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Patience and Renewal

It was a relatively slow week with a lot of introspection for me. A bit of a catch-up week, while trying to ease into spring, which is reluctant at best this year! As I enter into a phase of renewal, the planet is doing the same. Both of us doing it very slowly! I have been reading the book Keep Going, the Art of Perseverance by a favorite author, Joseph Marshall. It is inspirational and right on point. I highly recommend it.

They Roared is moving forward, but also slowly. I have learned so much about process, patience, and even a little about writing during this time! We estimate another three to four weeks before it is circulating. I wanted to share one of the characters from that book with you today. Every time I go back over this work, I am awed anew by the courage, bravery, and hutzpah they possessed! I was also delighted by Margaret Phelan’s love of reading!

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from They Roared.

Margaret Phelan was born on September 20, 1923, in Emmetsburg, Iowa, to Budd and Mary Phelan. The family lived on a small farm in a pioneer log cabin. Margaret learned to read when she was very young and became a voracious reader. She tells the story that in her young life she had read every single book on the children’s shelf at her local public library. At that point, she cajoled her mother into surreptitiously checking out adult fiction for her. Determination even at a very young age! Of all the passions Margaret displayed, none was more special than her gift for reading. She shared it with others all her life and continues to inspire us all today. “My real specialty is reading. I have been a bookworm all my life, and I am still at it. Three or four books a week. I hope my eyes will hold to the end.”

Margaret graduated from St. Mary’s Academy in Emmetsburg in 1940. She then attended Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa, for two years, before going to Burbank, California, where she worked as a designer at a defense plant, for Vega Aircraft Corporation. She was young, full of dreams, and ready for life to be an adventure. Life magazine covered a story on female pilots which caught her eye. Her brother was training to be a pilot with the Army. Why not her? Margaret asked her father to lend her money for a pilot’s license — “Five hundred dollars was a huge amount. I told him I had to do it. And so, he let me have the money. I don’t think I ever did pay it back to him, either.”

But there was a problem. When Margaret arrived at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where the WASP trained, she was half an inch shorter than the five-foot two-inch inch requirement! “I just stood on my tiptoes. Well, there were a lot of other short ones just like me, and we laughed about how we got in.”

Each WASP was required to have a pilot’s license before her application would even be considered. The basic training was essentially the same as that for aviation cadets, but did not include gunnery training and had very little formation flying or aerobatics. The women towed targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice, simulated strafing missions, and transported cargo. In these roles, the WASP flew almost every type of aircraft flown by the USAAF during World War II. In addition, a few exceptionally qualified women were allowed to test rocket-propelled planes, pilot jet-propelled planes, and work with radar-controlled targets. Although constantly concerned about “washing out,” the percentage of women trainees eliminated compared favorably with the elimination rates for male cadets in the Central Flying Training Command.

Margaret was ferrying an aircraft cross country, somewhere between Arizona and California, when she noticed smoke in the cockpit. Never a good sign she thought. She had been well-trained to bail out if anything went wrong. She knew exactly what to do. The caveat here was that her parachute was way too big for her. They were fitted to the male pilots, who, in most cases, were big strapping guys! “They weren’t fitted to us,” she says. “The force of that air and that speed and everything. Why, that just rips stuff off you. You’d slip right out.” Not a good choice either! She faced a scary and defining moment. “I thought, you know what? I’m not going until I see the flame. When I see actual fire, why, then I’ll jump.” The problem was a burned-out instrument. There never was a flame, and she lived to fly again. When asked later if she had been scared, she replied, “No, I was never scared.”


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