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"I could feel rotten on the ground and get up in the air and feel just dandy." (Video Interview, 1:12:15)

   Virginia Shannon Malany Meloney
Image of Virginia Shannon Malany Meloney
Virginia Malany Meloney [2009]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots)
Unit: 3rd Ferrying Group, Air Transport Command
Service Location: Texas; Michigan
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Virginia Malany got what she calls a "crash course in aviation" on a college date with a young pilot, who took her up for a ride and brought her down to earth a bit rudely, washing out the plane's undercarriage. After trying her hand at acting, she got a clerical job at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, and began building flying hours in her spare time. She was in the fourth class of the WASP, training in Houston, then Sweetwater, Texas, "the most barren place I'd ever been in my life." Her main duty was ferrying planes, starting from Michigan. Her closest call: icing over and climbing to get out of a storm, only to almost black out from lack of oxygen. She had little idea what devastation the war had caused until she went to work for the Red Cross in postwar Europe, an experience which inspired her to become a pacifist.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (13 clips)
»Complete Interview 
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (13 items)
Dating a young man in college who belonged to a flying club and he took her up; brought down the plane unevenly and washed out the undercarriage. (01:50) Applied to Civilian Pilot Training Program; first girl to do so; accepted on experimental basis; passed medical exam in spite of recent serious illness. (01:42) Getting a job at Wright Field in Dayton, then the center of aviation research; lobbied her Congressman to include women in the service; joined flying club; Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy Love's roles in involving women in war-related aviation. (06:34)
Corresponded with Cochran, had a couple of interviews with her; got telegram to report in February 1943 for the fourth class of the WASP; began training in Houston, finished in Sweetwater; lived in auto courts in Houston, conditions were very rough; flew a plane with instructor that they redlined for non-flying; it got released somehow and she saw the remnants of the crashed plane from the air, one WASP and instructor killed; took up a collection to give to the widowed husband. (03:37) Weekends in Houston; mixing with young male cadets from Ellington Field at the Rice Hotel; involved with one when she had to switch training to Sweetwater; no formation flying instruction; best friend was leading and lost her map in mid-air; military was in charge at Sweetwater, which meant more discipline; stark and barren; no trees, dust, tarantulas, wind; she couldn't take discipline seriously; marching was hard on her bad leg (had suffered an embolism in it). (06:03) Going up without working radio and getting separated from group and becoming lost; could not see any landmarks; found a farm, running low on gas, decided to try a landing, then changed her mind and flew on to an airport in San Angelo; it was a navigation training base, so she was surrounded by curious cadets; got gas and headed back to Sweetwater. (03:42)
Jane Chaplin, a classmate, died with her instructor in a crash; speculation was that they were disagreeing about something, which caused the accident; "when that happens, the planes lose their appeal for a time;" anxious moment when she misheard her instructor during a flight and they got lost; he put her up for a "check ride," which she had to complete to stay in the program, and she did; happy day when she graduated on August 7, 1943. (02:54) Chose to serve in Romulus, Michigan at the old Wayne County Airport; Third Ferrying Group; paid less than the men who were doing exactly the same things; started out as wingman, then flying alone (her favorite), then flight leader; got lost in fog over the Mississippi River on first ferrying mission; greeted rudely at her destination in Texas because the orders were confused and planes delivered to the wrong locale; frequent flights to Syracuse (where this interview is taking place), an airport well-camouflaged and especially to hard to find amid the snowy winter landscape. (05:58) When she was in Sweetwater, suddenly, especially on weekends, there were a lot of "forced" landings there by male cadets eager to make contact with women; Cochran laid down a strict no-dating policy and Sweetwater became known as "Cochran's Convent." (01:06)
Her one experience with danger: late career flight through between Tennessee and Washington; encountered ice fog and had no de-icer; climbed to get out of it and began to feel oxygen-deprived; her hands curled into claws, her feet went numb; was all she could do to descend to a level where she could recover. (04:48) Flying co-pilot with a dismissive male pilot; she was not familiar with the B-17 they were ferrying; he had her flying the whole time but kept an eye on her progress; she had drunk too much coffee and was in need of a bathroom break but couldn't get one until they landed; he put her in the pilot's seat for the next flight with another plane; after they completed the mission, he assumed he would be taking her for dinner, but she already had another date; most men she flew with were more congenial and willing to instruct and help her. (10:36) When WASP were deactivated, it would be 34 years before a woman stepped inside a military aircraft; the WASP's record were a little better than the men's because they had to try harder; "bereft" when they were "prematurely" disbanded; her take on why that happened; refers to "a very sour story about us" in Time magazine; it was only when the Air Force announced that women would be allowed to fly and they would be the first women to fly in military planes that the WASP and supporters in Congress rose up in protest and got military status. (05:39)
She was conscious of supporting a war that was being fought elsewhere; did not really understand that until she worked for the Red Cross in Europe and saw the thousands of refugees and destruction; she became a complete pacifist; went to Russia after the war and met women pilots who flew real combat missions under much tougher circumstances. (02:17)  
  
 

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  October 26, 2011
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