She was one of the 1,074 Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) who flew military aircraft stateside in World War II. They replaced male pilots who were then sent into combat.
For a year, in 1944, Linder who had just turned 21, was sent to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, to learn to fly military aircraft. Five years earlier, when she was 16, she received her private pilot’s license.
Some 25,000 women applied to be WASPs during WW II. Only 1,830 were accepted for flight school. The washout rate was high. Only one woman aviator in 23 survived the seven month training course. All of those who were chosen already had their civilian pilot’s license.
Gwen was bitten by the aviation bug when she was still in high school. Her father managed a restaurant across the road from the local airport in Rock Hill, S.C., where she worked part time. Lots of pilots ate at the restaurant. It didn’t take long for a precocious girl to figure out aviation would be a great vocation.
When Jackie Cochran was named director of the WASPs in 1942, Gwen signed up immediately to become a military pilot. She was 20 years old and about to graduate from college as a chemist, but she had to wait until she was 21 before they would take her in the service.
“I signed up way ahead of time because I wanted to be a WASP real bad. When the day finally came, I couldn’t pass the physical,” Gwen recalled with a smile. “You had to weigh 126 pounds and I weighed 109 pounds and stood 5-feet, 7-inches tall.”
Somehow or other she had to gain 17 pounds in a hurry. She consulted a doctor friend and he put her on medication to calm her down and impede her hyperactivity so she could gain weight. For the next 90 days Gwen ate lots of bananas, raw eggs and milkshakes.
It worked. She was accepted for training as a Women Air Force Service Pilot cadet. Gwen took basic and advanced flight training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, in late 1943.
“We started out flying Stearman,” she said. “It was a wonderful airplane. It was wonderful being out there in the open air. I towed the line and had no problem with the Stearman.
“We did our advance training at Sweetwater, too. We moved on to the North American AT-6 (trainer),” she said. “It was another beautiful airplane. It was my favorite. After we qualified in an AT-6 we switched to BTs (Vultee Valiant BT-13s) for our instrument training.”
Although Gwen survived the rigors of flight school, many of her friends washed out before they qualified.
After graduation from Avenger Field in Sweetwater, she was assigned to multi-engine school in Laredo, Texas. She and her buddies were let loose in twin engine B-26s to start with at the field in Laredo with very little training.
“We towed sleeve targets in our B-26s (twin-engine Martin Marauders) for gunners in B-24 (Liberator heavy bombers). They used the sleeves for target practice,” Gwen explained.
Later, she was transferred to Greenwood, Miss., to a field that rebuilt AT-6 single-engine trainers. It was the WASPs’ job to test fly these planes after they had crashed and been repaired.
She had two experiences during her military aviation career where things didn’t quite work out the way they were supposed to.
“I was still in training at Sweetwater. It was my first solo flight in an AT-6. It was the first plane I flew with a retractable landing gear,” Gwen recalled. “Everything was fine until I started to land and the landing gear wouldn’t go down.
“I called the tower and told them my landing gear wouldn’t go down. What must I do?” she inquired. “‘Okay Clink this is your instructor.’ He told me to gain some altitude and then go into a dive and try and shake the jammed landing gear loose. I did that and finally after five tries, it dropped down and locked in place.”
By this time, lots of people were standing along the runway waiting for her to crash the AT-6. It didn’t happen. She set the trainer down as nice as could be. The plane was checked by a mechanic. A stray piece of wire was discovered to be the culprit. No one knew where it came from.
One other time, she had a potentially life-threatening problem while flying another AT-6. Although Gwen got the trainer airborne without incident, she quickly realized it had a jammed aileron. This controls whether the airplane went up or down.
She brought the plane down fast and hot because she couldn’t control it with her flaps. When the wing of the trainer was taken apart, tools were discovered inside the wing. Some of them had jammed the aileron.
Late in 1944, Gwen was transferred to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where she not only worked for the Training Command, but she occasionally worked for the Ferry Command. Mostly, she ferried AT-6s, but occasionally she flew multi-engine planes around the country.
By this time, the WASP had flown 78 different kinds of military aircraft 60 million miles, according to their publicity. They flew everything from the glitzy P-51 Mustang, long-range fighters, to the four engine B-29 Super Fortress, the largest combat airplane flown in WW II. They lost 38 young women while flying planes.
On 20 Dec. 1944, Gwen Linder was officially discharged along with everyone else in the WASP’s. Without fanfare, after a year of faithful service to her country, Gwen was dismissed. The war was winding down, men pilots were returning from the front and WASPS were no longer needed.
“It never even occurred to me that I was being discriminated against. It was just the way it was back then,” she said.
After she was discharged from the WASPs Gwen went on to become an air traffic controller in Lynchburg, VA., only to be “bumped” by a man who had just returned from the war. It didn’t faze her that she had lost a second job to a man. She went to work for Dupont as a chemist for several years until she married her husband, Jerry Linder, who flew 207 combat missions as a fighter pilot in the Pacific during WW II.
After her marriage, she took a position working in the physics lab at Johns Hopkins University. When she and Jerry moved to Kettering, Ohio, because of his job, Gwen became a science teacher at the local high school. For 19 years she taught biology, geology and many other science courses.
“I thought it would be the easiest job I ever had. It turned to be the hardest,” she said.
In the early 1970s Gwen got back into aviation. She took up glider flying. In 1973, at 50, she flew hang gliders and loved it.
It was about this same time the WASPs’ battle with the military began. It was the ’70s and the Navy decided to allow women to fly in combat. They advertised these women would be the first of their gender to fly U.S. Navy planes.
“This incensed the WASPs. We were the first women military aviators, but we had never been given our due,” she said. As a consequence, Gwen and what remained of the rest of the WW II women aviators began a letter-writing campaign to Congress. It wasn’t long after they started bombarding the politicians in Washington with letters protesting the lack of recognition for a job well done 30 years earlier that positive things started happening for them.
U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater sponsored a bill in 1977 that would give each WASP an “Honorable Discharge” for service to the country during the Second World War. Because of his efforts, Gwen and her fellow WASPs got their honorable discharges 34 years late. However, they didn’t get any meaningful military benefits.
Despite all the slights and the lack of recognition for years Gwen and her fellow WASPs suffered at the hands of the system, she wouldn’t have missed the year she flew for her country for anything.
“It was the most fabulous experience I ever had,” she said remembering her life as a military aviator so long ago.
Upon retiring 25 years ago, she lived in Daytona Beach and Tampa before moving to Port Charlotte in 2001.
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Charlotte Sun Monday, Feb. 16, 2004 and is republished with permission.
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Moore’s article on my Mom great
Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Friday, Feb. 27, 2004
I was so happy to read this morning’s paper (Feb. 16) that featured an article by Don Moore about my mother, Gwen Clinkscales Linder. She was one of the few women aviators in World War II.
My mother has always been an inspiration to me, and she has shown me in word and deed that women are capable of doing so many things that were not thought possible, then or now. She was a true women’s libber many years before the women’s liberation movement was even a thought.
I’m very proud of my mom and what she has accomplished, and I want to thank Don Moore for writing such a wonderful article about her and letting people know about the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). Thank you Don Moore.
Codye Gwen Linder, 85, of Port Charlotte, Fla., passed away Friday, Feb. 8, 2008 of complications from Parkinson’s disease, at Royal Palm Retirement Centre in Port Charlotte.
She was born Oct. 2, 1922, in Macon, Ga., to Cody Geoffrey and Vertna Francis (nee Hamlin) Clinkscales.
Codye graduated with honors from Winthrop College with a double major in biology and chemistry. She was a member of the Zeta Alpha Honorary Chemistry Society and Beta Beta Beta Honorary Biology Society.
While attending college, she also completed courses and obtained her private pilot’s license, all by the age of 20. After graduation, she joined the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) in 1943. The WASP freed up more male pilots for combat by flying noncombat missions throughout the United States. Codye towed targets for live ammunition practice, test-flew repaired planes to make certain that they were safe for male pilots to fly in combat, and ferried planes to various destinations within the U.S.
The military program of the WASP was considered experimental, and all records of the WASP were sealed and not available to historians until 1979. After the WASP program was deactivated, Codye was employed as an air traffic controller with the Civil Aeronautics Administration (now the FAA). She later worked as a chemist with the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
She obtained her master’s degree in zoology, taught high school advanced-placement biology classes and aviation ground school, so that upon the completion of her course, high school students could apply for their private pilot’s license.
She is survived by her children, Walt (Rita) Linder, Barb Linder and Cody Linder; grandchildren, Scott, Brittany, Alan, Andrew and Maritza; and great-grandchildren, Alex and Tatiana.
Services will be private. Memorial donations may be made to TideWell Hospice and Palliative Care, 5955 Rand Blvd., Sarasota, FL 34238.
Inurnment at the Sarasota VA Cemetery. Arrangements were made in Port Charlotte.