With the August 13, 2015, passing of Gertrude Meserve Tubbs Levalley, 95, a finite group of 28 extraordinary women — known as “the WAFS” or “the Originals” — all are gone.
Gertrude was the last of Nancy Love’s elite Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron; the first 28 women hired by the Army Air Forces, specifically to ferry military aircraft for their country in World War II.
As of March 10, 2010, when the WASP received their Congressional Gold Medals, five of “the Originals” remained. With the passing of Barbara “Donnie” Donahue Ross August 21, 2010, Phyllis Burchfield Fulton June 21, 2012, Barbara “B.J.” Erickson London July 7, 2013, and Florene Miller Watson February 4, 2014, Gertrude was the sole survivor. And now she, too, is gone. Three of them — Gertrude, B.J. and Donnie — were present in the Capitol when the Gold Medals were handed out.
Nancy Love was hired by Col. William H. Tunner in the summer of 1942 to find and recruit experienced women pilots to ferry liaison and primary trainer aircraft for his command, the Ferrying Division, the main arm of the newly formed Air Transport Command. A woman had to have 500 hours to qualify. Most of the 28 had far more than that — including Gertrude, a young flight instructor with 1964 hours. They were the first squadron of women pilots who later became known as WASP and they were the first of the more than 300 WASP who eventually flew for the Ferry Command under Colonel, later General Tunner.
Gertrude Tubbs, of Boston, MA, was number 12 to qualify.
“Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I wanted to fly. Nothing else interested me,” she told this author when I interviewed her in 1999. She won a contest, the prize for which was a thirty-minute flight. She was hooked. She was 16. She excelled in math and science and by the time she had graduated from high school, she had notched a few hours of instruction. “Then I was able to concentrate on getting all of my flying licenses — private, limited commercial, commercial, and flight instructor.” She earned her instrument rating in 1939, when she was 19.
Like many of the WAFS and WASP, CPT gave Gertrude her break. “We had a little trouble with the insurance company. They had never insured a female pilot before, but CPT needed instructors. I taught eight classes at Logan Airport [Boston] then transferred to Canton- Norwood. My first class was a group from MIT. The MIT boys had to wear a suit and tie, but the boys from Harvard wore sport coats. I also taught students from Northeastern University and Tufts. I dated a couple of them — after training. They told us never to date someone while he was your student.”
Given her hours and experience, one would think she was a shoo-in, but first she had to earn her 200-horsepower rating, which she did immediately.
Gertie spent her entire WAFS/WASP career in Wilmington, DE, at New Castle Army Air Base as part of the 2nd Ferrying Group. She went to pursuit school as part of the first class — December 1943 — graduating January 10, 1944. Immediately after graduation, she and all the other male and female graduates picked up P-51s at Long Beach and ferried them to Newark, NJ, before reporting back to their squadrons.
Gertrude, Nancy Batson and Teresa James were later checked out on the twin-engine C-60, which was used to fly the P-47 ferry pilots back from Newark to Farmingdale — on Long Island — where they were stationed, TDY for two weeks at a time throughout 1944. Rather than navigating back across New York City and over to Long Island via land transport, it was the quickest return possible so that the ferry pilots could pick up yet another P-47, fly it 50 miles west as the crow flies, and deliver it to the docks for shipment abroad. Gertrude delivered 200 P-47s between January and December 1944, in addition to her periodic C-60 flights and other pursuit aircraft.
In April 1944, she married fellow pilot Major Charles J. Tubbs. And that changed her life drastically because soon after the WASP deactivation, December 20, 1944, she found she was expecting her oldest son, Charles J. Tubbs Jr. She and Charlie added twin boys to their family and Gertrude left the flying to Charlie, who was an executive pilot with Curtiss-Wright in Caldwell, NJ.
In 1969, they moved to Florida. After Charlie’s death, Gertrude married Russell LeValley, who died in 1998. In 2008, her son Paul moved her to Knoxville, TN, to be nearer him and his family. In 2010, Charlie Jr. escorted his mom to Washington to receive the Gold Medal.
By Sarah Byrn Rickman
Photo of Gertrude taken in 2009 at the memorial ceremony (held prior to the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony) for the 38 WASP who lost their lives.
Nancy Lenora Mayes, WASP-WWII, Lt. Colonel-Retired, USAF Reserves, age 95, died peacefully at her home in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 27, 2016.
Ms. Mayes was born in Newberry, South Carolina, on January 2, 1921, to John Bernard Mayes, Sr. and Agnes Summer Mayes. She grew up in Newberry and attended the Newberry schools. She graduated from Winthrop College in 1942.
Following graduation, Ms. Mayes taught school for a year before being accepted into the WASP program. She also spent thirty-five years working for General Electric retiring in 1982. She was member of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte.
Ms. Mayes was a veteran of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), WWII; receiving her Pilots Wings on December 7, 1944. Her class of 44-W-10 was the last class of the WASP program, and is often referred to as “The Lost Class”.
She was influenced to join the WASP by her brother, John, who was killed when his B-17 was shot down over North Africa early in WWII. Planes that she flew included the AT-6, PT-17, BT-13, and PT-19. Ms. Mayes and her fellow WASPs received the Congressional Gold Medal on March 9, 2010.
Ms. Mayes served in the United Sates Air Force Reserves from 1948-1978 and was the only woman in her unit. She retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Following her service with the WASP, Ms. Mayes joined the Red Cross and served in the Philippines and then Japan with Pacific Air Command United States Army (PACUSA).
Throughout her career, Ms. Mayes was a charter member of the Women Military Pilots Association, now known as Women Military Aviators, Inc. She was also a member of The Ninety-Nines, Inc., and the International Organization of Women Pilots. Images of the WASP mascot, Fifinella, could be found in almost every room of her home.
Ms. Mayes is survived by her sister, Mrs. Agnes Mayes Lippitt, two nieces: Nancy Lippitt (Kathryn) Hood and Elizabeth Ann (Betsy) Lippitt and two nephews: Edward Stafford Lippitt, Jr. and John Mayes Lippitt. She is also survived by many great nieces and nephews and their families.
She was predeceased by her parents, John Bernard and Agnes Mayes, Sr., and her brother John Bernard Mayes, Jr.
Visitation will be held from 1:00 until 2:00 pm Saturday, February 13, 2016 at Whitaker Funeral Home, Newberry, SC. This will be followed by a graveside funeral service at 2:30 pm in Rosemont Cemetery, Newberry, SC. The service will be conducted by the Rev. Tresco Shannon.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the National WASP World War II Museum, (waspmuseum.org.)
Whitaker Funeral Home, Newberry, SC is assisting the family. Visitation and graveside service will be held February 13, 2016 in Newberry, SC.
Here is an easy way to contact your Representative and Senators to let them know YOU SUPPORT #WASP at Arlington cemetery. Thanks to the National Women's Law Center! https://secure2.convio.net/nwlc/site/Advocacy…
The Final Week of Their Campaign....
We have only 8 days to go in the fan-based, grass roots Fund Dreamer campaign and $4700 to raise to reach our goal. Reaching our goal, with a robust number of contributors, will help us as we move into our next stage. In our first week of funding, we raised $11,000! We want to close our campaign with a bang in the same way, but we need your help to do that. Please share our campaign with your family and friends!
The campaign funds have enabled us to start pre-production, begin our search for an A-list writer. Additionally, it has allowed us to create a series of exciting events that bring WASP and U.S. Military Service Women together, inspiring audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Furthermore, the funds raised will be used for finding and interviewing the last remaining WASP for our special features section of our series. You will hear these women speak about the incidents in each episode as they experienced them, and in fact, we are interviewing Beverly Beesmyer this Thursday. We are urgently tracking down these women, and we ask you to please get in touch with us if you know a WASP who would like to talk with us.
Keeping in lockstep with the Pentagon’s direction to open all positions, including combat roles, to women, Nellis Air Force Base will also break the gender barrier this year in its command leadership.
Base officials confirmed Tuesday that Colonel Jeannie M. Leavitt will join the ranks of the base’s top brass by taking the reins of the 57th Wing, becoming the highest-ranking female officer to command at Nellis.
Selected for the rank of Brigadier General, she will command the wing, which manages all flying operations at the base, including Red Flag and Green Flag air combat training exercises. The 57th Wing also runs the graduate-level U.S. Air Force Weapons School, oversees the world-renowned Thunderbirds air demonstration team and supports the Air Force Warfare Center’s test-and-evaluation activities.
Leavitt, who became the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot in 1993, currently serves as Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s principal military assistant at the Pentagon. She is an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot whose flight hours include 300 in combat, mostly over Afghanistan and Iraq but also in Operation Southern Watch, where she helped thwart an Iraqi surface-to-air threat against a United Kingdom aircraft in 1996.
Her selection for brigadier general was announced Jan. 21 by the Pentagon along with promotions that affect the two-year rotation in leadership at Nellis.
Keith Rogers’ original article can be viewed here.