Jocelyn Moore Evernham



Jocelyn Moore Evernham, 91 pilot during WWII

By Dwight Daniels

August 1, 2003

Jocelyn Moore Evernham was already taking flying lessons when a wartime newspaper advertisement caught her eye.  In 1942, after having been a Red Cross nurse's aide at Mercy Hospital in San Diego, she moved to Fort Worth, Texas. The United States was embroiled in World War II, and the Army was looking for a few good women to fly airplanes. The idea hadn't been tried before, but male pilots were scarce. Most had already joined the war effort.

Mrs. Evernham immediately signed up, one of more than 25,000 women who applied for the experimental program. A few months later, she became one of 1,830 who were accepted (though 1,074 eventually received wings). Mrs. Evernham's orders were to join a 1943 class at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas.

After six months of intensive pilot training, Mrs. Evernham earned her Women Airforce Service Pilots wings and reported to Gardner Field in Taft, Calif. Mrs. Evernham, of Rancho Bernardo, who proudly ferried planes throughout the country, transported military personnel and conducted test flights, died from complications of cancer last week in Rancho Bernardo. She was 91. Among the aircraft she flew were the PT-19, BT-13, AT-6 and UC-78 logging about 200 flight hours.

The job could be dangerous. On one flight to Twentynine Palms, she landed a small Ryan trainer for the first time, coming in a little too fast, she said in a 1987 San Diego Union interview. "I didn't realize how speedy it was," she said. "I landed so fast and taxied so fast that I saw I was about to run into another plane landing ahead of me. A plane with an open canopy. I swerved." The plane came so close to the other aircraft that its right wing brushed the hair of the male pilot sitting inside. "A couple of inches lower and the wing would have cut off his head," she said. Evernham got a stern rebuke from base brass, but she wasn't grounded.

Soon, she was off to an airfield in Yuma, Ariz., to report for training in the B-26C. Eventually, she towed targets in the B-26C for a gunnery school, and completed 66 hours of time in the airplane. Female pilots made do with what they had, sometimes wearing men's flight suits too large for them. "We'd wrap them around and use safety pins," she said. "We proved that women are very good pilots. They could do anything the men could do." On Dec. 20, 1944, when the WASPs were deactivated, Mrs. Evernham returned to El Cajon and gave up flying. She worked for the San Diego Unified School District until she met Clark C. Evernham. They married in 1948.

Mrs. Evernham was born in Pittsford, N.Y., in 1912, and lived in the state until she was 14. Her family moved to Baltimore, where she graduated from Girl's Latin High School in 1929. She held a museum education job in Buffalo, and later served as director of education for the Boston Children's Museum. Mrs. Evernham had two children, Charles and Lorraine. Her husband, Clark, was the director of the San Diego Museum of Man for 23 years. He died in 1971. Mrs. Evernham traveled extensively throughout South America and Europe.

She worked for the San Diego County Library system for four years, creating popular shadow puppet shows for children. The WASPs, disbanded as the war wound down and male pilots began returning to the states, received no real recognition. Finally, in 1997, Congress extended veterans' status and benefits to the women. "Better late than never," Mrs. Evernham told the Union-Tribune last year. She moved to Julian in 1983 to live on a ranch. In 1987, she moved to Colorado before returning to San Diego three years ago to live with her daughter, who had become a pilot. The two went flying together frequently.  For her 90th birthday, Mrs. Evernham flew her "dream ship," the AT-6 Texan, the advanced trainer she had piloted during World War II.

Mrs. Evernham was an active member of aviation organizations and made presentations about her flying experiences during World War II at air shows, civic events and schools. Her life story is part of the National Veterans' Oral History Project, which videotaped an interview for the National Archives. Last year, she began writing a book, tentatively titled "Finding My Wings," about her experiences as a WASP. It is to be completed by her daughter. Private services will be held.

Mrs. Evernham is survived by her daughter, Lorraine of Rancho Bernardo; son, Charles S. Evernham of Gunnison, Colo.; and one grandson.

posted August 4, 2003 as reprinted from the San Diego Union Tribune