Better Late Than Never

| November 10, 2018

‘A go-getter and a pioneer’: Waukegan woman who served as World War II pilot awarded posthumously for her service

Janice Charlotte Christensen of Waukegan died on April 26, 1965, without a veteran’s recognition for her World War II service in the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Known as WASPs for short, the more than 1,800 civilian volunteer young women flew almost every type of military aircraft as part of the experimental program that lasted two years.

Near her grave at the North Shore Garden of Memories cemetery in North Chicago on Friday, Capt. Christensen was honored by U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider in a ceremony that formally recognized her status as a World War II veteran.

Schneider offered words of appreciation for the woman who learned how to fly at what is now Waukegan National Airport when she was 29, then helped establish the Waukegan Civil Air Patrol Squadron in 1942 and was accepted as a WASP in 1943.

“They were the elite and helped the war effort. They were brave,” Schneider said.

Though it was unavailable to be affixed Friday due to the morning’s wintry weather, a WASP medallion from the Department of Veterans Affairs will be permanently placed on Christensen’s grave at the North Chicago cemetery soon so the public can pay their respects properly, Schneider said.

“It’s a shame that Janice and WASP like her were denied veteran status after their service — a mistake not corrected for more than 30 years,” Schneider said. “But it is truly inspiring to me, and to everyone here, that our community has come together today to pay our respect to her and all the other WASP (personnel).”

It wasn’t until 2009 that veterans in the WASP program were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Barack Obama.

Christensen never got to see her service recognized, but her relatives said she would have been pleased with Friday’s ceremony.

“We were proud that my sister Janice joined the WASP (program). Her job was to take planes from where they were manufactured to where they were needed,” said Dagmar Joyce Noll, Christensen’s sole surviving sibling. “She knew that what she was doing was helping to win and end WWll.”

The rest of the story is at the link.

Unfortunately, Janice Christiansens is probably not the only WWII WASP pilot who has been overlooked.  I think ChipNASA could probably supply us with a directional link to a roster of them. If you have a relative whose efforts went unrecognized please speak up.

They flew in all weather, under all conditions, to get the job done, and because they loved to fly, like their counterparts, the British transport pilots who ferried all planes of all kinds in all weathers from factories to air bases in England.  They all faced great hazards that would probably ground a lot of current pilots, and did the job they were hired to do because they loved to fly.

It was not a hazard-free job, either. Some of these transport pilots died doing that job. So let’s give them a nod and lift a glass to all the air transport pilots, women and men both.

Category: Air Force, Veterans in the news, War Stories, We Remember

Comments (12)

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  1. Steve1371 says:

    I once meet one of these ladies. She was a neighbor of my sister and has since passed away and my sister has moved to Florida but I forwarded this to her as she may still be in touch with the family. Her husband was also a pilot in the Army air corp I believe and her brother was one of the “Lucky Bastards Club.” He had completed 25 missions over Europe. She gave me a photo copy of his Lucky Bastard certificate. She was also a very talented musician and I believe she taught music at Dartmouth College. A very nice lady and great American.

  2. 5th/77th FA says:

    Bravo Zulu Captain Janice CHarlotte Christensen. Another example of a “Girl” that did a “Man’s” job. My Aunt Johnnie was a Rosie Riveter at The Naval Ordnance Plant locally during WWII. She knew a number of WASP personally. Unfortunately, she and her pals are gone now. More of these stories please Ex-PH2. Thanks! Good post.

  3. Denise Williams says:

    I admire more than I can say those women who served at a point in history where men and most women did not feel it fitting, proper, seemly, or even possible for women to do “men’s jobs”. I am glad this long overlooked and under-recognized service is finally being properly acknowledged, including here with more and more posts and comments about women in service, but I’m left wondering…

    Most of the female veterans I know do not want their status prefaced with the gender qualifer. They are simply veterans. It is a akin to hyphenating American, i.e., Mexican-American, Italian-American, etc. The descriptor changes that which is described, diluting and diminishing what should be neither diluted nor diminished.

    It took a long time for society to stop referring to lawyers, doctors, tradesman, etc. with a gender qualifier so I guess this will take time, too. I just wish we didn’t have to go through this identity politics phase. But then, there is a lot of money to be made, raised and spent and so much virtue that can be signaled over initiatives that separate and segregate.

    FWIW – one of those women who do not like their veteran status qualified is my aunt who served in the early 1960’s, and this is a feeling she shared with me long ago.

    No, I didn’t serve, mostly because though I was raised to believe I could do or be anything I wanted, the spoken and unspoken message was, “Except those jobs that are men’s work”, including military service, police, fire, trades. My family meant I could have any white or pink collar career I wanted. Therefore my opinion is what I’ve been told and am seeing among the many veterans I know with whom I happen to share a gender.

    I’d love to hear from the TAH crowd of my gender on this one.

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      I was disappointed when Jimmy Carter decided that WAVES was no longer the right name for Navy women and went with WIN, which was as lame as you can get. Then the entire thing of distinguishing between men and women in the military was ditched, and while I think some changes have been silly (thanks, Mabus!), the current crop of women have fit right in and are veterans.

      So I’m a vet, period. That’s fine with me. I don’t think it makes any real difference if we’re male or female, we all served or are serving. That’s what counts.

  4. George V says:

    I’ve always thought the WASP pilots deserved all the respect due to any WWII combat veteran. Today we have have aircraft that are so reliable that it’s major news when one malfunctions.
    Think about flying from Newfoundland to England, in an plane of the technology of 1940, no navigational aids to speak of, in crap weather, with chances of surviving a ditching almost nil, and if you survive, chances of being found even worse.
    And your reward on successful completion – you get to do it again!

  5. AW1Ed says:

    NPR Online

    In 1944, during the graduation ceremony for the last WASP training class, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Henry “Hap” Arnold, said that when the program started, he wasn’t sure “whether a slip of a girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in heavy weather.”

    “Now in 1944, it is on the record that women can fly as well as men,” Arnold said.

    These patriots freed up the men to fight the war while they ferried new aircraft cross country and cross Atlantic from the plant to the base, flew maintenance checks, and towed targets for live fire training.

    The Russians had no problems with women flying; the Germans called the female pilots of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment “Night Witches” for their nighttime bomber attacks.

    It’s a shame Ms. Christensen didn’t receive the deserved recognition when she lived, but as you say, better late than never.

  6. Pam says:

    About 12 years ago I attended a Women in Aviation conference in Memphis. There were many speakers over 3 days, but the highlight was listening to the WASPs. They spoke to a standing room crowd and,shared the most amazing stories, then thanked us for our service. Thank you, ladies, for paving our way.

  7. Tallywhagger says:

    I did my initial Instrument Pilot check ride with a WASP, Velta Benn. At that time she was an FAA Designated Examiner but she was also still offering flight instruction. She was an excellent pilot and a wonderful personality.

    Here’s her official class photo, she was a cutie!

    • rgr769 says:

      My instrument instructor was a retired SR-71 pilot. He had some interesting stories about flying that most complex aircraft ever flown. He said fuel management was a constant activity in that plane, and heat on the inside of the cockpit from friction was so present that you could a heat a C-ration can by placing it next to the inside of the canopy hatch. Much of the plane was made out of titanium to withstand the heat.

      • Tallywhagger says:

        Amen on fuel management. Having to lift a wing during a normal flight plan becomes tiresome and distracting during actual IMC.

        Thank goodness for coupled auto-pilots.

        I can only imagine how it may have been to traverse the Atlantic Ocean with dead reckoning and AM radio signals. Obviously, it works!

  8. Messkit says:

    My Mom riveted B-24’s. She always said she was in awe of the women that would come to the plant, and fly the bombers away.

  9. HMC Ret says:

    They should be afforded all the rights and benefits given to active duty personnel who served. Unfortunate it is taking decades for them to be recognized for their heroic actions.