For the love of Marty

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.

Marty Wyall in 1945.

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!

Be sure to check out our Heroes from the Heartland photo albums on Facebook and Flickr.

Women Who Fly

I was most honored to meet a true Hoosier legend today. Mary Anna Martin Wyall — or “Marty”— is one of just 1,074 women who flew military aircraft during WWII and is the lone Hoosier survivor. These courageous women were Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP. 

In 1944, Marty Wyall was a scientist for Eli Lilly here in Indianapolis when she began flying lessons. After being accepted as a WASP, she headed for training at Avenger Field, Texas, and earned her wings in December of that year.

Their modern story starts in 1977, when the Federal Government officially granted these women veteran status. Yet still, the history of the WASP is not included in most textbooks and is virtually unknown to many Americans … until this year. In March, the women were finally recognized for their heroic efforts and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Sadly, for many WASP and their families, it was a posthumous honor.

 The Indiana State Museum, along with Puddlejump Pictures and Texas Woman’s University, have produced the In Her Honor exhibition to celebrate these amazing women and educate generations on their accomplishments and the unique role they played in WWII. The WASP flew non-combat missions in the United State to free up male pilots to serve combat duty overseas. Throughout the war, these courageous women logged more than 60 million miles in every type of aircraft and on every type of mission, including ferrying, target towing and as test pilots. And 38 of them made the ultimate sacrifice.

In Her Honor now includes Marty’s Congressional Gold Medal, as well as other personal objects and photographs. It will be on display through the summer at the Indiana State Museum. For more information on WASP, go here and here.

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