WASP Pilot honored at Penn Yan gathering

John Christensen and Julie Sherwood
Naomi Wadsworth, left, welcomes World War II WASP Dawn Seymour to the Penn Yan Airport for Seymour's 100th birthday this spring.

 The Finger Lakes, N.Y. and New Jersey Chapters of The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots, met at Penn Yan Airport this spring for a presentation by a female pilot who flew an original D-Day troop carrier plane back across the Atlantic to Normandy, France in 2014 to participate in the 70th anniversary of the Allied Invasion.

Naomi Wadsworth, of the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, was one of the team of pilots, engineers, technicians, and enthusiasts who helped obtain and restore “Whiskey 7” a C-47 cargo plane that flew paratroopers into France on D-Day, the beginning of the Allied liberation of France from Nazi Germany in World War II.

Donated by a man in Plattsburg, Whisky 7 had had a long and tiring career before coming to the National Warplane Museum. The museum made the decision to restore the plane to its original condition and make it a flying education unit.

Wadsworth’s stories of preparing Whisky 7 and her crew for the arduous flight back to Normandy (via Maine, Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, England, and Germany) captivated the audience by her accounts of international helpfulness and good fortune more than misadventure.

One of the audience was also warmly welcomed. Dawn Seymour, of South Bristol, who in 1939 was the first female accepted into the Civilian Pilot Training Program at Cornell University, and was one of the 1,102 women who served as WASP during World War II. She was among a small number of WASP who completed training on the four-engine B-17 bomber. On top of gathering to hear Wadsworth speak, the Ninety-Nines were celebrating Seymour’s 100th birthday.

“There were two motivations of the WASPs,” Mrs. Seymour said in a 2015 interview, “To serve our country and to help win the war. The closer I got to the action, the better I felt.”

The WASPs covered 60 million miles of operation flights in 78 different types of military aircraft.

Throughout her lifetime, Mrs. Seymour worked to preserve and honor the legacy of the WASP.

After the war she threw her energy into numerous projects, including establishing a WASP endowment fund, arranging for WASP bronze plaques and dedications, managing the generation and placement of WASP memorials, and motivating people of all ages through talks and presentations. Responding to her campaign, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Jacqueline Cochran, one of the most gifted pilots of her generation who founded the WASP and pinned on Seymour’s WASP silver wings in 1943.

Seymour was elected the first president of WASP World War II Inc. in 1982, later writing a booklet honoring the 38 WASP who died in service. Seymour was a central figure in national ceremonies honoring the WASP in 2010, including a wreath-laying at the Air Force Memorial to honor those 38 fallen WASPs. In that same year, Seymour received the Congressional Gold Medal — the nation’s highest civilian award — for her wartime service.

Recently, Seymour was among the female aviators honored during the National Warplane Museum Air Show in Geneseo July 14-16. During the air show, Seymour was once again thrilled to take to the skies in the last flight of her remarkable life. She died peacefully just two days later, July 18, at her Canandaigua Lake home.

A memorial service to celebrate her life was held Monday, July 24 at Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the National WASP WWII Museum, P.O. Box 456, Sweetwater, TX 79556. Condolences may be offered at www.johnsonkennedy.com.

The Ninety-Nines Inc., is an international organization of licensed women pilots from 35 countries. Today, Ninety-Nines are professional pilots for airlines, industry and government; pilots who teach and pilots who fly for pleasure, who are technicians and mechanics; but first and foremost, to quote Amelia Earhart, “fly for the fun of it!”