Review by Naomi Inman,
Anna Louise Flyyn Monkiewicz grew up outside of Boston, MA in the smaller town of Natick, MA. She had two sisters and a brother. Anna remembers the day she first wanted to fly. She was 8 years old and Charles Lindbergh had just made his historic flight.
“I decided way back then that I wanted to fly,” she remembers. “I told my family that I wanted to fly, and they all thought I was a little crazy.” Mom and Pop answered, “You’re not old enough and you’re not rich enough.”
“I knew that others considered women fliers as out of the ordinary, however, I didn’t see flying as a gender thing anymore than swimming or dancing could be a gender thing.”
When the Pearl Harbor attack occurred, Anna remembers working in the mail room for a publishing company, far from her dream of flying. She did, however, have one good friend who was also interested in flying. That friend worked at the Piper Aircraft Factory in Lock Haven, PA. In the Spring of 1942 she called Anna and said, “Come over here, there’s an opening. You can stay with us and learn how to fly and deliver these airplanes.”
Anna was about 23 when she took her first step toward her dream of flying as she landed in Lock Haven to work in the Piper factory. It wasn’t long before a female recruiting officer came through Lock Haven looking for women interested in becoming a Women’s Air Service Pilot, or a WASP. Anna jumped at the chance and remembers about 20 other women who applied with her, took the Air Corp physical exam and waited for their answer.
When Anna was accepted, she knew that her childhood dream could be a reality. “I felt so thrilled, and just a little bit scared,” Anna remembers. “I kept asking myself, ‘Can I do this?’” Although she remembers being shy when she was younger, she also remembers that being accepted to the Air Corp “knocked that shyness outta me.”
“It was like a dream come true. To think that I’d made it that far. To be associated with the Air Force. To be able to serve my country and at the same time be able to do something I had wanted to do all my life…I was thrilled almost to death!”
She remembers her training with fondness and a heart hungry for travel and adventure. Like other WASPS, she trained in Sweetwater, Texas. At Romulus Army Air Base in Michigan, she was qualified to fly five different single-engine fighters used by the Army Air Corp. She was based both at Romulus MI and Wilmington, DE and travelled to many bases ferrying fighter planes from factories to their embarkation points.
“The first time that I left the ground myself, in a P40 fighter plane, was the biggest thrill of all. To know that I’m up there and in charge of that airplane is a memory I will never forget.”
During her travels from base to base she had a sampling of experience with military life. On some bases the WASPS were treated as officers and dined in the officer’s dining hall. On other bases the women were considered as enlisted, and dined in the enlisted Mess or Chow hall.
“Every day was different. You met a lot of people and ran into a lot of situations. It was such an incredible growing experience,” Anna pipes up. “The exercise and the discipline were the best and helped me learn how to get along in the world.”
Rumblings and rumors began to spread in October 1944 that the WASPs would be disbanded in December as male pilots were beginning to return from overseas. She remembers her colleagues disbelieving comments, “they wouldn’t do that. Would they?”
But the day came for these women pilots on the wings of disappointment. On December 20, 1944, the WASPS were disbanded and sent home. They were the only group to be disbanded before the war was over. Yet, the women returned home with a set of wings and their Instructors ratings.
Anna was thrilled to keep flying and she continued as a flight instructor in Ohio and then California. She met her husband, Bill, while a flight instructor near the Naval Ordinance Test Station in California. Bill Monkiewicz worked as a power dam mechanic for the Army Corp of Engineers. Together they had 7 children, eventually moving from Massachusetts to The Dalles, Oregon in 1958.
Anna maintained her love of flying clear into the late 80’s, attending P-51 reunions, and keeping in touch with kindred sisters and fliers.
“The last time I flew was when a friend took me up in Oslo, Norway,” she reminisces fondly.
At a P-51 reunion in Santa Rosa, CA, Anna and her fellow flier, Betty, met a Norwegian man who dared them, “come to Norway and I’ll let you fly my P-51.” Anna and Betty jumped at the chance, taking up the Norwegian patriot on the closing offer of a lifetime. Together, these two flier friends spent a month in Norway, where their winged Norwegian comrade picked up their tab for every adventure and gave them wings for one last time. Anna remembers that capstone experience to her life with wings, “It was a great way to wind it up!”
Now at 95, Anna still has a beautiful and strong voice as she pauses to reflect, “The older I get the more I realize how lucky I have been.”