Ferrying Wings of War

By Fred Brown, © 2010

MARYVILLE, Tenn.–With the winds of war blowing across America, the military turned to a group of groundbreaking women to ferry the wings of war to their last destinations before heading overseas for aerial combat duty.

They were WAFS–the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron of World War II. There were only 27 in the beginning, who became known as “The Originals.” Later they merged into the Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASPS.

Gertrude LaValley, 90, Maryville, is one of The Originals who joined about 200 other women aviators of World War II to be recognized earlier in 2010 by Congress in a Washington ceremony.

The WAFS, with only three of the 27 known to be alive today, and the WASPS, received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress.

LaValley and the other female veterans received a bronze individual medal since the Gold Medal is for display at the Smithsonian Museum in honor of all the women pilots of World War II.

LaValley was born in Boston, Mass., but grew up in Marblehead and Winchester where she graduated from high school in 1938.

As a child, she remembers running to a window in her home to listen to thunder of the airplanes flying low over her home.

“It was just exciting,” she says from a conference room at Sterling House of Maryville, assisted living for seniors, where her son and daughter-in-law live.

“Women didn’t get to fly back then,” she says.

After high school, LaValley took flying lessons for $7 per hour. She quickly moved through all the license requirements and soon was teaching others to fly.

That’s when she drew the notice of Nancy Love, first commander of the WAFS, which was a part of the Ferrying Division of the Air Transport Command of the U.S. Army.

At first LaValley transported trainer aircraft to fields in Oklahoma and Texas. But after more training in California, LaValley began transporting high-powered bombers and fighters.

“The P-47 (Thunderbolt) was my baby,” says LaValley with a spry laugh. “It was just so easy to fly. It was fun.”

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About tennwriter

FRED BROWN is a retired Senior Writer for The Knoxville News-Sentinel. He has been a journalist for 45 years and is a member of the Scripps Howard Hall of Fame. He is a recipient of the Malcolm Law Trophy for Feature Writing and in 1983 he was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in Journalism to study at the University of Michigan. He has published both fiction and nonfiction. Brown has a B. A. Degree in English Literature from Presbyterian College. Other highlights of his career include: Books and Stories Authored: Marking Time: East Tennessee Historical Markers and the Stories Behind Them, published by The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tenn. 2005. Discovering October Roads: Fall Colors and Geology in Rural East Tennessee, published by The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tenn., 2001. Co-authored with Harry Moore. The Serpent Handlers: Three Families and Their Faith, published by John F. Blair Publishers, Winston-Salem, N.C., May, 2000. Co-authored with his wife, Jeanne McDonald. Growing Up Southern: How the South Shapes Writers, published by Emerald House/Blue Ridge Publishing, Fall, 1997. Co-authored with his wife, Jeanne McDonald "We Can Eat Sparrows," New Millennium Writings, Vol. 1, Issue 2, Fall & Winter, 1996. "The Devil's Roost," Voices From the Valley, Knoxville Writer's Guild anthology, 1994. Snake-Handling Believers, 2 chapters in book by Dr. Thomas Burton, University of Tennessee Press, 1993. History of Commission on Religion in Appalachia, 1992-93. "Seniors: Telling Tales to Life's Upperclassmen," Storytelling Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 4, fall 1992. Coker Creek, Crossroads to History, history of a mountain community and its people near Tennessee-Georgia border, 1991. "Character Building," Storytelling Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 4, fall 1991. The Faces of East Tennessee, a history of East Tennessee Counties, 1990. "Tillman Cadle, Memories of the Coalfields," Now and Then, The Appalachian Magazine, Center for Appalachian Studies, East Tennessee State University, Vol. 7, No. 7, fall 1990. Trader Jon, a biography; Castle Books, Memphis, 1986. "Mining Reform," Sierra, Vol. 71, No. 5, September/October 1986.
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