As Violet Cowden, 93, of Huntington Beach waited in her flight jumpsuit to hit the Tarmac at Fullerton Airport, she reminisced about flying World War II fighter planes during her time as a Women's Airforce Service Pilot. Violet Thurn Cowden of South Dakota served in the WASP from 1943 to 1944.
Violet Thurn Cowden was born in South Dakota to a farming family. She graduated from high school in 1934 and enrolled at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota. She graduated in 1936 and worked as a teacher in town. While there, she took flying lessons and earned her private pilot's license.
When war was declared, Cowden enlisted in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service-U.S. Navy). Before her basic training, she was contacted by the WASP and accepted into class 44-W-4. She began training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, in March of 1943. She graduated in August 1943 and was sent to Love Field in Dallas, Texas, where she ferried planes. She also completed pursuit school in Brownsville, Texas.
When the WASP was disbanded in December of 1944, Cowden spent a year in New York City where she worked for an airport in a non-flight position. She later moved to California and started a ceramics business with a fellow WASP and a high school classmate. Cowden remained active in WASP alumnae affairs, having served as the president of the regional and national organizations.
After almost 70 years of the government all but sweeping their service under the rug, the roughly 300 living WASPs are going to receive the highest civilian honor at a Washington, D.C. ceremony this month: The Congressional Gold Medal.
"My assignment was air transport command," Cowden said. "I picked up planes from the factories and delivered them to the point of debarkation within the continental U.S. where they were used. The reason for the WASP program was to release the men so they could fly in combat."
Fifinella was designed by Walt Disney studios as the logo for the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), the American women military aviators of World War II. You can see her here painted on the side of her namesake, the Pitts S1-C, "Fifinella", in honor of these courageous and capable women.
The WASP encountered considerable opposition within both the military and the civilian government. The belief prevailed that women were fragile, physically and emotionally, and incapable of flying competently, much less piloting the high-performance military aircraft that they were intended to ferry. Flying was for men; women belonged at home in the kitchen.