by Dale Ogden, Senior Curator of Cultural History
My sisters give me a hard time about what a great job I have. Truth be told — it is a pretty sweet gig. My favorite thing about being a curator is the opportunity the job provides for me to meet some of the most compelling people who’ve ever called themselves “Hoosiers.”
In 1943, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was created to fly non-combat military missions in the U.S., thus freeing their male counterparts for combat overseas. 1,074 women eventually became the first females to fly for the U.S. military. WASP pilots logged over 60 million miles serving as flight instructors, flying gliders that towed targets for gunnery practice, ferrying aircraft and performing other duties. Thirty-eight WASP perished during the course of their service.
WASP were considered civilians, however, so while these pioneers paved the way for today’s generation of female pilots, their contributions went largely unrecognized. The women were not afforded veteran status until 1977. The Congressional Gold Medal has been the highest honor Congress can award to a civilian since 1776. It was finally presented to surviving WASP, and to descendents of deceased WASP veterans in 2010.
Mary Anna “Marty” Martin was born in Liberty, Indiana, and graduated from DePauw University in 1943. After taking the required 35 hours of solo flying lessons, Marty’s application to the WASP was accepted and she was assigned to Avenger Field in Texas for training. A member of the final WASP class, she graduated with her wings just days before the program was closed in December 1944.
Following deactivation, Marty flew as a ferry pilot before becoming a flight instructor near Franklin, Indiana. In 1946, she married Gene Wyall, one of her students, and moved to Fort Wayne to raise a family. Marty continued flying and competing in races like the Powder-Puff Derby, the All-Women Transcontinental Air Race and the Fair Lady Indiana Air Race. In 1957, she became a flying partner in an air taxi and commercial service, and has been the official WASP historian for many years. She is the last surviving Hoosier WASP. And, if that ain’t enough for ya, Marty Wyall circa 1945 was a stone cold fox — a cross between Betty Boop and Maryanne from Gilligan’s Island.
Marty was at the Indiana State Museum in April to help us celebrate her life by putting much of her WASP memorabilia on exhibit. I, unfortunately, was in Fort Wayne working on a new Abraham Lincoln website (Mr. Lincoln consumed my life in 2010, but that’s another story), so I missed the chance to meet this extraordinary Hoosier in person. Fortunately, she’s returning to the museum on Nov. 7 to mark the finale of the small display in her honor. I won’t pass up the opportunity a second time. And you shouldn’t miss it either!