Finding Miss Gardner

I have been continuing my series of colorized photos and posting before-and-afters in an album on my Facebook page. Yesterday I posted this one.

Elizabeth L. Gardner, Class 43-W-6

I think it turned out very well. The lovely lady pictured is Elizabeth L. Gardner of Illinois. She might be termed the face of the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) because the photo is an official one and it turns up in many or most casual searches regarding the WASP. It also heads the Wikipedia article.

In the course of researching the proper colors of her insignia, I learned some of the relevant facts about this wartime effort to relieve male pilots of some of the non-combat flying duties so that more of them could be spared to the front line.

There were 1,074 women who graduated training. They flew 60 million miles while performing a number of non-combat roles. Chief among them was ferrying new aircraft from the factories to air bases or ports of embarkation. That is why I captioned the photo "WASP Ferry Pilot." In fact, my further research indicates that Elizabeth "Libby" Gardner performed her service towing targets for anti-aircraft practice. It is unlikely, therefore, that  the B-26 she is piloting in the photo was painted in camouflage colors.

President Obama presented the WASP organization with a Congressional Gold Medal four years ago next month. As the WASP was a Civil Service organization, its members did not initially receive the recognition that military organizations had. In fact, the 38 ladies who lost their lives in accidents were sent home to be buried at their families' expense and without even a letter of appreciation from the government. WASP was finally militarized after-the-fact in 1984 by an act of Congress, spearheaded by Senator Barry Goldwater, who himself had been a ferry pilot during the war.

I was curious to know if Libby Gardner had survived to learn of the Congressional Gold Medal and after a search I was gratified to find she had. In 2010 she was interviewed by StoryCorps, a public service that records the personal recollections of Americans - some 90,000, so far. Some of these interviews are aired on NPR's "Morning Edition ." I also discovered that the Texas Woman's University has many other images of her in its archives.

I am posting this as my salute to the WASP and Libby Gardner. Thank you for your pioneering service to our country and for providing can-do motivation for our young women.

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