WASP Pilot Among Those Honored With Congressional Gold
Violet Cowden, who served as a WASP in the Army Air Forces in
1943 and 1944, passed away in Newport Beach, CA April 10th at the
age of 94. Cowden was among about 200 WASPs who were honored by
President Barack Obama with a Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.
The New York Times reports that Cowden had flown an
airplane as recently as last year.
A schoolteacher in Spearfish, SD with no drivers license, Violet
Clara Thurn rode her bicycle 12 miles round trip to the local
airfield to take flying lessons in 1936. As a licensed pilot, she
attempted to join the Civil Air Patrol following Pearl Harbor, but
got no reply. She joined the Navy instead, but when she heard about
the Women's Flying Training Detachment, which later became the
WASPs, she was one of 1,830 accepted of the 25,000 who applied and
reported for training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX.
Cowden flew such iconic aircraft as the P-51 Mustang, which she
called "the love of my life." She logged hundreds of hours working
seven days a week, ferrying military aircraft to units and
returning on commercial flights. She was often the first person to
fly a plane just off the assembly line, and had one catch fire on
landing. The Times reports she had the presence of mind to save her
important papers and her makeup. She flew in all kinds of weather,
and sometimes landed at night on runways with no lights.
When male pilots started returning from the European theater in
1944, the WASPs became less necessary, in the eyes of the military.
They were disbanded in December of that year. She tried working for
TWA as a ticket agent, but said it was too painful to be that close
to the cockpit and not be allowed to fly. She soon resigned, got
married, and her pilot's license lapsed. Friends who took her
flying, however, were usually glad say to her the magic words "your
Though they had been civil service employees rather than
military, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation in 1977 which
recognized them as veterans and provided limited benefits. She was
the subject of the documentary "Wings of Silver: The Vi Cowden
Story" which was released last
Mrs. Cowden is survived by a daughter Kim Ruiz, two sisters,
Betty Niese and Lillian Riede, and three grandchildren. Her
husband, Warren William Cowden, known as Scott, whom she married in
1955, died in 2009.