We’re Headed to Europe for WWII Tour

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Hopefully our trip to Europe will be easier than for these troops on the USS Wakefield!

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My husband and I have decided to complete a huge item on our combined Bucket List of Things to do Together– Take a tour of Europe, based on World War II events.

Yes, there are actual groups who go to Europe just to learn more about what happened during WWII. We’re going with World War II Tours of Europe (worldwar2toursofeurope.com). Our itinerary includes visiting four countries—Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and France. We’ll visit Dachau, Paris, Munich, Eagles’ Nest (Hitler’s retreat), Normandy and others.

With my research and writing about World War II in recent as the result of 160+ interviews with World War II vets, combined with my husband’s lifelong interest in the subject (he knows 10 times more than I do!), we should find it all pretty interesting.

We’re months away and yet it is now all we talk about!

I plan to take thousands of photos and put many of them into a PowerPoint presentation for talks after the tour in June (not all of them of course!).

If you’d like me to talk with your group about our 12-day tour, please contact me. I’m already booking for Veteran’s Day so plan early.

It should be a great presentation with shots of re-enactors on Omaha Beach on D-Day, Paris, a concentration camp, and more!

I’ll post more about the trip in upcoming weeks AND as a bonus, I’ll include snippets of stories from my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans, that pertain to places we’ll visit.

This is from Gene Dettmer who fought with the US Army at Utah Beach on D-Day:

 

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“I saw men who had been blown up,” said Fort Wayne native Eugene Dettmer. “If I had been on the first wave that landed on Utah Beach, I would have been killed.”

Dettmer was part of the landing of Allied soldiers on the three-mile stretch of French land that comprised the westernmost flank of Normandy on June 6, 1944. The invasion’s code name was Operation Overlord. The battle was more commonly known as D-Day.

Dettmer was attached to the Third Army with the 468th AAA Battery C. He was assigned to drive jeeps for officers and half-track 468s, armored anti-aircraft vehicles used heavily by U.S. troops during the war. “Dad had taught me basic auto mechanics so that gave me skills in that area,” he said.

In March 1944 Dettmer and thousands of other young American soldiers had disembarked ships from the US to Scotland, then France. Only told they should prepare for battle, little could they imagine they would be involved in one of the deadliest battles in the history of the world.

Dettmer was one of 20,000 soldiers who landed on Utah Beach on June 18, 1944. An estimated 1,700 motorized vehicles, including half-tracks, were used to fight that day. P51 and P47 aircraft seized beach exits, captured key transportation and communication points and blocked German counterattacks. C47 planes carried wounded soldiers to safety.

American troops were not the only soldiers at Normandy. “British forces shot their cannons and their pilots helped with the airborne assault,” said Dettmer.

Although surrounded by violence and destruction, Allied casualties numbered fewer there (300) than those on nearby Omaha Beach (5,000). “Our timing was off by a day due to weather,” said Dettmer. “That may have confused the Germans, but they still put up a good fight.”

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Please consider purchasing a copy of my book for $15.00. It contains 28 stories of men/women who served at home and abroad from 1941-1945 in American military forces. It’s easy to understand and full of quotes during interviews I did with vets in their homes. You can purchase it at this site or at Amazon for $20.00 (we dropped the price here to thank you for visiting this site!).

Remember to thank a vet today for his/her military service!

Au revoir!

The long, awful march from Stalag Luft IV

Many people have heard of the Bataan Death March. I’ve interviewed two sons of an American Army officer who died as a part of that group. This is a separate Death March that took place in Germany. Sad that so many suffered at the hands of cruel people. May it never happen again! Thank a vet today for his/her service!

WW2: The Big One

stalag luft IV evac                                                                                POWs being evacuated from Stalag Luft IV, early 1945 (Source: http://www.dvrbs.com/camden-heroes/CamdenHeroes-FrankGramenzi.htm)

By George Morris

The sound of an approaching army — especially a mechanized one — is impossible to miss, particularly when it is engaged with its enemy. In January 1945, Allied prisoners of Stalag Luft IV heard the Soviet army driving westward through Poland.

“We could hear the gunfire, the cannons,” said Russell McRae, a Baton Rouge resident. “We could see the flashes at night. We knew we were going to get overrun, and we thought we’d be liberated.”

They would — some of them, anyway. But not for a long time, and not by the Soviets.

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WWII Army Soldier ‘Heard’ Radioactivity from Hiroshima Bomb

Bill Yaney was born on March 7, 1925. To honor his date of birth, I’m highlighting his World War II time of service in this post. I’m glad to say this nice man and his wife were friends of my grandparents when they all lived as neighbors in their country homes.

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For most soldiers of World War II the declaration of surrender by Japan in August 1945 signaled the end of their time of service. For Bill Yaney of Ossian it was the beginning of his military service.

Yaney graduated from Ossian High School (IN) in 1943. He was immediately drafted, but as he helped his father work the family farm, he received an agricultural deferment. As the war progressed, the need for replacement soldiers increased and in April 1945 Yaney was called to active duty.

By then Yaney was married. When he was sent to Camp Robinson at Little Rock, Arkansas, for basic training, his wife Betty, 18, followed. She and another Army wife rented rooms in a house so they could be close to their husbands who were required to stay at the base.

Assigned to the Infantry, Bill was in a field on bivouac (a military encampment exercise) in August 1945 when his company received word that the Japanese emperor had surrendered. “We were 18 miles from camp with 80-pound packs on our backs,” he said. “I was so excited I walked back to camp to celebrate.”

Yaney received a weekend pass but somehow got stuck with KP (kitchen police) duty. He spent the first weekend of America’s release from the 4-year war in the Army kitchen.

The war was officially over as Allies established occupation forces to ensure the Axis powers did not resume fighting.

In fall 1945, Yaney and hundreds of other American soldiers sailed on a ship for Japan. Yaney traveled to Kobi where he boarded an electric train which sped underwater through Hiroshima. “I could hear radioactive activity from the bomb which had been dropped on the city on August 6,” he said.

At Yokohama Yaney performed the duties of a military policeman for 14 months. “My job was to search for weapons hidden by the Japanese,” he said. Wearing a shoulder holster for his .45 semi-automatic pistol, he scouted for mines, swords, guns. “Thankfully, I never found any,” he said.

He also was instructed to guard former Japanese soldiers who were not allowed to take up arms again on conditions of their surrender. “I never believed they’d do us harm,” he said, “but it was frightening.”

It was a long year for Yaney. He didn’t eat much other than Spam which was served often. When snow fell in the winter he felt sorry for the Japanese people. “They didn’t have warm or sanitary living conditions,” he said.

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A year later, Yaney received orders to return home. In November 1946 he was on a ship floating under the Golden Gate Bridge in Oakland, California. By the end of his time of service, he was a Corporal. Souvenirs he brought home included a statue of Buddha, Japanese money, Japanese military knives and a M1 Rifle.

Back in Ossian, Yaney worked at General Electric in Fort Wayne before starting a business, Ossian Ceramic Tile, which he owned for 40 years. He and Betty became parents to four children.

Yaney bore no ill will toward the Japanese. “One of our sons is a missionary near Hiroshima,” he said. “I wish the best for the people of that country.”

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Bill Yaney died on February 1, 2016. He and Betty were married for nearly 71 years.

 

 

Army Soldier Built Radar Unit in the Line of Fire

I read today about the death of another veteran from my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans. Arnold Keuneke served with the US Army in Africa and Europe. He was the first veteran I interviewed who had served in Africa and with radar.

Here are excerpts from his story in my book:

“In February 1942 Keuneke was drafted into the U.S. Army. After completing basic training at Camp Crowder in Joplin, Missouri, Keuneke was sent to Midland Radio School in Kansas City, Missouri and radar school at Camp Murphy in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Drew Field in Tampa.

In January 1943, he and other American troops left on a boat from New York City for the African country of Ouran.

Tech Sergeant Keuneke was attached to the 12th Air Force in the Signal Corps. “We were in charge of maintaining a 588- radar unit,” he said. Radar systems used 300-foot steel masts to emit radio signals. The radar helped Allied pilots receive signals to alert them about enemy aircraft in the area. Located on a hill over the Mediterranean Sea in the South Tibesa desert, the unit operated solely under Keuneke’s expertise.

Part of his tasks required climbing the unit for repairs and working around wiring for bombs. “I had no fear of heights,” he said. “We were careful.”

Keuneke was often in the line of fire on the front line but miraculously always escaped injury. “Those bullets didn’t have my name on them,” he said.

Malaria was a constant threat for the troops in Africa. When Keuneke and his assistant were advised to swallow pills to prevent the dreaded illness, they did so but within hours, Keuneke felt sick. He quit taking the medicine and felt better, never contracting the dreaded disease. Unfortunately, his assistant developed malaria. As there was no hospital around Constantine where they were stationed, the assistant had to endure the illness on his own. Though he survived, he died of malarial symptoms five years after the war.

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From Africa, Keuneke was sent to Pisa and Corsica in Italy. While there, he befriended an Italian family. When he offered candy to their two little boys, the parents begged Keuneke to adopt the boys. “They were so poor and hungry and they thought I could provide a better home for their sons in America,” he said. Keuneke had to refuse the offer but was moved by their plight.

When the war was over, Keuneke, who had served his country for three years, returned to Indiana. He farmed and raised a family while working at Dana Corporation in Fort Wayne as an electrician.”

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Arnold Keuneke was proud of his work while serving as a soldier. Rest in peace Mr. Keuneke and thanks for your service.

I’m proud of all of our vets. Thank a veteran today!

This is 1 of 28 stories in my book which is available for purchase at this site on the home page.

Coast Guard Seaman Sailed on USS Wakefield

James ‘Jim’ Joseph Meyer was my first introduction to a member of the US Coast Guard. It’s hard to find Coast Guard members in the Midwest! I’ve since interviewed two others who served during WWII. I salute all of our branches and thank each vet for his/her service!

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Upon graduating from Central Catholic High School in 1943, Jim Meyer of Fort Wayne enlisted in the US Coast Guard.

He spent 16 weeks in basic training at Brooklyn, NY. Meyer already knew how swim, but the Coast Guard had a special challenge. “We had to swim in water with oil in it to simulate a possible accident at sea,” he said.

At Providence, RI, Meyer learned to shoot rifles, 38-caliber pistols, and 20-mm gun. “We learned how to take apart our gun and reassemble it while blindfolded,” he said.

Meyer was transferred to Portland, ME, where he had lighthouse duty. “We reported ships coming in or going out and planes in the area,” he said.

In late 1943 Meyer boarded a ship, the USS Manhattan. In 1941 the Manhattan had been leased by the US Navy and commissioned as the troopship USS Wakefield. The Wakefield was assigned a Coast Guard crew and became the largest vessel ever operated by the Coast Guard.

Note:  During times of war, the Coast Guard transfers from the Department of Homeland Security to the US Navy.

In 1942, the Wakefield caught fire. It was rebuilt as a troop ship with a crew of 600 including 20 Marines as guards. “Every morning we had general quarters. That meant every seaman manned his guns,” said Meyer. “My duties were with the 20-mm gun. We also washed the decks and painted the ship every time it was in port.”

Seaman 1st class Meyer suffered seasickness on his first trip, but thankfully it never recurred on his 43 other trips across both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Meyer’s first ocean crossing was in 1944 to Liverpool, England. “We hauled 5000-6000 mostly injured Americans troops and German POWs to the US on each trip,” he said.

According to Meyer. German POWs had cleaning duties on the ship. Meyer thought he detected a certain attitude among them.  “The German POWs acted as though our ship would not make it to the US because German forces would destroy us,” he said.

There was a possibility of danger from German subs in the Atlantic. “We zig-zagged during our route so they would not find us,” he said. “We also posted lookouts on the top of the ship to look for torpedoes.”

Despite their status as enemy forces, German POWs were treated civilly. “When a German soldier died at sea aboard our ship, he was given the same funeral ceremony as if an American seaman had died,” said Meyer.

The Wakefield sailed to LeHavre, Marseilles, Pearl Harbor, Panama Canal, Guam and Naples, Italy, China and Japan. Meyer traded for two Japanese rifles which he took home as souvenirs.

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Meyer recalled one time encountering particularly rough weather while at sea. “We were hit by a 50-foot typhoon,” he said. “We lost three guns and life rafts. We were scared because the typhoon raised our ship out of the water several times.”

The storm slowed the ship by two knots, which caused the Wakefield to arrive late in Boston. German forces spread propaganda that the ship had been sunk. Damage to the ship necessitated it be in dry dock for repairs for 30 days. (Listen to Meyer tell about the storm in a live video here.)

Among the 215,000 passengers carried on the Wakefield was at least one Coast Guard member whose name was well-known.

Jack Dempsey had already attained fame as a boxer when he joined the Coast Guard during World War II. In 1944 he was assigned to the transport USS Wakefield. Dempsey remained in the Coast Guard and later joined the Coast Guard Reserve.

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Meyer and other Allied soldiers around the world thrilled to hear the announcement of VE Day (Victory in Europe) on May 8, 1945. That marked the formal acceptance by the Allies of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces. “I was tickled at the thought of going home,” said Meyer. The battle with Japan, marking the official end to the war, concluded on September 2, 1945, when a formal surrender ceremony was held in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri.

However, like many soldiers, Meyer had to await his turn to return to US soil. He had one last momentous event yet to experience before going home.

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On December 26, 1945, Meyer became a member of the Domain of the Golden Dragon. “It is an unofficial award given to crew members of ships which cross the International Date Line,” he said.

In February 1946 Meyer arrived at San Diego and by April 1946 he had earned enough points to be discharged. He married Barbara Gase from Decatur in 1948 and they became parents to two sons. Meyer later worked at Porter Tire Company in Decatur and as a diesel mechanic for Kroger for 37 years. Meyer has participated with Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

He thinks about his time in World War II often via photos, his uniform and other souvenirs from the war. “Somebody had to fight,” he said. “I liked being in the Coast Guard. It gave me the chance to go to a lot of places I’d never hoped to see and meet people from around the world. It was a good experience.”

The End

 

Soldier Fought with Patton’s Third in Battle of the Bulge

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For seven days in December 1944 Allied forces fought with German forces at Bastogne, as part of the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans wanted to control the crossroads and the battle was hard fought. By December 27, Patton’s Third Army arrived and the besieged American forces were relieved.

Beresford Clarke of Fort Wayne, Indiana, spent his 21st birthday fighting the battle. “It was a tough fight,” he said. When Patton’s 3rd Army was relieved by another division, it returned to the town of Wadgassen on the Saar River.

Eight inches of snow didn’t lessen the fighting. For a week Allies hid in buildings, shooting at the enemy stationed behind fortified structures called pillboxes.

Each morning someone from Clarke’s unit drove a jeep back to the rear where Head Quarters was stationed. There the driver picked up food, ammunition, and orders of the day. Enemy snipers hid out in elevated locales, such as church steeples, so it was a risky venture. Clarke was often the jeep driver. “If I drove fast, I had a better chance of escaping!” he said.

Sleeping in foxholes under several inches of snow was the norm. Clarke saw many casualties. “It was difficult seeing people go down,” he said.

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Clarke was born in 1923 in Evansville, IN. He graduated from Reitz High School in 1941 and completed two years as a mechanical engineering student at Purdue University when he enlisted in the US Army in 1943. “Every male who was my age would be drafted if not enlisted,” he said. “I could not swim so I didn’t want to go into the Navy.”

Clarke completed basic training at Fort Eustis, VA. “We trained on 120-mm antiaircraft guns, which were large cannons,” he said. “We also worked with rifles.”

After basic training, Clarke was sent to Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) in Burlington, Vermont, for two months. It was a short-lived program based on the premise that the war might outlast the available number of college trained men needed to provide technical information. High school graduates who had tested at a certain level of intelligence were set aside for this program. By early 1944, the program was disbanded and the men re-assigned.

Clarke was assigned to the 26th Division, 328th Infantry anti-tank unit of Patton’s 3rd Army. After training in Columbus, SC, Clarke boarded a ship in New York City for Europe.

By now, it was early July 1944. The infamous invasion on Utah Beach at Normandy had occurred a few weeks earlier so Clarke and other troops went over the side of their LCI at Normandy with no opposition, though there was some trepidation. “The beach supposedly had routes cleared for mines which the Germans had put there,” said Clarke. “We hoped they got them all.”

Clarke’s unit camped in the fields of Normandy where cattle roamed and joined the fight in the liberation of the nearby town of St Lo. The city had already suffered an extensive attack by American troops during the Battle of Normandy. The city was bombed again by Germans in July. Gaining St. Lo would give Allied forces access to the opening of the Falaise Gap, a foothold to expel German forces from northern France.

Once St. Lo was secure, Allied troops proceeded along the Saar River in northeastern France. Clarke was driving a jeep with his platoon commander and a sergeant sat in the back seat using a 50-cal machine gun. Other soldiers walked along the road when Clarke saw one soldier take a direct hit. “His body was splattered across the road,” he said. “I vomited and my platoon leader did, too, but we kept going.”

 

The 3rd Army’s objective was to stop the German tanks. “There was a lot of fire from German tanks,” he said. “When their 88s came at us, they went by you or through you.”

The battle was made more difficult by the fact that the Allies often didn’t know their way. “The Germans reversed road signs so we could not depend on the signs to tell us where to go,” said Clarke. “Our military didn’t have good maps of Germany when the war started so we used some from National Geographic.”

At Metz, a city in northeastern France soldiers bunked down for the night, but were awakened and told to prepare to leave. Some troops boarded trucks while others prepared to walk to the small Belgian town of Bastogne. “We walked for two days in snow,” said Clarke.

During the spring of 1945, Allies prevailed along the Saar River, taking over towns along the way. “We told the Burgermeister (mayor) in each that they must hand over all weapons and all uniformed soldiers must surrender,” said Clarke.

In one village the Allies smelled something strange. Upon being questioned, one Burgermeister admitted to working with a Jewish concentration camp in the area. “We saw stacks of bodies,” said Clarke. “I couldn’t believe anyone could do what Hitler did and that other people could follow him.” The 3rd Army liberated the camp and left other Americans in charge.

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That was not the end of surprises. As the 3rd Army bedded in a nearby hay loft, soldiers felt lumps under the straw. When they pulled out parts of a Messerschmitt Bf 109, a German fighter aircraft, they discovered the barn was part of an underground aircraft assembly plant. Again, members of the Third Army remained behind to control the discovery while others proceeded through the area.

Clarke was at Hitler’s birth place in Linz, Austria, on May 8, 1945, when he heard the war was over (May 8/ VE Day). That was when Clarke’s real work began.

Having worked in a camera store before the war, he had applied to join the Signal Corps at the beginning of the war, but was not accepted.

After VE Day, the Army confiscated hundreds of rolls of film soldiers had shot during the war. Clarke’s interest in photography was honed when he received orders to join the 165th Signal Corps in May 1945.

Since the Civil War when it was first organized, the US Army Signal Corps had developed, tested and managed communications support for the command and control of combined arms forces.

While stationed in Czechoslovakia, Clarke and another soldier set up a dark room with chemicals and an enlarger. “Our job was to develop photos from 500 rolls of film,” said Clarke. The signal corps had been made up of men, mostly middle-aged, with experience in photography, even some from Hollywood. Clarke also shot photos of troops awaiting discharge.

When Clarke received his discharge a few months later, he was shipped from Marseilles, France, to the East Coast of the US, then Camp Atterbury in Indiana where he was discharged at the rank of T5 corporal. He returned home with several items from the war, including a German flag, German daggers, rifles, shotgun, pistol, knives.

Clarke graduated from Purdue in 1948 as a mechanical engineer. He worked in Fort Wayne. In 1953 he married and he and wife Lucy became parents to three children.

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Clarke and family members have returned to Europe to trace his path as a soldier during World War II. Clarke participated in the Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana in 2013.

“It was an amazing experience to be a soldier during World War II,” said Clarke. “It was scary and challenging to watch those poor people being released from prison camps. I made it through the war without injuries. I feel very fortunate.”

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This article first appeared in News-Sentinel.

Beresford Clarke died 10/23/15. I feel privileged to have had the chance to meet and interview him. Stories like this are available in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans which can be purchased on this site’s home page and Amazon.

Please thank a veteran today!

This WASP Couldn’t Wait to Fly

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Mary Anna (‘Marty’) Martin Wyall – WASP

One benefit of interviewing World War II veterans is the opportunity to develop friendships. My husband and I consider Marty Wyall a friend. Below is a shortened version of her story from my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans. You can hear Marty speak about her World War II experiences here. She’s still a spunky gal!

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Mary Anna (‘Marty’) Martin Wyall of Fort Wayne learned about the WASP program from a magazine ad while studying bacteriology at DePauw University in 1942. The idea of flying intrigued her. “There was a war on and I wanted to help my country,” she said.

Her family was not keen on the idea. “Mother thought it was morally wrong for me to join the WASP,” she said. “She came from the Victorian era. I told her she would have to accept it because if I was accepted, I planned to work hard.”

Each WASP was required to have 35 hours of flying before joining the program. Wyall paid for her private flying lessons after graduating from DePauw and while working in the serology lab at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis.

Among the 25,000 applicants for the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) during WWII, Wyall, who lived in Indianapolis at the time, was one of 1,830 women accepted and one of only 1,074 who completed the program.

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Pictures of Fifinella, a female gremlin designed by Walt Disney to depict the WASP.

After being accepted in May 1944, Wyall traveled at her own expense to Avenger Air Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where the WASP trained. Since the WASP program was not recognized by Congress as part of the military, female recruits paid for their own training, uniforms, room and board. “People kept telling us we were in the military,” said Wyall. “Until Congress passed a bill saying we were in the military, we were not afforded benefits.”

Each WASP learned military protocol and procedures. They also were taught to fly a PT17, Stearman open cockpit, BT13 and AT6. “The AT6 was wonderful because it had a canopy,” said Wyall. “When I flew the Stearman, the wind whipped the scarf across my helmet and goggles.”

The training was nearly identical to what male pilots had completed, including learning to fly in inclement weather and at night. Before earning their wings, each woman completed a 2,000-mile solo cross-country flight.

Wyall’s class graduated December 7, 1944. Two weeks later, the program abruptly closed. “Some people believed the war would be over soon,” she said. Today, you can visit the WASP Museum at Sweetwater.

Male pilots who had flown dozens of overseas combat missions arrived home, ready to resume their flying assignments. The WASP, the nation’s first group of skilled female pilots trained to fly American military aircraft, was sent home, all paying their own way.

Back in Indiana, Martin flew as a commercial pilot for businesses. In 1946 she married Eugene Wyall and they became parents to five children. Eugene died in 1993.

The efforts of the WASP went unnoticed until 1977 when President Jimmy Carter signed a law stating they could be recognized as veterans of WWII.

In March 10, 2010, Wyall and the other WASP were awarded Congressional Gold Medals for their service at the Capitol in Washington D.C.

 

In 2010 the Indiana State Museum organized an exhibition of Wyall’s military experiences. The exhibit highlighted Wyall’s training and involvement as a WASP and featured her military effects and Congressional Gold Medal which she loaned to the museum. The museum also provided some photos of Wyall for my book.

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“We WASP didn’t care about the pay or recognition,” said Wyall. “We just wanted to help our country win the war.”

Thank a vet today for his/her service!