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Students honor contribution of WASP to military with performance

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A group of students from Highland High School, located south of Roscoe, had the rare opportunity to perform a play about the Women Air Service Pilots (WASP) at the WASP Museum in Sweetwater in front of a group of 20-plus women who served with the WASP. They performed their one-act play, “Fastest Woman Alive,” for them Saturday during the WASP Homecoming.

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The play, written by Karen Sunde, is about Jacqueline Cochran, the director of the WASP and well-known pilot who set many records for speed in flying. She was the first living woman to be inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame. She was also the first woman to break the sound barrier, which she did with long-time friend and teacher, Chuck Yeager.

Garrett Stewart, who played Yeager, was anxious to see the WASP ladies’ faces during their performance and thought they would enjoy the play. He said he learned a lot about the WASP because of the play. “I had no idea about the WASP before,” he said.

Jordan Garza, who played a WASP instructor and other parts, said he was curious to know how the women felt losing a friend in the line of duty, which was portrayed in the play.

Morgan Monroe, an actress who played a WASP in the play, said performing in front of the WASPs was an “amazing experience.”

Katy Fullwood, who played Cochran and won awards portraying her during UIL One-Act Play competition, including Best Actress, said she was nervous about performing in front of the WASPs when they were practicing two days before. She was concerned about portraying Cochran correctly since she knew some of the WASP women watching probably knew Cochran. Interestingly, the students performed in the shadow of a large banner with a photo of Cochran facing them.

Betty Jo Reed, a former WASP, said she thought the Highland students did a “fantastic job” with the play. She said the play brought out things about Cochran’s life that most people probably didn’t know. For example, she married and divorced young and had a son who was killed at the age of five in a tragic accident where he set his clothes on fire.

The play also portrayed Cochran as a savvy businesswoman who owned a line of cosmetics and married Floyd Odlum, an attorney and CEO of RKO Pictures in Hollywood. Cochran was friends with Amelia Earhart, who was also featured in the play.

Cheryl Marie Michell also watched and enjoyed the play Saturday afternoon. She is the niece of the late Marie Michell, who was one of the 38 WASPs who died while serving as a WASP. Cheryl said the play was the first time she saw such a “moving portrayal” of the 38 who died. WASP was organized in 1943 by the U.S. Army Air Force in order to free up male pilots to fly in combat missions during World War II when there was a shortage of qualified pilots.

It wasn’t until 1977 that WASP were granted veteran status. In fact, the play portrayed how those who died did not receive death benefits because they were not considered military, but civilian pilots. In 2009 the WASP were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Cheryl Michell said she appreciated how the play brought out the things that WASPs really went through. Michell’s aunt crashed over the Mojave Desert during a mission in 1944. Her personal effects weren’t found until 2003. Michell’s father, also the late Marie Michell’s brother, was in the military at the time those things were found. One of the things they found was her wedding ring. She had been married secretly, which was discovered after her death.

Cheryl Michell was scheduled to read the poem, “Celestial Flight,” during the WASP dinner in Sweetwater Saturday night. The poem was written by her late aunt’s friend, Kit Magid, who wrote the poem on her way to Marie Michell’s funeral. The poem is now read at the passing of all WASPs.

You can find the poem and information about the 38 women who died as WASPs on Cheryl Michell’s website, 38wasp.com.

Find more information about the WASP Museum in Sweetwater and the women the museum honors at waspmuseum.org.

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