By Wendell Barnhouse
The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) debuted its newest educational program, CAF RISE ABOVE: WASP, at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on July 27. This new chapter in its RISE ABOVE educational initiative will tell the story and honor the legacy of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP).
This will be the second RISE ABOVE program for the CAF. The first program, CAF RISE ABOVE: Red Tail, launched in 2011. It tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black fighter pilots, to convey an inspirational message of “rise above.” With both programs running, the CAF has set a goal for this National Education Program to reach one million people each year. The outreach will utilize a new distribution system of the CAF Unit locations that are currently stationed in 24 states with the eventual goal of at least one unit in all 50 states.
At the press conference announcing the debut Heather Penney, the National WASP Program Chair for CAF RISE ABOVE: WASP said, “The WASP are the spiritual grandmothers, Sharing their story will encourage the next generation of female aviators and inspire all to rise above their own personal challenges and achieve success.”
Four of those “spiritual grandmothers” attended the weeklong event – Marty Wyall, Shutzy Reynolds, Shirley Kruse and Dawn Seymour. Throughout the week, the four WASP received a warm welcome and fanfare wherever as they toured the show, there was a constant request for photos and autographs.“I had to stop walking with my mom because of all the people stopping us to take photos,” said Marty Wyall’s son John. “It’s like being with a rock star.”
One of the highlights involved Marty Wyall and Shutzy Reynolds, both in their 90s, experiencing a flight in the CAF’s B-29 Superfortress FIFI. The B-29 was one of the planes Reynolds piloted with the WASP. The passengers also included Penney and CAF Vice President of Education Bill Shepard and CAF Vice President of Development RozeLyn Beck.“Marty, Shutzy and Heather were seated right behind the pilots,” Beck said. “The grins on those two ladies’ faces could light up the sky. It was very obvious that being back in a war plane and back in the sky, that was their element.”
The four WASP were a part of many interviews and presentations at AirVenture, including the popular Warbirds In Review. That public interview session, which included WWII Ace Bud Anderson and aviation legend Dick Rutan plus the WASP was a joy for all to see.
Not officially recognized for their WWII efforts until 1977, the WASP program continues to receive well-deserved attention and acknowledgement. The organization was given the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009 and recently approval was given to be buried in Arlington Cemetery. “I have always been in awe of these women for basically ignoring everyone who told them they ‘couldn’t’ or they ‘shouldn’t’ do what they wanted; which was fly airplanes to help serve our country,” CAF Vice President of Marketing Leah Block said. “I think it takes a lot of courage to stand up to people and just follow what your heart tells you to do. I am especially grateful for these women for attending events like this to share their story, airshows are long days and they are in constant demand for attention by the public. We are very lucky they are able and willing to graciously share their time.”
“I think the WASP program is going to be an excellent addition to the CAF. We’ve seen with the RISE ABOVE: Red Tail and with some of our aircraft like the D-Day C-47 That’s All, Brother, the history and stories of real people told in an engaging way really resonate with a broad audience. Because they are relatable stories of humanity, not just aviation, and I think those types of stories are going to allow the CAF to welcome an audience which may not otherwise engage with a military aircraft organization.” At a special VIP reception held during EAA AirVenture, CAF president Stephan C. Brown emphasized that the CAF has an opportunity to impact the young people of this generation by “telling stories of the Greatest Generation.”
How you can contribute
The fund raising goal for CAF RISE ABOVE: WASP is $1 million. Financial contributions of any size are welcome and can be made on the website at www.cafriseabovewasp.org. The CAF is also looking for people to sign-up to be champions of the program to help get the word out to women’s empowerment groups, the aviation community and educational organizations that may have an interest in being involved or sending out information to its members.Individuals or businesses interested in supporting this project can donate on-line at www.RiseAboveWASP.org or contact CAF Vice President of Development RozeLyn Beck at (214) 330-1700, ext.103 or email@example.com.