A Tale of two WASPs by The Thinking Insomniac

Vernelle Noel, thinking insomniac, writing, non-fiction, Vernelle,

Image Copyright Vernelle Noel

Is the sky really the limit? Your sky, is different from someone else’s sky. No two skies are exactly the same because no two pilots are exactly the same. This is the story of two pilots. For one, the sky was the limit, for the other, the sky was a dream.

Anne Noggle was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1922. After seeing Amelia Earhart at an air show in Chicago, she set the goal for herself to become a pilot. At the age of seventeen, her mother agreed to let her take flying lessons. Four years later at the age of 21, she traveled to Texas to train to become a WASP, one of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). WASP was a civilian women’s pilot organization attached to the US Army Air Forces to fly military aircraft during World War II. They had no military standing but trained male pilots in combats missions; transported military aircraft; towed targets for live anti-aircraft gun practice; simulated strafing missions and transported cargo. After the war and the disbanding of WASP in 1944, Anne became a stunt pilot in an aerial circus at 25, and a crop duster at 26. In 1953, at the age of 31, she applied and became a pilot for the US during the Korean War, retiring as a captain in 1959 at the age of 37. These experiences gave Anne confidence and emboldened her to believe that the sky was the limit – literally and figuratively. She could do anything!

While in the Air Force, Anne was stationed in Paris and visited the Louvre, one of the world’s largest art museums. Like she was inspired to fly after seeing Amelia Earhart, she was inspired to be an artist after visiting the Louvre. In 1966, the former pilot enrolled in the University of New Mexico earning her bachelors in fine arts at the age of 44, then her Master’s degree in art at the age of 47 in 1969. She developed her skills as a photographer, and like she was influenced by Amelia, and the Louvre, she was also influenced by female photographers like Julia Margaret Cameron and Diane Arbus. (Julia Margaret Cameron’s niece would become the mother of one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors – Virginia Woolf). Her photographs displayed femininity and sexual energy, and in 1970 at the age of 48, she had her first one-woman show at a gallery in New Mexico. She then produced her most famous series of photographs of herself in 1975 at the age of 53 (she photographed herself after receiving a facelift). When she was 60, she was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, and at the age of 69 the former pilot earned an honorary doctorate from her alma mater.

For Anne, the sky was the limit. She lived several lives – military pilot, stunt pilot, crop duster, artist, professor, and recipient of an honorary doctorate. She was born in 1922, joined WASP at 21, retired from flying at 37, flew a total of 6000 hours, then the former pilot went on to live her life as a famous photographer.

At the beginning of this story, I said this was a tale of two WASPs, one for whom the sky was the limit, for the other, a dream. The other WASP was Mildred Hemmons Carter. Born in 1921 (the year before Anne) she earned her pilot license in 1941 at the age of 20. She too applied to join WASP in 1943 but was asked to withdraw her application. Two women, born the same time, both pilots. One able to join WASP, the other not. Why not? Well, Mildred was black. She was THE ONLY black applicant, and because of her race was rejected. She was also rejected from flying with the Tuskegee Airmen – black military pilots – because she was a woman. She faced the double-edged sword of being black and being a woman. (Her husband was Lt. Colonel Herbert Carter the last surviving Tuskegee Airman from Mississippi). Seventy years after earning her pilot license, at the age of 90, Mildred was recognized retroactively as a WASP, and took her final flight. She flew a total of 150 hours.

Anne and her dreams soared in part because she was able to achieve her first dream, which then empowered her to find and achieve other dreams. Mildred on the other hand was never allowed to achieve her first dream. Her dream was rejected. Mildred’s son, Herbert Carter Jr., said his mother often regretted that she came along a little too early and couldn’t achieve her dream of becoming a WASP. A tale of two WASPs. For Anne, the sky was the limit. For Mildred, the sky was but a dream.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s