For twenty years I worked as a library assistant at my local public library. During this period of time, many interesting people came in to check out books, games, movies, used the computers, and other services that we provided.
Our regular patrons became like family, and I looked forward to seeing them anywhere from daily to every two weeks. I felt like I knew everything there was to know about each and everyone of them, but as I was to learn, I didn’t. Take Thelma, for instance, for me she was the older woman, possibly retired, with lots of time to read and attend library functions. There was nothing about her that stirred me to imagine that she would have an exciting, sacrificing, and interesting past.
A few weeks before I was to retire, we began a conversation about young women going into military service and being sent into conflict zones. I told Thelma that I could not understand young women wanting to volunteer to serve in the service, as when I was a young girl, and later as a young woman, was always thankful that I was female, and would not be drafted into the army.
That is when Thelma threw me a surprise.
Thelma, with out being prideful or speaking down to me, simply said, “I was a WASP in World War II, and flew aircraft.”
I hope the extent of my surprise did not show on my face. All I could say was, “WOW!”
Thelma went on to tell me a few of the details. She told me how the women pilots were not considered real military pilots, and that the WASP’s mission was to fly non-combat missions to free up male pilots to fly overseas.
I still stood there, wide eyed, and voiced again my “WOW!”
Thelma smiled, picked up her books, and went on her way. I looked after her till she disappeared from my sight. I was awe struck.
Later I thought, gee, Thelma deserved a great big thank you from me, and all I could say was WOW.
Now, six months later, I read in the newspaper how 200 WASPS were recently honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress, in a ceremony on Capitol Hill. Thelma was one of these 200 women airforce service pilots honored.
Through the newspaper article and research on the internet, I have learned more of the plight of the WASPs.
The women were not considered real military pilots; therefore, when they died on duty their coffins did not have flags draped over them. There were 38 women who died while serving their country. When the women completed their service time, they had to pay their own bus fare home.
It was not until 1977, when the WASP records were unsealed and the women were extended veterans benefits. They waited 30 years to win the right to have a flag on their coffin. Many of the women have not survived to receive any of the benefits, or to receive their Congressional Gold Metal.
All this has taught me to never again take any person for granted. There are stories to be told,and lessons to be learned, in every individual that walks this earth.
It is with relief that I read of the honor given to Thelma and the rest of the 200 WASPS. Yet, I think Thelma deserved so much more from me. Thelma deserved a great big thank you, and more time to tell her story. If I get the chance, Thelma and I are going to lunch together. I’m usually a talker, but with Thelma, I will be the listener, because Thelma sacrificed for her country, and me. She did what I would have been scared to do, and deserves more from me than a WOW.
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