Sarah Byrn Rickman dedicates the nonfiction biography Teresa James WAFS Pilot to six women pilots from World War II. It has a mesmerizing effect as these patriotic, brave, and selfless young women flew against all odds; their courage and flight skills are extremely impressive. This is Rickman’s 11th book about female flyers. Interestingly after my mother’s funeral in 2010, my cousin gave me old letters Mom had written to his mother in the early 1940s. Before reading those letters, I never knew my mother had wanted to learn to fly but circumstances prevented that from happening for her. Lucky for us, the brave women of the WAFS took to the skies and helped bring about the defeat of the WWII Axis Powers.
Teresa James is a small woman and a powerhouse pilot. She has a natural mechanical aptitude, learns quickly, and has the fortitude for grueling flight hours. She has the respect of all who work with her, both male and female. Teresa is appreciated for her quick wit; it is said her smile can light up a room.
The award-winning author uses Teresa’s detailed and often comical diaries as a primary source of information for this book. She also thoroughly researched the WAFS’s archives. Teresa was born in 1914 in Pittsburgh, PA to parents who own a flower shop. Her older brother introduces her to flying at the local air field. She’s not interested in flying at all—except for the cute guy who is her brother’s flight instructor. However, once airborne in that Piper single engine, she is hooked, though a bit frightened at first. Teresa’s intellect and amazing eye-hand coordination make her a natural and she is soon earning good money for post-Depression days as a barnstormer at regional air shows, all before her twentieth birthday. She is proud that the money she earns even impresses her mother.
Before joining the WAFS, Teresa is an airmail carrier and a flight instructor. On September 6, 1942, she receives a telegram from Nancy Love, founder and leader of the original WAFS, and U.S Army Col. Robert Baker inviting her to join a squadron of elite women pilots to ferry trainer aircraft for the Air Transport of the U.S. Army Air Forces at the New Castle Army Air Base in Wilmington, Delaware. Teresa has 2,254 flight hours by then; minimum qualifying flight hours are 500.
She marries a pilot in spring 1942 as the country is still reeling in shock over the attacks on Pearl Harbor. She always thought she’d have a big church wedding. They decide to keep the marriage a secret until they can tell their families. Instead, a reporter finds out about the famous stunt pilot marrying. Her mother reads about her daughter’s wedding in the newspaper. She and her husband have several small vacations together before he goes to the European Front. He dies in combat; Teresa remains a widow the rest of her life.
Teresa is commissioned a Major in the Air Force Reserves after WWII. During her 43-year aviation career she flies over 54 different aircraft, retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 1976.
I recommend this warm and engaging book about real heroes. It makes the reader proud to be an American. Teresa and her peers were definitely part of our country’s “greatest generation.”