In February I got to attend the Midwest Craft Con where I met so many cool people and had some great conversations. One of those cool people was Abby Glassenberg who I often chat with on twitter so I felt like I kinda already knew her. We had a really great conversation, Abby is one of those people who immediately gets past small talk and to 'real' talk. I was telling her about my Monday Mournings project and she suggested that I start reading obituaries.
I thought that was pretty interesting and I remembered Austin Kleon writing about how he reads the obiituaries. He quotes Maira Kalman (who also read the obits) as saying, “I’m trying to figure out two very simple things: How to Live, and How To Die.” Submissions for my Monday Mourning project have dwindled so I decided to follow their advice. A few weeks ago I started and this was the first one to catch my eye.
Obituary for Elizabeth "Betty Wall" Strohfus
Elizabeth “Betty Wall” Strohfus, 96 years young, of Faribault, MN, passed away peacefully, on Sunday, March 6, 2016 at the Milestone Senior Living in Faribault, surrounded by her family.
Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Tuesday, March 15, 2016, at 10:30 a.m. at the Divine Mercy Catholic Church, 139 Mercy Drive, Faribault. Interment with military honors will be at the Annunciation Church Cemetery in Hazelwood, MN.
Visitation will be held at the Parker Kohl Funeral Home in Faribault on Monday from 3:00 – 8:00 p.m. and on Tuesday for one hour prior to the services at the church.
Elizabeth Bridget was born November 15, 1919 in Faribault to Daniel and Julia (Lorem) Wall. Daniel was born in 1860, over one hundred fifty-six years of history. Also, predeceasing her: sisters, Catherine (Wall) Dufresne, Mary Wall, Julia (Wall) Lowden, and brother George Wall. She buried her son, Patrick Roberts and three husbands: Arthur Roberts, Francis Langeslag, and Martin Strohfus. Surviving her are, a sister, Cecelia (Wall) Bell; children: Arthur, Michael, Kevin and Julianne (Roberts) Reed; Plus grandchildren and great grandchildren galore! And many other relatives and friends.
Betty flew Bombers and Pursuit planes during WWII. She spent the last twenty-five years traveling around the country telling her story. If you’ve met her, you love her. If she met you, she loved you.
That last paragraph got me. She flew bombers during WWII?! That sounds like someone who knows how to live. And then "If you’ve met her, you love her. If she met you, she loved you." That sounds like someone who knows how to die. I had to find out more.
Elizabeth Bridget Wall, known as Betty, was born in Faribault on Nov. 15, 1919, and described herself as an adventuresome tomboy in childhood. She loved to climb trees as a young girl. "She would be up there all day, if she could," her son said, "She just liked being up high and looking at the world."
After completing high school in 1937, she worked in the register of deeds office at the county courthouse. It was stifling. She began spending many afternoons after work volunteering at the Faribault airport, learning from pilots with the local flying club. She became so adept at the controls of the Piper Cubs that when one of the pilots left for military service, she was asked to replace him. It would cost $100 to join. She went to the local bank for a loan, using her bicycle as collateral.
Once the war started, she joined the Civil Air Patrol. After seeing a notice asking for women pilots, she applied and headed to Sweetwater, Texas, in 1943. Out of 25,000 applicants, only 1,800 women were accepted. Strohfus was one of 1,074 who graduated.
Strohfus was one of the last remaining members of Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP. She ferried military planes in 1943 and 1944, and helped train air and infantry gunners at Las Vegas Army Airfield.
After WASP was disbanded in December 1944, Strohfus worked as an aircraft controller in Wyoming before returning to her hometown of Faribault, about 50 miles south of Minneapolis, where she married and raised a family. A member of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, Strohfus received two Congressional Gold Medals: one for her service as a WASP and the second for her service in the Civil Air Patrol.
I loved this story told by her son Art Roberts found via the 8th Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota:
One day, while training gunners in ground emplacements, Strohfus flew up from the south and recognized a unique opportunity. Just missing the roof of the hangar, she opened the prop pitch on the AT-6 to generate an almighty roar, causing all the men below to hit the deck.
Four hours later, Strohfus landed the plane to refuel. An angry sergeant confronted her as she climbed out onto the wing, demanding to know which enterprising pilot had buzzed his men.
Roberts detailed the brief back-and-forth between the two.
“Well, I’m your pilot, sir,” she said.
“I’m going to report you,” he replied.
“Well, what did I do?”
“You scared the hell out of my boys!”
Strohfus responded with a question.
“Where are your boys going?”
“They’re going to combat and I want them to live to get there.”
“Well, sir, I want them to live to get home.”