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"We felt like we had the best of both worlds, because we had so many different airplanes to fly and flew so many different kinds of missions." (Video Interview, 11:55)

   Nell S. Stevenson Bright
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Nell Stevenson Bright [2008]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots)
Service Location: Sweetwater and Biggs Field, El Paso, Texas; Mather Field, California
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Nineteen years old and a college graduate in 1940, Texan Nell Stevenson decided to take flying lessons in Amarillo. An article about the Army Air Corps recruiting women attracted her attention, and she was accepted into the seventh class of the WASP. She spent much of the war stationed in Texas, first training in Sweetwater, then flying a variety of planes out of El Paso on a variety of missions. Flying wasn't all work for her and her colleagues; they weren't above buzzing a group of skinny-dipping soldiers. An encounter with a group of Tuskegee Airmen gave her insight into prejudice. Married after the war, Nell Bright wanted to stay in the Reserves, but she wasn't allowed to fly, and once she had a child, she was forced out. She is proud of her pioneer status among current women flying in the military.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (9 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (52 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (9 items)
Finished college when she was 19, took flying lessons in Amarillo, Texas; saw an article about the Army Air Corps looking to train women, giving Jacqueline Cochran's address as point of contact; interviewed by Cochran; Stevenson's qualifications were in order, including her age (she had turned 21); accepted into the seventh class. (02:13) Training at Sweetwater, Texas; got wings in six months (the men took nine); flew seven days a week; cites statistics on how many women applied, were accepted, and graduated; tough training; washout rate same as men--half of her class washed out; sent to Sacramento to fly B-25s, though their initial training had not included that craft; sent to El Paso to tow targets, fly simulated bombing runs to help train soldiers at Fort Bliss; flying a variety of planes. (04:26) Technically under Civil Service; had to prove they could do this to get into military; by time they had earned their credentials, war was winding down and bill to militarize the WASP lost by three votes; how Barry Goldwater and Hap Arnold's son got the WASP veteran status thirty years later; felt personally fortunate to be in a position to fly so many different missions on so many planes. (03:04)
Parents approved of her flying; she got interested in flying when she was six years old in West Texas and got a ride with a barnstorming pilot; younger brother was in Army Air Corps and not impressed with his sister flying; tried to get out of her flying him home on leave; did a "Doolittle takeoff" and then buzzed their hometown; he never thanked her for the ride. (04:16) Flew missions where they released poison gas over trainees in the field so gas masks could be tested; one woman pilot had gone out on a mission and thought she released her gas; on the way back, she saw some troops skinny-dipping and buzzed them; when she pulled on her stick to ascend, she released the gas, which had been loaded incorrectly; she was sure she had killed some troops, but they escaped harm. (02:31) Never got any leave; men had a break off between primary and basic and basic and advanced, one reason their training took longer; soldiers using searchlights to force them to fly on instruments; target towing, shots coming a little too close; finished with a strafing mission, they saw soldier in a jeep whom they buzzed twice, before he bailed out and waved his white t-shirt in surrender. (04:32)
After the WASP were deactivated, they were allowed to go into the Air Force Reserves; was a First Lieutenant; having children got a woman kicked out; loved serving in the military and would have made a career of it if they had let her stay, though even in the Reserve, women was not allowed to fly; meeting Tuskegee Airmen at Mather Field in California; commanding officer at Mather would not allow the Airmen to eat in the officers' mess; compromise: they sat in one end of the hall, and the WASP joined them there; impromptu reunion with some of the Airmen years later in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (04:44) Happy to see all the women pilots in the military; attends International Conference on Women in Aviation; the WASP usually have a booth there; loves to talk with the young women; met first woman to fly with the Thunderbirds; meeting a lot of airline pilots; when the WASP got out, airlines wouldn't talk to them; didn't think of themselves as pioneers then but do now. (02:42) Cochran was very selective in assembling the WASP; they had to be independent and bring that attitude to the organization. (01:07)

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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