by Martha Magruder
“Shirley, have you heard about the WASPs? You’d be great to go into that!”
Shirley Chase Kruse was not yet twenty-one when a pilot friend in New York mentioned Jacqueline Cochran’s WASP program. Having loved flying her whole life and already enrolled in flight lessons, Shirley jumped on the opportunity and was accepted.
Shirley joined the training at Sweetwater, Texas and graduated with class 44-W-6, a time she would remember as being the most challenging and yet most rewarding of her entire WASP experience. “There’s a sisterhood in being a WASP, I can’t explain it, it’s something within.”
The training period at Avenger Field was ruthless. “We lived six in a bay, and you never knew at night who was going to be sleeping in that bay with you because we were eliminated, for whatever we didn’t learn properly. And if you were eliminated, you immediately went home. You were out.” The training that the WASP received at Avenger Field was extremely difficult and differed from that of the male cadets in that, “they did their Primary, Basic and Advanced. We did, Primary, Advanced, Basic, Advanced, so we really did it in a little different way, which was much more difficult. And [Jacqueline Cochran] said to us, “you have to fly as good as a man, or better.””
Regardless of the challenges, Shirley was doing what she loved and “there was a concentrated effort on everyone’s part to participate, there was a very strong feeling of love of country. Everyone wanted to help in some way.”
After the WASP were unceremoniously deactivated in December 1944, Shirley went back to civilian life and was dismayed by the reality she faced. After training on and flying almost every plane that the U.S. was producing, Shirley was only able to get a job proofreading the technical manuals at an airport in New Jersey. When she applied for an airline, Shirley was told that only position she could get was administrative, “He laughed, he said well that’s your only opportunity here, that’s what we’re offering.” Eventually, family life took over and it wasn’t until decades later that Shirley got wind of the WASP resurgence, and joined her fellow women in celebrating their accomplishments during WWII and making their presence known. “I feel very honored that I was a WASP, I certainly consider myself to be among the fortunate.”