The Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) flew proudly under their motto, “We live in the wind and the sand, and our eyes are on the stars.”
With such lofty ideals, the WASPs served as a crack group of about 1,100 female pilots whose main purpose was to ferry new warplanes bound for the fighting in Europe or the Pacific in World War II.
On Veterans Day, Tuesday, November 11th, The Proud Bird Restaurant in Westchester is hosting a memorial ceremony for Gertrude V. Tompkins Silver and the other WASPs who served during World War II.
Silver is the only WASP who disappeared without a trace.
On October 24th, 1944, Silver took off from what is now Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Her mission that fateful day was to ferry a brand-new P51D Mustang fighter plane to Newark, New Jersey, where it would then be transported to Europe.
Silver disappeared after takeoff. Because of a misplaced flight plan, she wasn’t considered missing for three days. She remains missing.
In Silver’s honor, a bronze memorial plaque is to be dedicated at The Proud Bird during a Veterans Day luncheon. The 18-by-24-inch plaque is to be presented to Silver’s next of kin and placed at the LAX Flight Path Museum and Learning Center for permanent display.
Some Hollywood notables have expressed interest as well, including a “leading lady,” according to local historian and teacher G. Pat Macha.
That Silver’s story continues to linger has a great deal to do with the efforts of a United States Army chaplain, Captain Jeffery W. Clemens, who is now serving in Afghanistan.
Clemens “feels very strongly and passionately that people who have died for their country need to be acknowledged,” according to Silver family spokesperson Laura Whittall-Scherfee, Silver’s grand-niece.
When Clemens shipped off to Afghanistan, Macha headed the coordination of the search effort. Macha is a history and aviation buff who runs a Web site, Avia tionwrecks.com.
According to Whittal-Scherfee, “Pat Macha has been huge in this effort and he deserves a lot of credit. Pat Macha took the helm and is the main reason this Veteran’s Day event is happening.”
Macha himself is humble about his efforts.
“I have been visiting old crash sites for more than 45 years, and I’m especially interested in those cases where missing aircrew are still an issue,” he says. “Resolving this case would bring closure and peace of mind to the next of kin, especially Gertrude’s sister, Elizabeth who is still sharp at age 99.”
According to Whittal-Scherfee, Elizabeth remembers Gertrude as “someone who loved to fly — it was her calling, her real love.”
The Army accident report states that Silver had over 850 hours of flight time. Only 17 of those hours were in the P51’s new model D, the plane she was flying when she disappeared.
At that time in the war, new planes were ferried almost as soon as they came off the factory line. Often, the WASP ferrying the plane would be its first pilot.
Many possible scenarios could have played out that overcast day in 1944, but regardless of the circumstances, Macha believes the crash occurred shortly after takeoff. Because of this, the search has been narrowed to the Santa Monica Bay, specifically the area just west of the south runway at LAX, extending out from the beach for approximately two miles.
A proper search costs about $1.3 million, so volunteers are not only welcome, but also necessary. Most helpful would be the assistance of magnetic anomaly detection equipment in boats or sub-surface vehicles, as well as data analysis showing infrared depictions of the subject area.
This Veterans Day, the motto of the WASPS will live on, reminding us all to look to the stars.
The luncheon is at 11 a.m. Tuesday, November 11th, at The Proud Bird Restaurant, 11022 Aviation Blvd. Reservations are required.
Information and reservations, (714) 345-9210, aircraftwrecks .com/ or Pat@aircraftwrecks .com/.