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Interview with Margaret Ray Ringenberg [2/9/2002]

Phillip A. Shaull:

Okay. This is Saturday, February 9th, 2002, and we are in Leo, Indiana, at the home of Margaret Ringenberg, and we are interviewing Margaret Ringenberg. My name is Phil Shaull. I'm a staff member of Indiana United States Senator Richard Lugar, and this is an interview for the Veterans' History Project. And, Mrs. Ringenberg, let me just ask you just a few questions to start out with, informational. Answer: Okay.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Tell us first what your branch of service was.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

I was a WASP, Women's Air Force Service Pilot.

Phillip A. Shaull:

And that was part of the Army Air Corps?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

And it was the Army Air Corps when I went in.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Okay. And what war did you serve in?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

It was World War II.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Okay. And your rank in the war and during your war service and afterward?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

We didn't -- were not given actually a rank at the time, but I did sign up for -- when we were told we were no longer needed, I signed up for the reserve and got a first lieutenant's commission in the reserve.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Okay. And your place of service?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

I was stationed at Wilmington, Delaware, Second Ferrying Division.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Very good. Thank you. Let's start out by talking about what the Women's Air Service Corps' role was in World War II?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

We were taken in because there was a shortage of male pilots. They needed them overseas, and there was many airplanes over here in the States that needed moved around. So there were new ones coming off the line and eventually the girls instructed, towed targets, and did many other things, but when I went in, it was strictly for ferrying aircraft.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Okay. What kind of aircraft is that, is that a -- cargo type airplane?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Well, I started out with the PT-19. I went down to Sweetwater, Texas, and they had a training base down there and I was in the first complete class at Sweetwater, Texas. And I did the PT-19 and then we went to the BT-13, the Vultee Vibrator. From there we went to the AT-6 and the UC-78 which got us our multi-engine rating, and from there I went to Wilmington, Delaware. I was in Sweetwater for six months, and then I went and from there on I flew a little bit of everything. I got my first instrument ticket on a DC-3. I got co-pilot time in C-54's and B-24's.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Wow, quite a variety then.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

And the girls flew a big variety. They also flew the 29, and I did not have that opportunity and pursuits.

Phillip A. Shaull:

So your time in Sweetwater, Texas, was in -- your flight training was in essence your boot camp?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

That was -- it was six months of training, yes.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Okay. What was it like? Did you ever fly a plane before you went to do this?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Oh, yes, I started flying in 1940, and so I had my private license and it was through having -- getting my license that the government had my name and telephone number, and so I got a telegram saying my services was needed.

Phillip A. Shaull:

So they knew who all the pilots -- the female pilots were and they got the word out?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

They sent -- they sent word out to every female pilot, and it said if at all interested go to Chicago for an interview. They told the dates to go, and I went to Chicago on the train because gas was rationed, and then I came back to Fort Wayne and took my physical out at Bear Field and took the train to Sweetwater, Texas.

Phillip A. Shaull:

So just a couple of years after you gained your private license, you ended up flying for our country?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

I had the opportunity to serve the country and do what I love to do, fly.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Did you ever think you would end up doing something like that when you started flying?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Never. Actually, going through school I knew I wanted to be up in an airplane. They fascinated me, but I didn't think I could be a pilot. So what I thought I wanted to do would be a stewardess and then I got to -- I went to work in Fort Wayne at the General Electric. And while I am sitting there thinking about making money to go to nurse's training, because all stewardesses had to be nurses at that time, I decided I should go out to the airport. And so I went out to Smith Field here in Fort Wayne to take some lessons so I would know a little bit about the airplane when I was a stewardess. But once I started flying, I kind of lost the desire to be a stewardess.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Well, you would rather be in control of the whole thing.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

I wanted to be a pilot.

Phillip A. Shaull:

What was it like, you got the letter, what went through your mind? Did you at first, you know, think you didn't want to or --

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

I think I was -- I was thrilled over the whole thing, and I immediately -- I knew there was a couple of other girls in Fort Wayne that was at the airport a lot, and so I contacted them to make sure that they -- see if they had gotten telegrams and they had. So we went -- there were four of us went to Chicago together. And one of them had to drop out because her parents did not want her to go in. And then the three of us went to Bear Field and one of them didn't make the physical. So Jean Garbin (ph) from Ohio and myself passed and went to Sweetwater together.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Interesting. Was it difficult to -- I don't know if you were living at home with your parents at the time or what the situation was, but was it difficult to so quickly, you know, uproot yourself and go into an unknown situation?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

I don't remember it was real difficult. Of course, I was working at the GE and I was on defense things. I had to get released from that and they had to release me to go into the service and packed my little bag, and I was on my way to Sweetwater. Fortunately I had parents that was real understanding. When I told my dad, he said, well, he didn't have any boys and he didn't get to serve, and so I was going to be the member of the family to do it.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Turns out that was roughly the middle point of World War II in 1943 when that -- when all this happened in your life.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

That's correct.

Phillip A. Shaull:

What was life like back here in Allen County at the time --

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Well, I was working in -- at the General Electric going out in my spare time when I could get gas enough to go to the airport to fly. The fellows were all just about -- there were no -- very few fellows to date. I mean, either they were married or they were 4-F. But of course we were collecting aluminum foil and string and rubber and things like that for the war effort but --

Phillip A. Shaull:

Times are kind of -- economy-wise kind of tight at the time?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

And things were very, very tight at the time.

Phillip A. Shaull:

But at General Electric I bet it was quite busy?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Yes, it was. I was in small motor department.

Phillip A. Shaull:

And a lot of the things that were being produced there were going toward the war effort?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

They were going to the military, right.

Phillip A. Shaull:

When you entered -- passed your physical and you're off to Texas, what kind of thoughts are going through your mind, fear of the unknown or did you know what you were in for?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

I was young, and I don't think I even worried about that. There was a job to be done, and going down there, of course, my fear was would I make the grade, would I be able to -- the class work, would I be able to fly up to the military standards. I mean, I did come from a small school, and my background wasn't -- I liked to travel. My folks liked to travel, so adventure was in the family, but it was surprising that it went well going down.

Phillip A. Shaull:

That's good. Were you able to keep in touch with your family back home while you were in training and then --

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Yes, I wrote letters. Actually my folks did not have a phone at home, so I didn't get to talk to them. Everything was done by mail.

Phillip A. Shaull:

What made you decide, you know, hey, I have got this opportunity to serve. I mean, you could have stayed at home and, you know, all that kind of thing and stayed with your family, but instead it sounds like you didn't even hesitate to --

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

There was no hesitation. I mean, hey, the airplanes needed to be moved, and my service was needed and I'm going.

Phillip A. Shaull:

That's interesting. What was the training like? What is it pretty rigorous?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

It was the same training that the cadets have. We marched every place we went. We were treated as military people and carried our own parachutes and did everything on our own. Of course, it was all women out there. We did have male flight instructors, but there was no problems.

Phillip A. Shaull:

That's interesting. What were your first days like, you know, you complete your training, you're stationed at Delaware --

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Well, at the Second Ferrying Division the base was already there, and we stayed in BLQ. The quarters we stayed in was a two-story building, of course, with wooden floors, just like the fellows had. Had a day room at the front of the building where we, as soon as you got up in the morning, would go down and find your orders, and I was gone most of the time. I was -- we were needed. If we were not out on a trip, we then went to a training session some place. So there was no free time during the time that we were there. Of course, to make friends when you're flying in and flying out, you get to know the WASPs that are based with you or who you're traveling with but -- and every week, every day about it was a different group to go with.

Phillip A. Shaull:

How many -- how many traveled together in one plane, just you and a co-pilot?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

No, we -- one person per plane and there was usually a flight of three or four.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Okay.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

That would go out. So we would be -- it would be a flight of three or four people. I mean, Hagerstown, Maryland, was close by. Fairchild Factory was there, and they would fly us over from -- from Wilmington over to Hagerstown to get the airplanes, and we would check them out. They would come off the assembly line. They had not been flown before, and it was our duty to test them, make sure that they were in good condition, everything was done right. And if anything wasn't, we came back and they corrected it, and we went on our way to deliver it.

Phillip A. Shaull:

So you were transported to Hagerstown, Maryland, got in these brand new planes right off the assembly line, flew them back to Wilmington?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

No, we didn't fly them back to Wilmington. We just flew around the base there to make sure that they were trimmed, they were rigged correctly, and then we took them and took them to Winnipeg, Canada, took them to Nebraska, any place they needed to go.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Oh, okay. Okay. They didn't just go to Wilmington. Okay. Did that involve any adventure as far as, you know, you get in this plane and you assume it's assembled correctly, and there's not going to be any problems with it, but there's always that chance. Did anything like that ever happen?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Now, some of them weren't quite rigged correctly and they had to be reset, but I didn't worry about it at all. I mean, I will go see what needs to be done and bring it back and have it done.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Did you or any of your other co-pilots in the Women's Air Service Corps have problems with, you know, potentially crashing or anything like that?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

I don't think it actually happened while they were checking an airplane that came off the assembly line. There were 38 girls that lost their lives, and we were at that time really quite experimental. The girls that were killed, the parents had to pay to have their bodies shipped home.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Wow.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

And sometimes it -- if they didn't have the money, we -- the girls at the base would chip in.

Phillip A. Shaull:

How did some of those happen? Were they mechanical errors, flying errors?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

I remember one was where they were formation flying, and they touched wing tip to wing tip and got a little bit too close and both airplanes went down.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Wow, that's incredible. What was it like, I mean, when you hear about, you know, one of your fellow WASPs going down?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Well --

Phillip A. Shaull:

Did you know any personally?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Yeah, I had gone down to pursuit school in Brownsville, Texas, and they were doing formation flights and afterwards I thought I was all right. I wanted to stay there and the class wanted to stay, and they decided the class should go home and come back in a few weeks or months or whenever they could fit it back in. So evidently it affected us more than we knew that it affected us.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Uh-huh. Is that typical, you know, because, you know, it can really play with your mind I guess when you're going up in a plane, was it typical to kind of give you a break when something serious like that happened?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

No, that's the only time that I know of that -- it was just one time out of Brownsville.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Okay. What did some of these planes -- what did they do with them after you delivered them where they were going, their destination, were these fighter planes in any respect?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

No, these were mostly trainer type airplanes, and we would take them there and it's where they needed them for schools to train more pilots. We took them up to Canada. We did not go overseas. Everything was done here in the United States because we weren't what you might call experimental, but we took them to Canada and delivered them up there for the Canadians for their training session.

Phillip A. Shaull:

What is your -- if you can identify one of your most memorable flight experience in the, you know, in the Air Service Corps?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Well, I really can't think of one now. I mean, just -- I got my license back here in a J-3 Cub, and when I went down to Sweetwater, we are now going into the PT-19 and I thought it was a huge airplane. And the day I got my instrument checkup they didn't have a C-45 there for me to fly so they took me over and I got it in a DC-3. And I didn't realize at the time the size of the airplane. I -- it didn't mean much to me. But now when I go to get one and look at it I can't believe that I actually flew that.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Interesting. How did the DC-3, it sounds -- I mean, that's one of the larger cargo type --

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

That's one of the ones that they were using for airlines.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Wow.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

They didn't fail well.

Phillip A. Shaull:

You in essence piloted an airline type jet?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Not a jet. This is a prop airplane. Yeah, everything was prop back then. I got time in B-24 and a C-54 which is four engine as co-pilot. I could not be first pilot because I was five four, and you had to be five six to be a first pilot.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Missed it by a couple of inches.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Right.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Can you identify a scary experience you had doing your job?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Oh, yeah, one time I had -- later on in the session we were picking up airplanes that were not in good condition and taking them what we call down south to the bone yard, and I was coming out of I think Lawrence, Massachusetts, on my way south and an engine blew up. So I'm down to one engine, and I made it safely to a military field. When I got on the radio, they had told me to jump, to leave the airplane, but I still had control of it and I got it in to a military base. And when I got on final, I was running out of altitude and I told them I was coming straight in for runway 23 or whatever the runway was at the time. And they said, "we observe a left pattern," and I think I pitched the mike and I was going to land on 23 regardless of what they said. And...

Phillip A. Shaull:

Was it a bumpy landing or did you --

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

No, it wasn't a bumpy landing. But when they realized I was the one that had a problem, by the time I got on the runway the fire truck was coming and the ambulance and everything, and I held my wits about me. The commanding officer of the field came out in a staff car. I had all the equipment out there, and he took me up and I had to call back to my base and report what had happened. And when I called, they asked what damage there was to the undercarriage. And I said, "none, sir." About that time he quoted the fact that in a military airplane when you have an emergency, you do not put the gear down and I had put the gear down so there was no damage to it, and he said some not too kind of words on the telephone. And about that time some tears started and the commanding officer took the telephone and he heard what was being said to me. And about two weeks later I was flying out of Wilmington, I had a trip south, and that safety officer, I flew into the point of embarkation.

Phillip A. Shaull:

What is that, point of embarkation?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

It's where they're being shipped overseas.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Okay.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

And I --

Phillip A. Shaull:

Oh, the one that had chewed you out?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

That had chewed me out, the captain that had chewed me out, it just happened to have a trip.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Reassigned.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

I did not know that until I got in the airplane. I got -- I think I went up and picked the airplane up some place and came back to Wilmington and picked up a couple fellows and took down to some place in the south where they were being shipped overseas.

Phillip A. Shaull:

So that was kind of a -- you felt good that the commanding officer backed you up on that?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

I felt very good that the fellow at that base thought I did the right thing.

Phillip A. Shaull:

And he was there.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

He was there. He saw it.

Phillip A. Shaull:

He witnessed it. Right. Interesting. What was -- I don't know if you said this, what was the name of the base in Delaware, do you --

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Second Ferrying Division.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Oh, that's what it was called?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Yeah, Wilmington, Delaware, it's the base.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Okay. All right. When your service wound down in 1944, what were your feelings, were you --

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Well, I had come off of the farm. I was doing what I loved to do. I really enjoyed what I was doing. I had made friends there, and I was devastated when they said your service is no longer needed. That I came home, and I packed all my things and put them away in the attic and it wasn't until I was invited to ride in a parade in Fort Wayne did I get them out because, I mean, here I went from this exciting life back to back home. Of course, I was happy to be -- to see my folks, but I made a new life for myself. I went to the airport and got my flight instructors rating and started teaching. I mean, I had my rating, but who wants to ride with a girl pilot. I mean, this was -- I had a lot more experience than any of the other instructors, but, you know, a girl pilot wasn't real popular.

Phillip A. Shaull:

In the middle of the 1940's.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Right.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Did you keep in touch with some of the fellow pilots that you had gotten close to?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Oh, yes.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Still do?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

We still have get togethers and we -- once in a while at air shows they have a -- maybe if there's a university close by in the summertime and it's not being used, we stay in the dorms, and the girls are just as noisy as they were in World War II. They may be dragging an oxygen bottle along and got a walker and they're going, but they're still that happy and satisfied type person.

Phillip A. Shaull:

That's great. What did it do for you -- you talked a little bit about this, but it must have been a -- giving you a lot of confidence, a lot of -- you had a lot of experience in that short time.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Well, when I came home, I started instructing and that was the main thing that I did. And then by having been in the service, I liked going cross countries, and I started racing airplanes. And then because I had had the experience as a WASP, a doctor in California called and said he wanted to fly around the world, and he knew I had all this experience. And he was looking for a competent co-pilot, so I had -- I had the opportunity to go around the world a couple of times now flying.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Did you -- what was the mood like when you came back as far as, you know, we're getting close to the end of World War II and were people in an upbeat mood about it or what was the general --

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Oh, when I came back it was quite quiet. I mean, I went to the airport. There were not many -- many people learning to fly. And so I did a little bit of everything, mow the yard, worked the desk, and work in the shop if they needed help out there. And then one day I got -- I was working the desk and I got a phone call from the radio station saying Japan was about to surrender. And they had made up some leaflets, and they would like to have them dropped over the city. I mean, back then we didn't have radios in cars and the newspaper was on strike. So on August the 14th, 1945, I had the privilege of dropping leaflets over Fort Wayne saying Japan surrendered.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Wow.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

And so I kept busy.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Do you know how many you dropped? I mean, it must have been a lot.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Yeah, I have gone back and researched, and there were 56,000 leaflets, and we put them in the back of a couple J-3 Cubs. Then 50 years later, I had the same opportunity to do a re-enactment only we only had 500 leaflets this time to drop.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Boy, that's great. So in a way, I mean, you know, you got to announce to the community that the war was ending. That must -- how did that make you feel?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Well, I mean, I was elated. I mean, I'm flying and I'm getting to let people know that the -- Japan has surrendered.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Yeah. Wow, that's great. What -- what else do you want to share? This is a big deal. You entered World War II in a time when, you know, there's obviously a great need and contributed a great deal. What are some of the thoughts you have maybe I didn't ask about.

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Well, I -- I mean, I'm 21 years old, and I had all these wonderful experiences, opportunities have come my way. And now when -- I do a lot of speaking now and when somebody gets up to introduce me, I don't feel like I'm the person that they're talking about. I'm just the lady next door.

Phillip A. Shaull:

So it's kind of awkward to have a big deal made about it?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

Yeah, it's kind of embarrassing to have a big deal made about it. And when Tom Brokaw's office called and said he wanted to -- he's writing a book and he wanted to include my story in it, I was sure it was someone putting me on because I had done some racing and I had gotten some publicity. And they had said, "hey, who is your PR person?" And so I thought they were just putting me on, so I thought I was going along on their joke and saying, "oh, yeah, I will be happy to be interviewed." And when they called a week later, I went along on the interview thinking it was all a hoax, but it wasn't.

Phillip A. Shaull:

Then you saw it in print?

Margaret Ray Ringenberg:

I saw it in print.

Phillip A. Shaull:

That's interesting. Well, thank you very much for sharing your story. It's an interesting one and appreciate your time.

[Conclusion of interview]

 
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