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Meet Barry Smith (wasp) WWII "first" Female Pilot

Today I meet Barry Smith... and I was amazed.

Barry Smith (wasp) WWII Female Pilot

Age 91, and still full of vigor and life.

She was here at my school to speak to the children [ our new generation ] about her life, her accomplishments, about being one of the only three hundred surviving First WWII American woman [ female] pilots of an original group of only a little more than 1,000.

She told the students of her struggle to work her way into the interview process of "first women Air Force pilots" and the interesting antics of being a woman pilot in a "man" only world. Being only elementary students only the adults seemed to understand that part of her speak.
She explained how she tested airplanes to insure they were safe for our "men" in the war to fly safely in combat overseas.

She told us about how When her brother told her to try out to be an Air Force pilot, how she had to accrue 35 hours of fly time just to get into the interview. How no one paid her way and money was scarce - she had to walk miles and even hitchhiked in order to get to a secluded airport to get her flying time completed.

* I thought I just had to get more information on her. That this may be the last generation to see a living hero, a survivor of an era that change not only that generation, not only our country, but the entire world. In twenty or forty years when I am old, there will be no one to say I was there [ WWII ]. Like the civil war, WWI it will be something you only read in books [ that schools force people to read, and maybe cut down to a foot note at best ].

How sad I thought, especially considering how this generation X is full of people who care nothing of history and like the saying goes "those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it."

So below is an article of one of our Pioneer First Female WWII pilots. The government and the air force may have wanted to keep it secret, but it's out now and I hope we remember your sacrifices.

AVON PARK — Back in 1942, there were three meanings for WASP. In addition to the stinging insects and White Anglo Saxon Protestants, there were Women's Airforce Service Pilots.

But that name is something of a misnomer, said Barry Smith. Actually, so is her name. She was born Mabelle Vincent.

"I always hated that name," said Smith, "so a friend of mine named me Barry, after a male character in a book."

Now, about those WASPs. When World War II broke out in 1941, Barry's brothers, Art and George Vincent, were among the first to enlist, said Smith, sitting in the aviation room of her home, which overlooks the shores of Lake Denton. Both became pilots.

"George flew over Japan in between the first atom bomb and the second atom bomb," said Smith.

George did little sis a favor. Knowing she was the kind of girl who would respond to a challenge, he called and advised her to get pilot training. At the time, she was 22 and making $25 a week at the Syracuse, N.Y. telephone company office. The Air Corps would be taking women, George said, but only pilots with at least 35 hours in the air.

"I never had a second thought. I never asked anyone if I could do it. I just did it," said Smith.

Back then, it was safe for girls to hitch hike, so she bummed rides to the local airfield and enrolled in flight training. Eight lessons later – at $14 a week, paid out of that $25 a week salary – she soloed. By July 1943, she finished her civilian training.

By then, Pensacola-born Jacqueline Cochran, a pioneer pilot, had convinced the Army Air Corps that they needed to train women to fly. She organized and commanded the WASPS. Barry Vincent was one of 25,000 women interviewed in New York, and she was among the 1,830 accepted.

She was also among the 1,074 to complete WASP training and earn her wings. Brother George flew over to pin the wings on her chest.

Reporting For Duty

So she went to work, arrived at her Texas duty station, and found her commanding officer in a hangar.

"Reporting for duty, sir." She snapped a salute.

"Jesus Christ," he answered. "No sir. Barry Vincent," she said. But she called him Capt. Jesus Christ after that, said Smith, now 88, is still irreverent after all these years.

Since America wasn't in World War II at first, WASPs were sent to England as ferry pilots, they flew fighters and bombers from American factories to European military bases, where the men took over and fought the war.

Vincent's job was to test planes. She was rated for multi-engines, so she flew everything from open cockpit bi-planes left over from World War I to the AT10, a trainer.

By the time the WASPs disbanded in 1944, more than 40,000 Air WACs served at air bases in the United States and in other parts of the world.

In 1948, women became a permanent part of the armed forces. Women in the Air Force became known as WAFs, but the Air Force dropped that term in the 1970s. Now, both women and men are known as airman and about 17 percent of Air Force military personnel are women.


As for Smith, after the war, she never flew again as a pilot.

"Nobody would hire us," she said. Oh, Delta offered jobs as stewardesses. "We told them, we can fly anything you've got." That's true. According to archives at Texas Women's University, WASPS flew every aircraft, even the heavy bombers.

The rest of the story, for Smith, was that while visiting her mother in Sebring, she found her old flame, Lester Smith, who was an island fighter with the Marines in the Pacific. After Japan surrendered, Lester went to work for Smith Corona Typewriter Company, and they had four children. One, David, joined the Air Force and became an F4 Phantom pilot. These days, he flies all over the world for Northwest Airlines.

Lester and Barry moved to Sebring in 1985 to take care of her mother, who owned the Lake Istokpoga ranch that became Spring Lake. The family eventually sold it.

Smith, by the way, is not considered a veteran. The WASPs were civilians.
When they graduated from military training, they asked a general what was their rank.
"Pretend your officers," he instructed. And they did.

WWII femal pilots wasp

In this undated family photograph, Marjorie Ellfeldt Rees, exits an aircraft. Rees, now 87, is one of only 300 surviving WASPs, an acronym for women pilots in World War II

By Gary Pinnell Highlands Today
Published: June 8, 2008

Other sources:
WASP flies through memories as trail-blazing aviator
Aero News Network

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