Irene Kinne Englund
Women Air Force Service Pilot
a contemporary press report:
Irene Englund, 85, a woman aviator who piloted military aircraft during World War II as a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), died of a stroke on February 15, 2002, in Fairport, New York.
Mrs. Englund was born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Encinitas, California. She graduated from Oceanside High School in 1938, and attended San Diego State College.
She learned to fly in 1938, landing on the cliffs and taking off over the Pacific Ocean in the rural beach town north of San Diego. After earning her pilot's license, she studied aviation at Pasadena College. In 1943, she answered the call for women pilots to volunteer and joined the WASPs. Of the 25,000 applicants, she was one of 1,047 women who earned her wings.
Stationed in Sweetwater, Texas, at Avenger Field, Mrs. Englund served for 18 months ferrying military aircraft, transporting air inspectors and medical patients and towing aerial gunnery targets to free men for combat overseas. She logged 1,200 hours flying many different aircraft, including the twin engine B-26 Martin Marauder bomber. She was one of handful of women qualified to pilot the massive, four engine B-24 "Liberator" bomber. When the WASPs were disbanded in December 1944, women would not return to the cockpit of military aircraft again until the 1970s. The WASPs finally were awarded veterans status by the military in 1979.
After her service with the WASPs, Mrs. Englund
returned to Encinitas and worked at San Dieguito Union High School until
her marriage to Carl R. Englund Jr. and her subsequent move to Westchester
County in New York. In 1971, they moved to Tuftonboro, New Hampshire
where Mrs. Englund was a member of Ossipee and Wolfboro Rescue, head of
the Board of Tuftonboro Parks & Recreation, and an
After a 30 year hiatus from flying, Mrs. Englund
returned to the sky in 1975 easily recapturing her flying skills in one
joyful day at Warrenton Airport. As recently as 1998, at 82, she was still
able to take off and fly formation with a TV helicopter for over an hour
as they recorded her remarkable career on film. In 1997, she participated
in the opening ceremonies of the new Women in Military Memorial
She was a member of two aviation associations, the New England Escadrille and the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of woman pilots.
Survivors include three children: Julie of Silver Spring, Maryland, and Cambridge, Massachusetts; Carl III of Fairport, New York; and Jill Jensen of Bear, Delaware; two sisters, Goldie Gay and Inez Beard; and four grandchildren.
She will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery
on 14 June 2002, under a new interpretation of the interment rules.
Woman is first WASP with military funeral at Arlington
June 15, 2002
Nearly 60 years after she served in World War II, Irene Englund became the first member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots to receive a military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
Englund, 85, was honored Friday in a ceremony that recognized her service flying B-24s and other U.S. bombers during the war, and the fight her family and others waged to get her a fitting funeral at Arlington.
Nine other members of the WASPs -- women whose
service freed male pilots for
"I feel that we waited an awfully long time to get this honor, and I do feel we deserve it,'' said Lorraine Rodgers, 81, another WASP veteran.
The WASPs logged 60 million miles transporting troops, towing targets for gunnery and ferrying aircraft throughout the United States. Disbanded without ceremony in 1944, their contributions went almost unrecognized until Congress passed a law in 1977 giving the WASPs veterans recognition.
When Englund died in February, her family was
stunned to learn from the national
"My mother was very proud of her service to the country,'' said Julie Englund, an administrator at Harvard Law School who maintains a home in Silver Spring, Md. "When they passed the law in 1977, she said, 'Now at least we'll be recognized, and I'll have a flag over my coffin.'''
The Englund's story was first detailed in a story in The Washington Post last month, and Army officials later reversed the policy, allowing WASPS and others once considered civilians to receive military honors.
Members of the groups are not eligible for burial in the cemetery, which is reserved for veterans who served 20 years or who meet other criteria, but they do qualify for military honors if they choose inurnment in the cemetery's columbarium complex, which houses cremated remains.
Englund joined the WASPs in July 1943 and was stationed in Texas, Kansas and Colorado. In 18 months, she logged 1,200 hours in the air, transporting air inspectors and patients and towing gunnery targets.
She was remembered as a vibrant woman and a pioneer.
"May she always have blue skies and happy landings,''
Why Won't Arlington Cemetery Honor the Female Pilots of WWII?
By Julie I. Englund
Sunday, May 12, 2002
How do we honor the Greatest Generation, those brave and determined Americans who served in World War II, when they die?
That depends. The men are eligible for an array of military tributes at Arlington National Cemetery, while the female pilots from that era qualify only for a perfunctory, second-class ceremony -- without even an American flag to mark their service.
I know about this inequity because my recently deceased mother, Irene Englund, is one of those pilots.
My mother learned to fly by landing on and
taking off from the cliffs rising above the Pacific Ocean near her rural
beach town north of San Diego, earning her license in 1938. When the call
went out for pilots during WWII, she eagerly volunteered for service with
a program that came to be called Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs.
Of the 25,000 women who stepped forward, only 1,074 -- including my mother
-- were chosen to fly military aircraft on domestic missions, freeing up
the male pilots for combat duty. The WASPs, under the direction of famed
pilot Jackie Cochran, logged 60 million miles on 12,650 different aircraft,
transporting military personnel, supplies and medical patients, towing
aerial gunnery targets and ferrying
My mother joined the WASPs in July 1943 with considerable flight experience. She was stationed in Sweetwater, Texas, at Avenger Field, training base for the WASPs. Later, she was sent to Dodge City, Kansas, to B-26 bomber school, where she towed targets for air-to-air gunnery practice by male trainees using live ammunition. In Pueblo, Colorado, she learned to fly the B-24, becoming one of a handful of women qualified to pilot this massive bomber, despite the military's initial fear that women lacked the strength to fly the four-engine plane. Over the next 17 months, she logged hundreds of hours on every kind of mission -- except combat.
In 1944, word began to circulate that the WASPs would be disbanded to make places for male pilots coming home from the war zones. The WASPs were told that they were welcome to stay on as secretaries. My mother liked to recall her response: She wasn't interested in flying a desk.
The WASPs were disbanded on December 20, 1944. My mother's logbook shows that a male officer on his way to California let her take the pilot's seat for one final turn at the controls of "my favorite B-24 bomber" on her way home. It was one of the last flights for a woman in the cockpit of any American military aircraft for more than 30 years.
She was lucky to get a free ride. As any WASP will tell you, and as several histories of the group recount, the military didn't even give bus fare to most of the discharged WASPs. Nor did it pay to send home the bodies of the 38 women who were killed in the line of duty, which led some of the WASPs to take up a collection among themselves to foot the bills. One could argue the military was just applying a certain bureaucratic logic: The WASPs were federal civilian employees attached to the U.S. Army Air Forces, and therefore technically not members of the armed forces. But my mother had a different way of describing how the military handled the WASPs' final days. "They just kicked us out and never even said thank you," she said.
It took 35 years for the WASPs to gain the status they so richly deserved. In 1977, Congress passed Public Law 95-202, granting them veterans' recognition. Two years later, on March 8, 1979, the secretary of defense declared the service of the WASPs to be active military, the final act in recognizing them as true veterans.
My mother passed away on February 15, after a stroke. She was 85. When my father -- also a WWII vet -- died in 1996, his ashes were placed at Arlington. My mother proudly noted that when her time came, she, too, would be entitled to an Arlington funeral with military honors. She had no idea that the congressional act and the defense secretary's declaration had not settled the issue.
As my mother's health began to fail, I flew to New York for what would be my last visit with her. I remembered a ritual that she always observed as a passenger on commercial flights -- pausing at the cockpit door as she entered the plane, and introducing herself as a WWII pilot. The airline crew often made announcements over the PA system of the presence of a special guest. So as I boarded, I stopped by the cockpit to let them know that the daughter of a WASP was on board. I saw that both of the pilots were women.
Upon reaching my mother's bedside, I found her unable to move or speak, but still alert. As I told her the story of my flight -- and of the two female pilots -- she smiled broadly. I'm sure she was pleased at the thought that her WASP service had helped pave the way for them -- and for equal treatment.
When I called to make arrangements for my mother's ashes to be placed at Arlington, I was astonished and disappointed to learn that the cemetery deems her ineligible for military funeral honors. Despite the intentions of Congress and the secretary of defense, Arlington National Cemetery still maintains that the WASPs' legally granted rights do not qualify them for the same honors as men.
Arlington essentially offers two types of ceremonies for male vets of WWII. Enlisted men are entitled to "standard honors," which involves a military honor detail that accompanies the deceased, a rifle salute and a rendition of "Taps," followed by the folding and presentation of the American flag to his family. Officers are eligible for "full honors," which include the addition of a horse-drawn caisson draped with the American flag and a ceremonial band. My father, as a WWII Navy lieutenant, received full honors at his Arlington service.
None of this will be done for my mother. She is entitled only to a chaplain and to an airman carrying her ashes -- the same treatment accorded to a veteran's spouse. The greatest insult is that Arlington National Cemetery will not even provide a flag -- a final honor of her service to the nation -- as her ashes are placed next to my father's.
This is inexplicable. While it is true that
Arlington faces a growing demand for
It is difficult to believe that the sponsors of this measure, or the sponsors of the 1977 legislation granting veterans' status to the WASPs, intended for Arlington National Cemetery to treat these pilots differently from their male counterparts. The 1,074 WASPs served their country with equal dedication and devotion. It would be a shame to treat the Greatest Generation as if it were only male.
An estimated 500 WASPs are still alive. For
them, I hope this injustice can be
Julie Englund is dean for administration at
Harvard Law School, and former treasurer and vice president for finance
and administration at Bthe rookings Institution.
Posted: 2 June 2002 Updated: 15 June 2002 Updated: 14 June 2003 Updated: 18 December 2005