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Stars in the Skies

(770 words, 5 ½ minutes)

In 1943, Augusta (Gussie) Bloom graduated from flight school at the Houston, Texas Municipal Airport.  She became one of the first Women Ferry Squadron pilots in WW II, which was later called the WASPs; the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. Out of 25,000 applicants, she was one of only 1900 women who graduated from these US Army training programs for women pilots.  Their duties were to ferry all military planes, fighters and the B17 long range bombers, known as the Flying Fortresses, from the factories to air bases in the USA and overseas.

Gussie was 22 years old, and a private pilot back in Oklahoma.  She learned to fly at age 17 in a Piper J3 Cub trainer.  When the call came for Women’s Air Force Service Pilots, Gussie was one of the first in line to sign up.  Gussie’s dream was to fly big multi-engine aircrafts and maybe even commercial passenger planes someday.  Gussie wrapped herself in her flight training.  Flying was what she lived for, and was the youngest graduate in her class.  After graduation, she couldn’t wait for an assignment.  Her training in the four engine B-17 super Flying Fortress was intensive.  The training was to fly across the Atlantic to England, supplying the Army Air Force with a bomber fleet.  On the first flight, with her were co-pilot Tammy Bell and navigator Gloria Greene, plans were to land in Newfoundland for re-fueling, then finally fly the long leg to England. This was a lengthy flight where the pilot and co-pilot took turns sleeping.  The plane had been stripped of armament to allow for the weight of extra fuel, extending the normal 2,000-mile range.

The day for take off arrived.  There were actually six planes in this squadron.  The planes lumbered down the runway, with the heavy load of fuel and extra tanks. Finally lifting off, with noticeable extra take off runs, they became airborne.  The planes strained to leave the ground and slowly climbed into the sky. Everything went smoothly.  All six planes headed for the first stop at Newfoundland. Skies were clear and the planes’ occupants were bundled up in cold weather flying suits.  This was a cold flight.  A major inconvenience was that there would be no radio communications between the planes, which could have been intercepted by enemy watercraft, somewhere below.  Communications were limited to very low power, low frequency, and short-range communicators, to avoid detection.  The planes landed in Newfoundland. Crews were standing by to refuel the planes and send them on their way, after a short nap for the crew.

There was an Air Force Lieutenant waiting on the tarmac, watching the operation.  He was a bomber waist gunner, asking to join the ladies as a passenger on the final leg of the trip. His plane was being detained for engine repairs at the base, and he needed a ride to England.  He was bundled up, wearing sunglasses and a leather flying suit.  The war was intensifying and they badly needed gunners, so this Lieutenant hitched a ride with the ladies, in the B17 headed for England.

After the plane took off, the Lieutenant removed his glasses.  To everyone’s surprise, the passenger was every lady’s dream man, Clark Gable.  As any good WASP would tell you, now they had really valuable cargo, a movie star.  They had to be sure and get home to tell their families and fellow WASP pilots in their squadron. Gussie, and the other WASPs, landed all six planes safely in England, without incident.  The first order of business was photos with Clark.  Then, in the officer’s dining room, they met another celebrity.  It was Captain James (Jimmy) Stewart, who piloted B24s for several bombing missions over Nazi Germany.  With the addition of these B17s, Captain Jimmy Stewart would go on to complete 20 more missions.  He ultimately became commissioned as a Brigadier General by another movie star, the first movie star President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

There are lots of stars in the skies, and all you have to do is look where they are.  Gussie shows everyone a copy of the picture Gable sent to her aunt saying, “Hey Aunt Bessie, look! This is a picture of Gussie and me.” It took a world war with everyone, men and women, working together to win.   Democrats, Republicans, all races, all religions, all colors, each with the same objective. Survival.  Everyone was the same.  Each and all, Americans, proud to display our flag. Not ashamed to use the name of God anywhere. God already did save America! For you, for me, and for all Americans.

Clark Gable during a wartime stint in the US Air Force.