It’s a privilege to post about one of the women from my first book, We Fought to Win: American World War II Veterans Share Their Stories.
Margaret Ray Ringenberg served as a WASP (Women’s Air Service Pilots) during World War II. She seemed to be born to be in the air as you will read in the story below.
This spring I’m putting a book together about the women I’ve interviewed who were in the military during WWII. Margaret’s story in a greatly expanded version will be included. I’ll add more details about what the WASPs did during training, the determination it took to counter criticism from family and friends for wanting to serve their country, and after graduation how they helped our country as pilots. I’ve said it before — these were plucky, patriotic gals!
If you like the story, please leave a comment below. If you have read the book, please post a 1-3 sentence review at Amazon. I’d deeply appreciate it.
Thanks to every veteran reading this!
“Don’t quit now!” pleaded 21-year-old Margaret ‘Maggie’ Ray of Hoagland, Indiana. Carefully she steered the Bamboo Bomber through the skies over Washington D.C., easing back on the throttle. Peering out the window at the left engine, she was alarmed when a sudden vibration shook the aircraft. Scanning the instrument panel, she was relieved to see both engines were working, though the left appeared dangerously close to failure.
Below she could see the Potomac River and in the distance the Capitol Building. It was 1944 and Ray was a member of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).
After graduating from Hoagland High School in 1940, Ray had obtained her private pilot’s license. In 1943, she applied to be a WASP and was thrilled to be accepted into the program which took place in Sweetwater, Texas.
Women pilots transported military personnel and supplies stateside. They also tested new aircraft and delivered planes. This allowed male pilots to fly combat missions overseas.
As a WASP, Ray had passed check rides in a PT19, BT13, AT6 and UC78. She earned her instrument rating in a DC3 and co-piloted a B24 and C54. “My favorite plane was anything with wings and a propeller,” she said. “Every day was a new adventure.”
She thrilled in taking new, untested planes from the factories to military bases where they were needed. But flying old planes to the ‘bone yard’ could be nerve-wracking. She had picked up this twin-engine Cessna at Bradley Field in Connecticut. Her assignment was to deliver it to its final resting place in Montgomery, Alabama.
After several minutes of studying the ever-increasing vibration, Ray radioed to the control tower. “I’m going to land it,” she said. She preferred that to bailing out.
“Cleared to land,” she heard as the wheels touched down in a safe landing. Looking out the window, she was horrified to see gas pouring over the left engine. She quickly shut down the engines and exited without mishap.
From 1943-1944 Ray and other WASP flew 60 million miles of operational flights across the U.S. from aircraft factories to ports of embarkation and military training bases. They also towed targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice, simulated strafing missions, and transported cargo.
Despite their skills, the WASPs were considered civilians and thus entitled to no military benefits. By summer 1944 the Allied were sent home seeking pilot positions. With their return Congress disbanded the WASP program.
Not to be put off by the change in status, Ray enlisted in the Reserves, earning the rank of First Lieutenant. She was discharged in 1947.
After the war, Ray gave flying lessons at Smith Field in Fort Wayne where she had learned to fly. She also flew for area businesses.
In 1946 she married Captain Morris Ringenberg of the Army Corps of Engineering. They became parents to two children. Morris Ringenberg died in 2003.
In 2007 Ringenberg was picked during the Gathering of Eagles at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama as one of 16 pilots who attained recognition in the field of aviation.
The following year she was inducted into the International Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame at the Women in Aviation International Conference in San Diego.
In her 70s she completing two world air races. She was awarded a Sagamore of the Wabash and was made a member of The Ninety Nines, Experimental Aircraft Association, Air Race Classic Association, Smith Field Association, and speaker for NASA Distinguished Lecture Series.
Television newscaster Tom Brokaw featured Ringenberg in a chapter of his book, The Greatest Generation. Her life is also chronicled in her autobiography Girls Can’t Be Pilots (Daedalus Press 1998) and a book written by her daughter Marsha J. Wright: Maggie Ray: World War II Air Force Pilot (Pen & Publish 2007). (Excerpts from the latter book were used in the opening of this story)
Ringenberg died of natural causes in 2008 in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin, at its world-famous air show. During her lifetime, she logged more than 40,000 flight hours in hundreds of aircraft.
In her later years Ringenberg attributed much of her success to her father, Albert Ray. “He always said there was nothing too hard for me to accomplish,” she said. “He believed I could do anything I put my mind to, including becoming a pilot.”