Publisher: McBooks Press
Published Date: April 4, 2011
Genre: Non-Fiction; Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Book Summary: Sally Ketchum comes from dirt-poor farm folk. She has little chance of bettering her life until a mysterious barnstormer named Tex teaches her to fly—and becomes the first person worthy of her love. But Tex dies in a freak accident, leaving Sally to make her own way in the world. She enrolls in the U.S. military’s Women Air force Service Pilots (WASP) program, and in a special school located in West Texas begins learning to fly the biggest, fastest, meanest airplanes the military has to offer. She also reluctantly becomes involved with Beau Bayard, a flight instructor and aspiring writer, who seems to offer her everything she could want. But many people see no place for a “skirt” in the cockpit, and Sally soon finds herself pitted against a high-powered Washington lawyer who wants to disband the WASP once and for all. Their battle is a story of extraordinary women who broke society’s rules and became heroes, and of men who stood in their way.
My Thoughts: Wings is absorbing fictionalized account of the very real US military's Women's Air force Service Pilots (WASP) program that operated from September 1942 until December 1944. Civilian women with pilot's licenses enrolled in WASP to be trained by the military for routine, non-combat flying jobs which primarily involved delivering military aircraft to bases around the country and occasionally abroad. The purpose of this program was to free up men in the military for combat by employing women to do the non-combat missions.
Wings is a riveting account of a handful of the female pilots who enroll in flying school in Sweetwater, Texas following an invitation from Jacqueline Cochran, the head of the WASP program. In accessible and simple prose style, author Karl Friedrich informs, through some fascinating female characters that, although the women attending Avenger Field, the flying school, were trained by the US military, they were civilians and remained civilians. Women were only accepted for WASP if they had their pilot's licenses and, at least, 36-hours flying time. Under these regulations, Sally Ketchum, the main character in Wings, easily qualifies having earned a living for several years as a barnstormer working with her boyfriend Tex. Sally enrolls in the flying school after a terrible tragedy that ended her barnstorming days but didn't lessen her love of flying planes.
Sally is an intriguing woman whom, it seems in the early chapters of the book, we are going to come to know quite well. I was really looking forward to getting to know Sally and, through her, the WASPs, because she's a cpativating woman: smart, intense and eager to learn but also quick to anger and often judgmental. It becomes relatively clear why she's like this after we learn she was raised by an alcoholic, bible-thumping father who made her life miserable. We are privy to many of Sally's fits and outbursts, as the story progresses. She quickly and easily becomes irate when she thinks she's not being treated fairly, which happens often to women in the WASP program. Unfortunately, the walls Sally built to protect herself while growing up never come down completely as she seems to see, in almost every man, elements of her dead father.
Sally has experienced so much disappointment and pain in her short life that it's badly impacted her. She reveals that she's longed for, since she was a little girl, someone to love and protect her. I was still surprised when, instead of becoming stranger and more sure of herself, Sally unexpectedly gets romantically involved with her initial training pilot, Beau Bayard, a military man and a terrible pilot who wants to be a writer. On second thought, my hope that Sally would follow a different path was simply a hope since this aspect of the storyline was foreseeable from Bayard's first appearance in the book. I was disappointed that we don't get the chance to identify with Sally. Despite this, Sally's story doesn't follow the stereotypical path similar to several of the other characters like Geri, the nasty, rich one and Dixie, the stunning, superficial women well aware of her power over men. The military men are, of course, all skirt-chasing, horny guys.
Sally remains somewhat of an enigma personality-wise, but there's no mistake about her flying ability. Her talent as a pilot doesn't go unnoticed at the flying school where she's gained a name for herself and a reputation that results in admirable comments from some of the top military men at the school. She's not loved by everyone, though. An egomaniacal, nasty attorney, Ira Waterman, has been sent to Sweetwater by Congress to find a reason to shut down the WASP program. Apparently there are many powerful men in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere in the USA who cannot fathom the idea of women leaving the home to fly planes. Mr. Friedrich adds a tantalizing secondary storyline in which Sally has incurred the wrath of Waterman who has made it his mission to destroy her.
Kurt Friedrich has written a captivating story about the WASP program. Despite some issues I have with the book, Wings is an immensely readable story and enjoyable particularly because much of it is true. It's hard to stomach the way women were treated at this time in our country. The military needs their help desperately, yet there are many men in positions of power in the 1940's who, it seems, would rather lost the war than be assisted by women flying planes! It would be laughable if it wasn't so horrendous and painful. The female pilots who attended flying school were given no advantages or benefits and the rumors spread about them were sickening. Many of the residents in Sweetwater believed the female pilots were actually whores for the military!
I highly recommend this book to everyone. It's a fast, entertaining read that's also informative. I was completely unaware of the WASP program before Lisa who co-runs TLC Book Tours asked me if I wanted to review Wings. The WASP program was disbanded in December 1944 and, finally in 1977 the WASP were awarded veteran status. It's sad that it took this long, but at least it happened. In 2009 WASP women were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, a long overdue honor. I'm grateful to Mr. Friedrich for writing this book and shining a light on a brief but remarkable program and time period in our country's history. It's difficult to understand the thought processes and attitudes that resulted in the behind the scenes controversy caused by the WASP program. I wish Wings was longer and Sally was a women we could identify with strongly and were able to relate too, but this is still an important book that should be read by everyone!
Karl Friedrich's website
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to review this book and to McBooks Press for a copy of Wings.