Fort Sill observes Women's History Month
March 24, 2011
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Approaching a small airstrip to land just south of Seattle, Elizabeth Lundin realized she was flying too fast so she tried turning her single-engine airplane around to fly around the airfield. However, the plane was low and tree tops looked as if they were quickly approaching the Grumman American AA-1. Seeing she wasn't going to clear the trees, Lundin did what she was taught.
"I went through them," said Lundin. "That's what you do. You put your head down and just fly through it."
With branches ripping both wings, an emergency locator transmitter screaming in her ears and her passenger son, age 10, yelling, "We're gonna die!" Lundin continued to fly the damaged plane until she could land.
Lundin received more comments about what a wonderful pilot she was from that one landing in 1982, than she ever did from all her previous normal landings.
"You get judged by how you handle things in an emergency," said Lundin.
Now the director of development for the Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots at Will Rogers Airport, Lundin was the guest speaker at the Fort Sill Women's History Month luncheon March 17 at the Patriot Club.
She spoke about women pioneers in aviation before about 500 people at the annual commemorative luncheon. Reynolds Army Community Hospital co-sponsored the event with the Fort Sill Equal Employment Opportunity Office. Maj. Gen. David Halverson, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, hosted the 90-minute program.
This year's theme is "Our History is Our Strength," said Capt. Ebony Stubbs, RACH chief of patient administration and mistress of ceremonies.
"This theme pays tribute to the millions of women who have taken action to help create a better world for the times in which they lived as well as future generations," Stubbs said.
In 1911, Harriet Quimby became the first woman to earn a pilot's license in the United States, however, the next year she was killed in an airplane accident, Lundin said. Quimby and her passenger fell out of her airplane during a demonstration over Boston Harbor, Lundin said. Planes back then didn't have seatbelts and the aircraft were very unstable.
Bessie Coleman was the first black American to earn a pilot's license. She was the 13th child of a sharecropper family. She had to go to France to learn to fly because no U.S. flight schools would accept her, Lundin said.
Coleman became famous for flying in air shows, but she, too, was killed in a crash in 1926, Lundin said.
In 1926, the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots was formed. All 117 licensed women pilots were invited to join; 99 did, said Lundin, a former director for the group. One of its charter members was Amelia Earhart.
The first woman combat pilot was Sabiha Gokcen, who flew missions with the Turkish Army air unit in 1937, Lundin said.
"World War II was the most instrumental in advancing women not only in aviation, but other areas as well," Lundin said.
The Soviet Union had many women pilots during World War II, Lundin said. One unit of women bomber pilots used antiquated biplanes in night missions to drop bombs by hand on German ground troops.
The Germans were terrified of them and referred to them as "Night Witches," Lundin said.
In the United States, women transported military aircraft as part of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, or WAFS, which would evolve into the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), Lundin said.
Later in the war, two of the best WASP pilots flew a B-29 Superfortress to visit U.S. Army airfields.
The B-29 had a reputation as being a "widow maker," but to prove its airworthiness the Army had WASP pilots tour in it to show that "even a woman could fly it," Lundin said.
The U.S. women's manufacturing workforce of World War II had many women earning their own money and managing lives for the first time, Lundin.
"Sorry guys the genie was out of the bottle," she said.
In 1962, NASA tested 13 women to see if they could be astronauts. One of the women, pilot Jerri Cobb did as well or better than the men on some of the tests, Lundin said.
The male astronauts objected to having women astronauts and the program was canceled, she said.
It was 20 years later, when astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space, she said.
In conclusion, Lundin said history is strength and inspiration.
"As we look at women in the past, under intense pressure and unbelievable obstacles, do you realize how far we have come and how the women in history have helped to get us here'" she said. "Never forget their sacrifices and all their hard work. Always be thankful for them and strive to do more."
Halverson thanked Lundin and mentioned some prominant women who have come through Fort Sill.
Gen. Ann Dunwoody, the first woman four-star general in the military, attended Officer Candidate School here and Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown is a leader in the Fires community, he said.
And, there are women commanders and command sergeants major at Fort Sill.
"The sacrifices that have come before are very important for us in how we will lead ourselves in the future, so it's a great honor for us all to take a reflective day and month to see the great accomplishments that ladies and women have done," he said.
Numerous women and men attended the observance. Command Sgt. Maj. Nichelle Fails, 95th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception) CSM, said she "attends every luncheon affiliated with trailblazers." She said she received inspiration from the presentation.
"Through determination, motivation and dedication -- you can do what you want to do, and you can be who you want to be," Fails said. "It was an exceptional program."