The Journal Gazette
Monday, February 08, 2016 10:30 pm

WASP recalls taking flight

Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

"You are the first WASP I’ve interviewed," U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly said to the 94-year-old woman seated next to him at a table in Citizens Square.

"I’m the only one left in Indiana. There were originally 22," Fort Wayne resident Mary Anna Martin "Marty" Wyall told him.

For the next hour Monday morning, Wyall talked about her experiences in the Women Airforce Service Pilots. The WASP program trained women as flying instructors and to ferry military planes around the U.S. and Canada during World War II.

Her recorded interview will become part of the Veterans History Project, a growing archive of veterans’ recollections stored at the Library of Congress.

"It’s a way to document the sacrifices that were made" by veterans, Donnelly, D-Ind., told reporters.

Wyall, a native of Liberty in Union County, said she bounced around cities in southern and central Indiana as the daughter of a Methodist minister who had been a World War I infantry chaplain. After college, she tried to join the last class of WASP.

Her mother didn’t approve. Neither did a military medical officer, who delayed Wyall’s training for several months by withholding the results of her physical examination.

"I said, ‘Why didn’t you send it in?’ He said, ‘I don’t think women should be in the military,’ " she said. 

"I said, ‘You know, I don’t think anybody has the right to say I can’t try.’ Well, I said a lot of other things, I’m sure," Wyall recalled, eliciting laughter from Donnelly, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The medical officer relented, and in 1944, Wyall left Indiana to learn to fly planes in Sweetwater, Texas. Known as the rattlesnake capital of the world, the place was hot, windy and sandy, and a dozen WASP trainees shared a bathroom. 

Wyall said the letters she wrote to her parents "were very bland. They didn’t know what I was doing."

She caught the flu but didn’t see a doctor because she feared she would be sent home. Fatigued to the point that she was falling asleep in planes, she failed two flying tests. Wyall passed on her last try and graduated from WASP on Dec. 7, 1944 – the third anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor which drew the United States into World War II – and began flying BT-13 training aircraft and DC-3 airliners.

"I was unlucky that I was in the last class. I didn’t have that much time," she said.

The war ended in 1945, and Wyall returned to Indiana, where she became a pilot evaluator at an airstrip. She married a student pilot, civil engineer Eugene Wyall, and they ended up in Fort Wayne, raising five children. 

Marty Wyall continued to fly planes. One day when her husband was working on the construction of Interstate 69 and she was flying from Decatur, Illinois, to Fort Wayne, she landed on the highway to deliver a part to him.

She has a son-in-law who flies for a commercial airline. Two of her grandsons have served in the Navy, and a granddaughter flies C-130 transport planes for the Air Force.

"You know, you’re an inspiration not only to a lot of women but to a lot of Americans across the country," Donnelly told Wyall.

"You were just determined to do this, weren’t you?" he asked her.

"Well, once you get your mind made up, you just don’t have any other thoughts, you know," Wyall said. "Just keep working at something. … Everything just seems to fall in place."

She said fewer than 100 WASPs are still living. She will attend a WASP classmate’s funeral this week in South Carolina.


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