She’s a living legend and an American hero, although she’s too humble to ever admit it. Whatever credit “Shutsy” Reynolds takes for her service during WW II, she insists on sharing it with others—namely, her fellow WASP comrades.
A recent documentary about the Women Airforce Service Pilots explains the history:
They were the first women pilots to ever fly for the United States military. However, after a nasty and aggressive campaign by male pilots who wanted the WASP jobs during World War II, they were the only wartime unit that was denied military status by Congress and were sent home before the war was over and their job was done. Because the women were denied military status, the WASP received no insurance or benefits during or after the war, and if a WASP died during training or while on a mission, their families were not allowed to put a service star in the window, nor could the WASP receive a military burial. It wasn’t until the middle of the 1970‘s that they would be recognized as World War II veterans, and it wasn’t until 2010, that the United States government would recognize those women who died during their service and the surviving WASP would receive the congressional gold medal.
Military history aside, Shutsy’s personal story as a pioneering female aviator of Western Pennsylvania is as inspiring as it is remarkable. As a young girl she yearned to fly, dreamed of it. She read every book on aviation that she could find. After graduating high school in 1940, she was so determined to fly that she entered the Civilian Pilot Training Program at the Connellsville Airport, where she excelled as a young aviator. The following year she was the first female pilot in history to be licensed at the airport.
“Flying is the closest thing to God,” she beams. “I’ve always felt that way. There’s nothing like it, especially when you’re on a solo flight.”
For many months Nancy Hrabak had been inviting us to her hometown of Connellsville, PA to meet with and record the stories local WW II veterans. Our schedule finally permitted us to visit Connellsville on November 29, 2013–the day after Thanksgiving, which also happened to be National Day of Listening—an effort promoted by StoryCorps to encourage families and friends to record and share their own life stories. (During NDL 2012, Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh partnered with the Heinz History Center to record three sets of conversations between veterans and their children).
Nancy assured us that we would not be disappointed in whom she arranged to interview, but moreover we would be impressed by the recording venue in the newly constructed Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop—a remarkable replica of the original train station that welcomed thousands of GIs passing through the area during the war years.
Indeed, we were impressed with the Canteen; we instantly felt at home by its warm and intimate feel and remarkable collection of World War II era photography and memorabilia. We are grateful to Dan Cocks and Michael Edwards of the Fayette County Cultural Trust for their hospitality and welcoming us to the Canteen and Connellsville.
A Day in the Life of Preserving Veterans’ Stories
Along with the interviews themselves, preserving a record of our oral history field work is important, too. On-location interviewing is an all day affair, and managing the technical logistics of our mobile recording studio can be arduous. We are always grateful when someone is on hand to take a few photos or to video the interview sessions.
Dan Cocks of the Fayette County Cultural Trust produced such a record of our visit to the Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop, November, 29, 2013, and he created this vivacious video record of our visit.
More Stories about Florence Shutsy Reynolds
From Radio Diaries:
In the early 1940s, the US Airforce faced a dilemma. Thousands of new airplanes were coming off assembly lines and needed to be delivered to military bases nationwide, yet most of America’s pilots were overseas fighting the war. To solve the problem, the government launched an experimental program to train women pilots. They were known as the WASPs, the Women Airforce Service Pilots.
This is a little known story about the SS Seatrain Texas, WW II Merchant Mariners, and their special role in the North African campaign, as told by Florence Shutsy-Reynolds (sister of Capt. Aloysius J. Shutsy) and Eleanor Shutsy (wife of Henry J Michalowski).