. Army.
EAA Member Service Representative Chris Henry, who worked with other EAA staff to organize the special surprise for Strohfus, said most WASP never had their names on their aircraft like the men did because they weren't considered part of the U.S. Army Air Force until 1977.
"Today we thought we'd change that," Henry said.
Born in Faribault, Minnesota, in November 15, 1919, Strohfus was introduced to aviation soon after she graduated from high school by a member of the local all-male Sky Club. She was hooked and borrowed $100 from her local bank for her membership dues and started flight lessons.
Strohfus quickly accumulated hours and saw a posting from the military about jobs for women pilots. She applied and passed her physical - with a few extra pairs of socks to meet the height requirement. In 1943 Strohfus started her training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, and graduated with the first WASP class in 1944, ninth overall.
For the WASP, proving their worth and ability was a task in itself. Strohfus said that it only took a few raids for her to show her male peers what she could do.
"I just wanted to show them that I could handle it in every situation," Strohfus said.
By the time the WASP program was disbanded in December 1944, Strohfus had an impressive list of type ratings and licenses but didn't have much luck pursuing a career in aviation because most airliners simply didn't hire female pilots.
Tyler Miles, UWGB student and actor in the theater production "Censored on Final Approach", said the tour of the museum and meeting Strohfus put things into perspective for him.
"I think the opportunity to experience [this] gives what we do in the play more gravity," Miles said.
Strohfus, who is also a member of the Ninety-Nines and the Commemorative Air Force, expressed gratitude for the surprise recognition.
"It's a pleasure and an honor and I can't tell you how proud I am. God bless you," she said. Strohfus is a 2001 inductee to the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.
Opening night for the Phylis Ravel play, "Censored on Final Approach" was March 7 and Strohfus was in the audience as a special guest.