Unsung Hero: Charlestown Resident Polly White Flew Hundreds of WWII Missions

CATONSVILLE, MD (July 11, 2014) - Charlestown retirement community resident Polly White flew hundreds of WWII missions as a Women's Airforce Service Pilot. She today is among a small group of unsung women heroes whose aviation skills helped the United States win the war. White served as a flight instructor and a tow-target pilot for gunnery training. She was also an engineering flight test pilot and she flew radio-controlled planes. Less than 100 of the nearly 1,100 original Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) remain. "I always wanted to fly," said White, who just returned from a reunion of her WASP squadron in Sweetwater, Texas, where she trained. Seventeen members of her squadron attended. Half of her squadron's 150 members failed to complete the intense WASP training.  "They washed out," said White. White flew ATG training aircraft and P40 fighter planes along the west coast of Texas. She averaged four flights daily from 1943-1944.  Her dedication to mission paralleled her resolve to serve her country at a time when women were normally far removed from direct combat support operations. White, a native of Boston who worked as a secretary in Washington, D.C., in 1942,  found out about the WASP program at a luncheon in New Hampshire with her mother and an editor of Flying Magazine. She immediately arranged for a meeting in the nation's capital with Jacqueline Cochrane, who headed the WASP program. "I didn't let any grass grow under my feet," she said. So much so that she quickly learned to fly at Lacoma Airport in New Hampshire after being told by Cohrane that she would need 35 hours of flying experience in order to qualify for the WASP program. "We were treated as officers," she said, proudly displaying her uniform 'Wings' and her Congressional Gold Medal - the highest honor  a civilian can receive from the U.S. Government. 'I did whatever I could to help my country." As a WASP she earned $150 per month while in training, and $250 per month after graduation. She paid for her own uniform, lodging, and personal travel to and from home. She was hired under the U.S. Civil Service. Her piloting skills were severely tested when a hurricane hit during the time she was stationed in Victoria, Texas, and she had to move aircraft out of the storm's path. "I flew planes in a hurry to Dallas," she said, "without any charts to follow. That was rough." In 1944, just as the bill to militarize the WASP went before Congress, the need for pilots decreased. The decision was made to deactivate the WASP, and the program formally ended on December 20, 1944 This amazing experiment using women pilots during wartime seemed destined to be forgotten. Then, in the mid-1970s, the U.S. Navy announced that, for the first time in history, women would be permitted to fly military planes. The WASP finally gained their belated militarization from Congress in 1977. In 2010, the surviving WASP  - including White -- were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress. "I did my job well," she said.