On Friday, March 4, and Saturday, March 5, in honor of Women’s History Month, the public will have the rare opportunity to meet and hear firsthand from some of the women who, during World War II, took jobs traditionally held by men and the unique consequences that today would be unheard of. The two-day forum at the Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Fla., called “Breaking all Barriers,” will feature two of the original WASP — Women Airforce Service Pilots — the first women to pilot U.S. military aircraft, as well as a real-life “Rosie the Riveter,” who took a factory job to support the war effort overseas.
Fantasy of Flight recently expanded on its popular “Living History Symposium Series” that has introduced aviation heroes to Fantasy of Flight guests for the past two years. “Legends & Legacies” combines World War II aviation heroes, such as the WASP — who offer a glimpse of what it was like to fly in the heyday of aviation as they protected their country — with their families, who have their own unique insights to share. The series also includes war heroes who served on the ground protecting and supporting the men and women in flight. Each symposium features several open-forum/question-and-answer sessions, followed by meet-and-greet/autograph signing sessions.
WASP Barry Vincent Smith, returning to Fantasy of Flight for a second time, and Elizabeth “Betty” Wall Strohfus, making her first Fantasy of Flight appearance, will recount what it was like to leave their homes and jobs at the height of the war to serve their country as the first American women to fly for the U.S. military. When every available American male pilot was absorbed into combat overseas, dangerous non-combat flight duty still required pilots stateside for ferrying, testing, dragging targets and liaison. The WASP stepped forward to fill that void and aid in the war effort.
Last year, hundreds of the original WASP met on Capitol Hill to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award a civilian can receive from the United States Congress, which is bestowed only upon those who have performed an outstanding act of service for their country. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law in July 2009 to grant the WASP this great honor.
Only 1,830 of the 25,000 applicants were accepted into the WASP program, and 1,074 of those women earned their silver WASP wings. Their founder, Jackie Cochran, became the first civilian to receive the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal for her vision and leadership of the WASP program.
“Breaking all Barriers” will also feature Opal Campbell, who worked a factory job as a “dimpler” to support the war effort. The diminutive Campbell was one of thousands of women who left the comfort of their homes to take on tough jobs in factories that produced munitions and war supplies. This social movement was largely driven by “Rosie the Riveter,” a 1942 song which was later made into a propaganda campaign by the U.S. government to encourage women to join the workforce. It is estimated that by 1944, 20 million women were working, a 57% increase from 1940.
The symposium will bring to life the experiences of Smith, Strohfus and Campbell through open-forum/question-and-answer sessions as well as permanent and semi-permanent exhibits and real aircraft. Fantasy of Flight’s WASP exhibition, which includes aircraft as well as four separate bays that feature historical, anecdotal, and inspirational newsreel footage, original photos, and storytelling panels from the 1940s and today, will serve as the backdrop for historic appearances from the real pilots.
The 2011 “Legends & Legacies” series features six topics. Remaining symposiums include: “Calculated Risk: The Extraordinary Life of Jimmy Doolittle,” April 15-16; “D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy,” May 13-14; “The Pacific War: Power and Pursuit,” June 10-11; and “The Great Escape: Heroes Underground,” Oct. 14-15. Fantasy of Flight welcomes inquiries from all those who may be interested in participating in the symposium series.
For more information: 863-984-3500 or Fantasyofflight.com