On March 12, Beverly “Bev” Beesemyer spoke to students at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy during their annual Suegene Kim Assembly. At 95 years old, Beesemyer is one of FSHA’s oldest living alumna, having graduated from the school in 1937. While that honor alone is enough to warrant celebration, Beesemyer’s experiences as part of the WASP (Women Air Service Pilots) organization during WWII was the focus of the discussion. (Created in 1943, the WASP program was created so women pilots could free male pilots for military service.)
Beesemyer recalled her training in Sweetwater, Texas, close encounters while flying gunnery targets, and the camaraderie of the female pilots. Twice her plane caught on fire while in the air, resulting in emergency landings. Of those harrowing adventures, Beesemyer said, “Even with fire engines racing down the fields as I touched down, I thought it was all kind of fun!”
Though they lived in barracks and received similar military training, the WASPs were considered civilians and they often struggled to finance basic necessities, like uniforms.
“At first, all they gave us were old men’s uniforms – and they came in large, larger and big. We had to find rubber bands to hold our pants up,” she recalled.
As civilians, the women also had to handle tragedies on their own. When a WASP was killed while serving, all the women pooled their money together to be able to send the body back to her family.
While the WASPs only served until the end of 1944, they were denied official recognition for decades. It wasn’t until 1977 that the WASP organization was granted full military status. In 2010, the WASPs received the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest civilian awards in the United States, in the Congress Rotunda.
Beesemyer was on hand to receive the award.
“I cried. I really did,” she said. “Thousands of people were there. It was very sentimental.”
Beesemyer kept her pilot’s license until the ’80s and confesses to “rubbernecking” anytime a big plane flies by.
“It’s impossible to tell you what it’s like flying in the clouds,” she said.
But her overall message to the students at FSHA was about taking risks. “I was just a little girl with an opportunity,” Beesemyer told the audience. “Be yourself, and do what you want to do, and don’t ever hesitate going gun-ho for what you desire.”
Contributed by FSHA