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Senior Correspondent

Going Down on a Wing and a Prayer

I had been almost a week delivering planes—which is what we did as WASPS during World War II—and was anxious to get back to the base at Long Beach, California. I had managed to sneak in my usual side trip to El Paso (the volunteers treated us to such luscious donuts there). I was also dreaming about that packet of letters which always awaited me at the post office. My close friend Van Nyman, who was a lieutenant in the Army Air Force stationed in Columbus, Ohio wrote me two letters a day and the postman always had a smile when he saw me coming.

I had picked up a C-47 back East and was to fly it out to Long Beach. About fifty miles from my destination there was a huge bang that shattered my peace. An enormous flock of big birds had flown in front of the plane. Because of the clouds neither one of us had seen each other. The windshield looked like a modern painting. One engine was
sounding horrible and my soft heart knew it was grinding up all those helpless birds. Then it came to a halt. The other engine stuttered as it told me it couldn’t possibly
go it alone.

I was close enough to call Long Beach and their answer was to bail out while I had plenty of altitude. I looked down below and saw that I was directly over a large housing project with cars and homes, some half-built and many of them occupied. I was determined to go down with the plane, hoping and praying to find a vacant spot. Finally I did see a vacant space between several houses under construction that appeared to be my only hope. There was a fence behind the houses and also a beautiful rock wall all around the project. I went down and “toothpicked” the fence but no matter how I stalled and tried to avoid it, I did hit the wall.

When the inspector came I was already a candidate for the hospital because of internal injuries. After looking over the area, he decided I had picked the only place possible to land and had to agree with me that if I had jumped I would be in good shape but that big airplane would have destroyed everything it hit on the ground.

A while after my hospital stay I was back at work. Friends at the base came in one afternoon and told me that someone was giving a party that evening and to come at a certain time. It turned out that the party was for me. They presented me with an oblong two-by-four inch metal piece to pin under my wings. It shows a gold open parachute going down. It is fun wearing it because they knew that I did the right thing. I couldn’t have jumped!

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