GREEN BAY – A woman who helped blaze a trail for female pilots made a stop at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Thursday.
She flew during World War II, when women were expected to stay grounded.
“I had one ride and I got down and I said ‘this is what I have to do. I have to fly, because I love flying.’ And so, women weren’t flying in those years,” said 94-year-old Betty Strohfus, describing how she started out.
She learned to fly in the air club in her home town of Faribault, Minn.
During World War II, she joined the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots, or WASPs.
“We were sent to the Las Vegas Army air force base to do the diving with the B-17s with the gunners with the camera guns and they were to take pictures of where we would have hit if we were actually in combat,” said Strohfus.
Strohfus says she and the roughly 1,000 other women faced harsh—and even deadly—discrimination.
“A lot of the men did not want women there flying, but some of them put sugar in our girls’ gas tanks and they had accidents and some of them were killed. And we went to Jacqueline Cochran and we said, ‘we can’t let this happen to our women.’ They said that if we go and complain about what’s happening, they’ll shut the program down,” she recalls, choking back tears.
Strohfus stayed silent.
After the war, she returned to Minnesota and raised a family.
Records on the WASP program were shut for decades. It wasn’t until the 1990s pilots were recognized.
But Strohfus, one of the last remaining WASPs, won’t let the legacy be forgotten. She graced a panel of female veterans at UW-Green Bay as the guest of honor Thursday.
“Yes, it was hard, but I am glad that people have had the opportunity today. I did many crazy things and I did not want to go back in an office,” she said, laughing.
Sharing her story of struggle and success, so future generations of women will know just how high they can soar.
A play was written about Strohfus’ unit.
It is called “Censored on Final Approach,” and it is playing at the Weidner Theatre in the UWGB Student Union through Saturday