Female pilot recalls groundbreaking work as WASP during World War II

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Sitting in the pilot's seat of a C-130 cockpit here, Florence Shutsy Reynolds, 91, looked right at home as she beamed a smile at the airstrip in front of her.

Reynolds, a former member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots corps during World War II, was visiting the 123rd Airlift Wing March 22 in celebration of Women's History Month.

"It truly is my honor and pleasure to have you here at our base to represent women pilots," said Col. Barry Gorter, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, after presenting Reynolds with a certificate declaring her Honorary Wing Commander for the day. "You are one of many of the brave women who performed a dangerous mission and did a job that many people felt, at the time, women shouldn't be doing. You have helped pave the way for women in our services today."

Indeed, not much is written or spoken about the WASP program. Its primary focus was to reassign the responsibility for flight operations over the United States from male to female pilots, freeing the men to go to war. Because some military leaders believed that women pilots would damage the reputation of the male-dominated military, however, the program was quickly disbanded and brushed aside when the war ended, Reynolds said.

"It was a time when women were not even encouraged to go to work, let alone fly airplanes," she explained. "We trained hard, flew dangerous assignments and we lost pilots in our group. All of which the military tried to cover up and put away when the war ended."

Trying to get the word out about the WASP program and the contributions that she and her fellow WASP veterans made is one of the reasons Reynolds accepted the invitation to celebrate National Women's History Month with the Kentucky Air Guard.

"I was very excited to be invited to the base to share my story of the WASP program," said the aviator, dressed in a replica WASP uniform that she wears when touring to promote her fellow flyers. (Her original uniform is in a museum.) "It is always wonderful to meet other pilots and, most of all, other women who have the opportunity to fly."

During her honorary day as wing commander, Reynolds toured the base, got an extensive look inside a C-130, ate lunch with wing members and gave a lecture about the WASP program.

After posing for pictures with many Air Guard members and swapping pilot stories, the Pennsylvania native traveled to the Kentucky State Fairgrounds to serve as the keynote speaker for the annual Kentucky Airman and Soldier of the Year Banquet.

"She truly is an inspiration to all of us," said Staff Sgt. Shelby Basham, a member of the Kentucky Air Guard's Fatality Search and Recovery Team. "Her determination in traveling the country, telling her story of the WASP program and doing what she did at a time where many didn't believe in her is truly amazing."

Equally amazed was Reynolds herself.

"To see the women here who are trained and who fly as equals is very gratifying," Reynolds said, wiping tears from her eyes. "My message to them is to keep dreaming. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something, and always fly as high as you can."