Time for another feel good story. This one comes from a proud but little 'ol lady in Oroville, CA. She definitely deserves what she is getting, and to be in such rare company is fitting. I would so love to hear her stories! Anywho, Enjoy!
Oroville woman to get medal for WWII pilot service
Published Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009
OROVILLE - Henrietta Speckels Sproat was among the small cadre of women who bucked enormous odds during Word War II to earn their flight wings and become WASPs.
Now almost 90, she and other members of that dwindling band of sky pioneers will receive the Congressional Gold Medal for service to their country.
In a recent interview at the Oroville home of her daughter, Debby Henderson, Sproat said she is thrilled by the honor, mainly because it recognizes one of the happiest periods of her life. Just hearing the phrase spoken out loud - Women Airforce Service Pilots - makes her beam.
“I really like how that sounds,” she said. “Sometimes I just go through the house saying it. How could I have found anything better?”
Being a WASP remains a high point of her long life - a chance to serve her country during a period of struggle, to prove her spirit and make lasting friends.
“To this day I’m thankful that I did what I did, that I had the opportunity to do so much,” she said. “I’m happy because I was there.”
Sproat hasn’t flown a plane in decades, but she still has the demeanor of a top-notch aviator. She’s calm and straightforward with an alert gaze that takes everything in.
She was a young woman working in a medical lab at Kelly Field in Texas when she discovered the WASP program. She had yearned to fly from an early age and used part of her salary to take the prerequisite flight lessons.
Getting into the program was one thing, staying quite another.
“You had to be very careful,” she said. “If you made just one mistake you would be a washout.”
Of 25,000 women who applied, only 1,830 were accepted into the program, and 1,074 earned their wings.
“You were in an area that demanded absolute perfection in what you did,” the Texas native said. “But you were so glad about being there, even though it was difficult.”
When the time came for her first solo flight, elation replaced any sense of fear.
“I was as happy as could be. I wanted to be able to do it over and over again,” she said, her blue eyes alight with the memory.
WASPs performed stateside duties that freed male pilots for overseas combat. They ferried aircraft from factories to shipping ports, flight-tested repaired planes, towed targets for ground and aerial gunnery practice and flew more than 70 types of aircraft, including the B-29.
The work was often dangerous; 38 of the women were killed during their service.
"My mother’s friend asked, ‘Are you really letting your daughter do this?’ " Sproat recalled. "My mother said, ‘If it’s OK with her, it’s OK with me.’ "
On Dec. 7, 1944, her class was the last one to graduate and the program was disbanded shortly afterward.
Sproat knows that she and the other WASPs were trailblazers for succeeding generations of women who wanted to be full-fledged military and commercial pilots. She still wishes she were young enough to be an astronaut.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill giving the women military recognition; they received veterans’ status in 1979.
While then-Henrietta Speckels trained at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, her beau, William Sproat, served in the military and wrote to her. At war’s end, they married and moved to Southern California, where they reared two daughters and a son.
Her husband died in 1976 after 31 years of marriage.
“I’ve been alone for a long time. But that’s OK,” she said. She filled her life with church volunteer work, travel and art. She entered shows and sold some of her pieces. In 1994 she moved to Oroville.
Sproat is eager to make the trip to Washington along with her family once officials set the date for the medal ceremony. She’ll join other WASPs and renew bonds that have lasted more than six decades through correspondence and numerous reunions.
“Oh, the stories they tell!” she said.