Remembering Our Theta Veterans

Category: Heritage

Noraleen Duvall Young

Alpha Chi, Purdue

On this Veterans Day, we recognize ten Thetas who served in the U.S. Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) program during World War II. Established in September 1942, the program, first named the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, merged in 1943 with the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, to become the WASP program. Besides ferrying planes from factories to bases, the female pilots tested planes, towed targets for training flights, and provided flight instruction. Thirty-eight died while serving.

The WASP six-month training course took place first in Houston and then moved to Sweetwater, Texas. Records indicate that 25,000 women applied for the training with 1,830 accepted and 1,074 completed. The women admitted to this program had to be between the ages of 21 and 32, with at least one year of college. Ten Thetas were accepted into the program, and two died during service. For these Thetas, some applied right after college and others had been working. All needed flight experience before applying.

Theta WASPs include: (class designation is in bold):

  • Mary Catherine Wilson McConkey, Alpha Gamma/Ohio State, 43-W-4
  • Marion Stegeman Hodgson, Gamma Delta/Georgia, 43-W-5. An oral history of Hodgson is part of the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. She is the author of Winning My Wings: A Woman Airforce Service Pilot in World War II (2005).
  • Margaret Seip, Alpha Psi/Lawrence, 43-W-5; she died during training.
  • Caryl W. Jones Stortz, Alpha Nu/North Dakota, 43-W-5
  • Enid Clifford Fisher, Beta Epsilon/Oregon State, 43-W-6
  • Elizabeth Jana “Jane” Crawford Eberly, Psi/Wisconsin, 43-W-8
  • Katherine Applegate Dussaq, Alpha Sigma/Washington State, 44-W-1; she died in 1944 while flying an advanced trainer.
  • Janet Hargrave, Beta Xi/UCLA, 44-W-5
  • Barbara Truitt, Delta/Illinois, 44-W-5
  • Nancy Jane Burnside Murray, Gamma deuteron/Ohio Wesleyan, 44-W-10

Considered civil service employees at the time, there had been a bill in Congress to make the WASP program part of the military, but the program was shut down in December 1944. It was not until 1977 that the WASP program was officially recognized as part of the military. In 2010, Congress recognized these women with the Congressional Gold Medal.

I encourage you to check out the Women Airforce Service Pilots Digital Archive, hosted by Texas Woman’s University, to see many images of these women in action.

We thank them and all other Thetas who have served in both the United States and Canadian armed forces! Are you a Theta veteran? Let us know in the Comments section below!