Utah WASP and other flying women

Happy Veteran’s Day, and thank you to the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed for our freedom.

And happy book birthday to Utah Women: Pioneer, Poets & Politicians!

To celebrate both, I’m writing today about the female Civil Air Patrol pilots and WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) of World War II.

My grandfather, Frank Brooksby, was a pilot over occupied France during World War II, and his brother Victor was killed in action flying on the Pacific Front of the war. The Brooksby family seems to have been drawn to the sky, and the Brooksby girls were no exception. Family photos like the one below of three of my great aunts during World War II always interested me, and I’ve finally found out a little more about the experiences of the Brooksby girls and other female WWII pilots.

1944 July 2; Edith, Vivien, IsabelleAmerican women didn’t fly in combat in World War II (though the Russian “night witches” did!). Instead, they flew missions stateside, freeing up men to fly overseas. WASP women tested and repaired airplanes and shuttled planes, people, and cargo around the country. Women in the WASP program even flew planes hauling targets so the male pilots could practice shooting live ammo!  Thirty-nine of the slightly over 1,000 WASP volunteers died in service to their country.

The Women Air Service Pilots were not granted status as veterans until 1977 when they petitioned Congress to have their service officially recognized by the history books. Though their recognition came late, they played an important role in proving that women’s minds and bodies could handle the complexities of flying, even during menstruation (yes, that was in serious doubt at the time). Latino, Asian, and Native American women flew with the WASP program, also proving their capabilities, though black women were segregated out of WASP by their race and out of the history-making, all-black Tuskegee Airmen by their gender.

Many other women served with the Civil Air Patrol. Started just before the US entered World War II, the Civil Air Patrol formed to utilize the skills of civilian pilots in protecting the United States. CAP pilots patrolled over land and sea, performed rescue missions, and worked as couriers. It was open to both sexes and all races.

But, I wondered, how did the Brooksby girls from little Fredonia on the Arizona Strip (the patch of Arizona above the Grand Canyon, just south of the Utah border) learn to be pilots? They might have seen the occasional barnstormer or cropduster, but I doubted that planes were common in Fredonia.

Like most female pilots of World War II, I found, they trained at college-based Civil Pilot Training Programs. At least some of the Brooksby women attended Dixie Junior College (now Dixie State University) in St George, Utah (Southern Utah is known as Utah’s Dixie for the early attempts to grow cotton there). There, they took the classes to learn to fly through the Civil Pilot Training Program and then went to the Provo Flying School under the direction of Merrill Christopherson to complete their training. Once they had the necessary solo hours, they worked with the Civil Air Patrol ferrying planes across the country.

After the war, WASP women were dismissed as no longer needed by their country. Commercial airlines would not hire female pilots. Some pilots, like Utah transplant Marjorie Redding Christiansen, became air traffic controllers. Others continued to serve with the Civil Air Patrol or other community organizations. Their service was forgotten by many for a number of decades, but today we can remember their bravery and determination to serve their country.

(Below, the Brooksby pilots, minus Victor Brooksby, who was already MIA in the south Pacific.)

1944 Summer; Vivien, Isabelle, Frank, Edith

Utah Women: Pioneer, Poets & Politicians

I LOVED working on this project – Utah history has so many inspiring stories and amazing women – and I’m excited to have a release date and cover! Utah Women: Pioneers, Poets & Politicians coming November 2019 from The History Press.

Trailblazing in Untamed Territory

Representing lawmakers and lawbreakers, artists and adventurers or scholars and activists, the women of Utah defied stereotypes. At the crossroads of the West, they found new challenges and opportunities to forge their own paths. Emma Dean explored the Rocky Mountains with her famous spouse John Wesley Powell. Martha Hughes Cannon defeated her husband to become the first female state senator. Maud Fitch drove an ambulance under German artillery fire to rescue downed pilots in World War I. Author Emily Brooksby Wheeler celebrates the remarkable Utah women who, whether racing into danger or nurturing those who fell behind, changed their world and ours.

UtahWomenFrontCover

Japanese in World War I Utah

One of the reasons I’ll never run out of writing ideas is that every time I work on a project, I come across new awesome stories that don’t quite fit with the current project. The Japanese who fought in World War I are an example of that. As I was scanning lists of Utah veterans who fought in “The Great War,” looking for character names for No Peace with the Dawn, I came across one from Brigham City, Utah that stood out from the Williams, Johns, and even the Alonzos and LaMonds that pop up in Utah: Moichi Kuramoto.

My co-author Jeff Bateman and I were interested in including minorities as we wrote about Utah’s experience in the Great War, but Mr. Kuramoto didn’t quite fit with the story we were telling, so all he gets is a brief cameo. Still, here is what I was able to find about him, using census and war records, and general research on the Japanese who came to Utah.

Moichi Kuramoto was born in Hawaii. His parents probably moved there to work in agriculture, then made their way to California in the early 1900s, where anti-Asian sentiments were burning hot. Some Japanese had already come to Utah to work on the railroads after the Exclusion Act prevented more Chinese from emigrating, and they were followed by their countrymen who wanted agricultural jobs. I would guess Kuramoto’s family was among these. Though nativism and racial prejudice were everywhere at this time, the Japanese seem to have not been discriminated against as severely as other groups in Utah, such as the Greeks.

Moichi Kuramoto was drafted from Perry, Box Elder Country, Utah, according to his draft registration card. His being drafted was illegal, since he would have been denied American citizenship at the time (this also affected other groups in WWI, such as some Native Americans who served). Nevertheless, he answered the call. He doesn’t seem to have gone overseas during the war, serving instead as a private in a Depot Brigade in New York, which helped to train and equip troops going “Over There.” Perhaps the army didn’t quite know what to do with Japanese draftees? They wouldn’t have served in segregated units at any rate, since those were reserved for African Americans – all other racial groups were integrated.

The 1920 U.S. Census shows that Kuramoto survived the influenza epidemic that ravaged the East Coast training camps, and was married and farming in Payson, Utah. Again following him through census records, he and his large family moved to California during the Great Depression (a very difficult time for all farmers in Utah), and were still living there in 1940. If, like me, you know the history of the Japanese in California during WWII, you probably feel the same sick sense of foreboding I did as I read through the records.

Kuramoto died in California in April 1941, early enough to miss Pearl Harbor, but his wife, Ichiyo, and his Utah- and California-born children were imprisoned in Rohwer War Relocation Camp in Arkansas. On one hand, I was relieved that this veteran was spared the ordeal of being imprisoned, but on the other, I hurt for his widowed wife and her children, who had to suffer doubly from his lose and the lose of everything else. At about the time his family was sent to live behind barbed wire as potential enemy aliens, his military veteran headstone was delivered to the Lodi Cemetery in California where he was buried.

Kuramoto’s wife and children returned to California after World War II to pick up what was left of their lives, but I can only imagine their thoughts toward the country that could illegally draft Japanese in one war and imprison them in the next. And while Kuramoto’s death saved him the humiliation of being declared an enemy of the country he had served, I wonder about other Japanese veterans of WWI who ended up in relocation camps.