|December 14. 2002 6:01AM|
Pioneer female pilot to share
||(ROB C. WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun)|
|Gainesville resident Kaddy Steele will be heard
on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" next
week, discussing her experiences as a World War II pilot
in the Women Airforce Service Pilots program or WASPs.
The program was activated after a shortage of male
pilots left a need for female pilots to carry out
various missions. |
|"The WASPs" at a glance
| n WHAT:|
22-minute radio documentary.
Will air on NPR's "All Things Considered"
The program can be heard in Gainesville on
WUFT-FM from 5 to 6:30
Sun staff writer
Gainesville resident Kaddy Steele served in
the WASPs in World War II.
or some women, it was a chance to join in the
groundswell of patriotism during World War II. Others saw it as a
way to take revenge for husbands or brothers killed by enemy
For Kaddy Landry, a 24-year-old from a tiny Michigan
town near the Canadian border, it was a chance to sit behind the
controls of a top-of-the-line aircraft.
"I knew that never
again in my lifetime would I get an opportunity to fly those
airplanes," she said.
Now married and named Kaddy Steele, the
Gainesville resident was one of 1,074 women who served in the Women
Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) - a wartime program that enlisted
women on the home front to train and aid male pilots who would
eventually fight overseas.
Steele, a UF graduate and former
employee, will be featured in a documentary Wednesday on National
Producer Joe Richman interviewed about 20
former WASPs at their biannual reunion in Tucson, Ariz. He said the
women - now in their 80s and 90s - still get excited talking about
the speed of the planes they flew.
"All of these women are
just strong, kick-ass, powerful women," he said. "Obviously this was
only two years of their life, but it was just a bubble of
Steele learned to fly during her senior year at
Northern Michigan University after she joined the Civilian Pilot
The program, started before World War II,
was meant to encourage young men to join the military. But a woman
challenged the admission requirements in court, and the program was
required to admit one female per 10 males.
Michigan's athletic director recruited Steele, a "tomboy" who loved
to swim and ski, to join the school's CPTP. She also got two hours
of credit for participating.
"I had only seen two planes in
my life, and I was 21 years old," she said. "After the first couple
of rides, I was sold."
Call to duty
Steele took a
teaching job in a small Michigan town after she graduated.
She resigned the day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and took a
high-paying job testing equipment in a defense plant.
early 1943, she received a telegram ordering her to report for pilot
That May, Steele began a year-and-a-half stint with
the program. She and other WASPs ferried planes between bases, broke
in new planes just off the production line, and participated in "war
games" to help train men who would eventually face enemy
"Every pilot that was in World War II didn't fly in
combat. It took 12 to 14 utility pilots to keep one pilot in
combat," she said, adding that the women were not officially
considered part of the U.S. Air Force, and were forced to pay for
their own transportation to training camp and buy their own
Even though the WASPs never faced enemy fire, their
jobs were still dangerous. Thirty-eight women died in accidents,
some caused by engine failure or mid-air collisions, while on active
In an era where women worked as teachers, nurses or
librarians - if they worked outside the home at all - many men found
it degrading to be working alongside a female.
wasn't with the men we worked with every day, who were our age. The
top brass were the ones who didn't want us in there," Steele said.
"They did everything they could to keep us from getting the flying
jobs we would have liked."
The program was deactivated in
December 1944, as men returned from combat to take their
A turning point
For Steele, who had drifted
between schools during her college years, serving as a WASP was a
"It made me realize if I really wanted
something bad enough, I could do it," she said. "I think for all of
us, it was the high point of our life - bigger than going to
college, bigger than getting your first job, bigger than getting
Women didn't fly in the military until 37 years
later. And the former WASPs weren't awarded veteran status until
1978 - too late for many of them to enjoy military insurance
benefits or the GI Bill, which provided higher-education tuition for
In the late 1940s, Steele performed acrobatic
maneuvers with an air show for 2 1/2 years, but she said there were
few civilian pilot jobs for women.
Now retired as an
associate director of UF's Office of Instructional Resources, Steele
still gives speeches about her days as a pilot. And last month, she
got to fly a restored B-25 at a Veterans Day celebration, nearly 60
years after she last piloted one of the aircraft.
dreamed I'd get a chance to do that," she said. "I was very
surprised I remembered that much about it."
can be reached at 374-5095 or firstname.lastname@example.org.