Monthly Archives: May 2011

Flying high: Maryville resident receives Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of her late mother

I’ve always thought flying was a sort of miraculous happening ~ Mittie Parsley Schirmer

 

They were a spunky, inspiring group of women. Jet setters. Role models. The original Fly Girls. Some 1,100 women who took to the air during World War II.

They were known as WASPS — Women Airforce Service Pilots — who served their country when the US was facing a severe shortage of pilots.

In 1942, the US Army Air Forces initiated an experimental program of training women, all civilian volunteers, to fly nearly every type of aircraft, including B-17, B-26 and B-29 bombers.

The WASP program lasted just two years, but during that time, the women flew 60 million miles of noncombat military missions, allowing their male counterparts to fight overseas. Their job included ferrying planes and carrying supplies and personnel from base to base.

 

While I was growing up I believed flying for me was just an unattainable dream, so I didn’t do anything about it.

 

Born October 24, 1921, in Stanley, KS, Mittie Parsley grew up with that belief. But it didn’t take long for her to make learning to fly a reality.

When her future husband, Dan Schirmer, was serving in the Pacific theatre, Mittie decided to join the Civil Air Patrol.

She began taking flying lessons at the Municipal Airport in Kansas City, where she learned about the WASP program and immediately applied for the training program.

 

Most of my friends thought I was a complete airhead for even contemplating leaving a relatively secure job for the ‘Wild Blue Yonder,’ but my mother encouraged me to join if I had the chance.

 

And she did have the chance. Of the 25,000 who applied, only 1,100 were accepted and eventually graduated.

In May of 1944, at the age of 20, Mittie began her six-month training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX. Her class was the last before the program was cut. During the graduation ceremony, Henry “Hap” Arnold, commanding general, said he wasn’t sure “whether a slip of a girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in heavy weather” when the program started. “Now in 1944, it is on the record that women can fly as well as men,” he said.

 

As I look back on those months of training it seemed I was living in a never-never land. It was a segment of my life that was completely different and a wonderfully fulfilling experience.

 

A month after the WASPs were deactivated, Mittie, who also went by Betty in later years, married Dan Schirmer, and they soon began raising a family with son, Mark, and daughter, Ann. They moved around some when the children were young before settling in St. Joseph.

Then when Ann was in eighth grade and Mark was in high school, the family moved to Maryville. They lived a few blocks from the Northwest Missouri State campus, and when Mark started college there, Mittie decided to go, too. A couple of years later, Ann joined them.

After Mittie had completed her degree in art, she and her husband moved back to St. Joseph, where she taught school for several years. Around that same time, in the 1970s, the WASPs were finally granted military status when President Jimmy Carter signed a law establishing those women as veterans.

And now, after nearly 70 years since the WASP program began, they’re beginning to get more recognition. Last July, President Barack Obama signed a bill awarding each WASP the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest and most distinguished honor Congress can bestow to a civilian.

Sadly, the recognition came a year and a half after Mittie died. However, her daughter, Maryville resident Ann Pfeifer, was able to accept the medal on her behalf in March at a ceremony in Washington, DC.

“Each WASP received a Congressional Medal,” Ann said. “It really is an honor.”

Also making the trip was her husband, Dan, their daughters, Angela Stanley and Mindy Gray, their grandson, Jake Stanley, her brother, Mark Schirmer and his wife, Wendy, and their son, Derek.

“We’re just really proud of her and wish she would’ve been able to be there,” Pfeifer said. “She would’ve gotten a kick out of it.

“She was proud to be a WASP and to serve her country.”

 

The application, the acceptance, the training, the graduation, the wings and especially the flying were all great, but, perhaps the proudest moment was when this former WASP stood up by her husband, when the pastor of our church asked the veterans to stand to be honored by the people of the church ~ Mittie Parsley Schirmer

 

***Mittie’s words were taken from the entry she wrote in “44-W-10 The Lost Last Class of Avenger Field,” 1996.

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Are we there yet?

“That they might have joy” column by Jacki Wood

Summer is fast approaching, and you know what that means, right? Family vacation.

You know, the week you spend somewhere nice, running around with your head cut off fitting in as much as possible so that by the time you get home you’re ready for a realvacation.

Yeah, that vacation.

Growing up, my parents tried to make a vacation out our yearly trip to the Weese Family Reunion. And since Larry and I have been together, we’ve followed suit.

This year, we’re headed back to New Mexico, so for the last several months we’ve been planning our road trip.

With all of the preparations, I’ve been thinking back on many of my favorites.

The reunion is my mom’s side of the family. My great-great-grandfather, Alexander C. Weese, had 20 children altogether (my grandma, Jo Ann, has a LOT of cousins), so all of us Weese offspring get together at a different location each year.

We’ve hosted it here in Missouri, and in addition to New Mexico, we’ve also traveled to Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and California.

The year it was held in California, 2005, my dad decided he wanted to make it a mega-trip. Months were spent in planning where we would go, what routes we would take, places to stay and activities we would enjoy. We’d hit as many National Parks as we could, not only for beauty but also for education. My dad even picked up a second job to pay for it.

In the end, he and my mom had mapped out a three-week trek that took us down to Arizona, the Painted Desert and Grand Canyon, southern California, Hollywood, Disneyland, the reunion in northern California, Sequoia, Yosemite, the Redwoods, up the Oregon and Washington coast, on to Montana and Wyoming to Glacier and Yellowstone, then to South Dakota, Mount Rushmore and the Badlands. There were lots of other little stops along the way as well.

It was, in the end, the summer vacations of all summer vacations.

With all of their extensive planning, however, there were, naturally, a few hiccups. Fighting amongst siblings, car troubles, a couple of less than what we thought we were getting hotel rooms.

Somewhere after the two-week mark of the journey, and after we’d left Yellowstone, we were traveling in northern Wyoming.

Let me just reiterate that my parents had meticulously planned which highways we would take along each section of the trip and how long it would take us to get from one point to the next. And this portion of the trip was no different.

At Manderson, WY, we pulled onto Highway 31. We were, it felt like, in the middle of nowhere.

I will now defer to my parents’ journal entries to tell you, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story:

Dad’s journal, July 4, 2005 – “We had planned on taking this road (Highway 31) on our FACT Club trip, but had missed the turn (then) and just about missed it again – and shouldhave…”

This was a sign of what was to come. But in the meantime, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Mom’s trip journal, July 4, 2005 – “Saw an antelope and baby. Saw two long-legged, long-beaked birds, looked like a stork, brown in color. Hannah is watching a Care Bears movie and singing out loud with it.”

Dad’s – “We’re seeing more oil wells, antelope and wildlife, and lots more irrigation for crops and hayfields. We saw a large herd of sheep. Then had to stop. Some ranchers were moving cattle across the road.”

And then the real fun began.

Mom – “Hyattsville, WY – population 100; 4,457 elevation…”

Dad – “At Hyattsville, the road changed to gravel…”

Gravel?! This is a Wyoming state highway. Yes, we’re in the middle of nowhere, but this is a state highway.

As soon as we hit the gravel, I grabbed the atlas. A closer look revealed that, indeed, the map indicated that portions of this highway were an “unimproved road.”

Mom – “…road changed to gravel. But we are up for the adventure.”

Had we taken a closer look before our journey, we probably would have chosen a different route.

There were a few grumblings, especially from my brother who was following behind us and all of our dust in his car. But the gravel only lasted about 20 minutes and we continued on our way to Devil’s Tower.

I have reflected a lot on this experience in the years since, both because we enjoy laughing about it and also because of what it teaches.

One of the things I gained from it is that we must have a plan for our lives, so that we know where we are going and how we are going to get there.

We need to really study it out and seek which paths will help us arrive at our eventual destination. If I want to become a great chef, it’s probably not a good idea to go to a school that doesn’t have a culinary arts program.

And then, even after we’ve set our course and are closely following our plan, there will be unexpected detours or road blocks along our way. We run out of money to pay for our schooling or we get sick and cannot attend. Sometimes these things are out of our control, sometimes they are because of choices we make.

But once we find ourselves in those situations we didn’t plan on, make the best of it. Don’t get discouraged. Right your course and continue on.

I am reminded of a quote by Voltaire: “Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.”

And like my mom wrote, be “up for the adventure.”