by Randy Roughton
Air Force News Service
3/10/2013 - FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- Last
year, a young female pilot recently showed her 91-year-old guest the
F-16 Fighting Falcon she flies at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. She thanked
Betty "Tack" Blake several times as she talked about her job, so Blake
finally asked the young captain why she was thanking her.
"Because you started it," the captain said. "If you hadn't been successful, we wouldn't be doing what we're doing today."
Blake is believed to be the only living graduate of the first Women's
Airforce Service Pilot training class during World War II. The class
began with 38 women pilots on Nov. 16, 1942, but only 23 graduated on
April 24, 1943. They weren't known as WASPs until the merging of the
Women's Flying Training Detachment and Women's Auxiliary Ferrying
Squadron on Aug. 5, 1943.
"We were an experiment," said Blake, who now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"We were a guinea pig class, as they called us, because they didn't
think women could learn to fly military planes."
Blake began flying at the age of 14 in 1934, and became even more
interested in airplanes when she met Amelia Earhart at the University of
Hawaii in January 1935. Earhart traveled to the islands in her quest to
become the first pilot to solo the 2,408 miles across the Pacific Ocean
between Honolulu and Oakland, Calif. Blake was the only child in the
audience, so she was seated in the front row for Earhart's speech.
Afterward, Earhart sat beside Blake and invited her to the airport to
see the twin-engine Beechcraft she would be flying the following day.
"She was very excited to know I was learning to fly," Blake said. "She
told me to keep going and do something exciting and show that women
could fly. She had a lot of people fighting against her who didn't think
women could do it."
Blake flew tourists around the Hawaiian Islands in an open-canopy
biplane near where she grew up in Oahu before the Pearl Harbor attack in
1941. She recalls the time as two different lives, before and after
Dec. 7, 1941.
The night before the attack, she was invited by Navy ensigns to the
officers club to celebrate her 21st birthday. The next morning, she
watched the attack from the balcony of her family home on a hill above
"My family didn't drink, so I'd never had a drink in my life," Blake
said. "That was my first taste of liquor (at the party). The next
morning, when Pearl Harbor happened, I was in bed with the worst
hangover I ever had.
"My younger brothers woke me up, and we all went to the balcony of my
house, and we watched all these planes coming over the mountain behind
us going toward the ocean. When the planes went over us, they looked
like AT-6 (Texans), but they were (Japanese Mitsubishi A6-M Zeroes).
They had big orange suns painted on the bottom of their wings. Then, we
saw them as they started diving toward the ocean in front of us. Their
machine guns started going off, and you could see the bullets hitting
the water and bouncing up.
"We had been having so much fun before Pearl Harbor. We were having fun every night, and suddenly it stopped."
Two ensigns Blake dated were killed at Pearl Harbor, and a third, who
became her first husband several months later, also would have died if
her father hadn't intervened. He had invited Robert Tackaberry to spend
the night after the party so his daughter wouldn't have to drive him
back to his ship at night.
"It saved his life," Blake said. "His cabin on the (USS) California was
below the water line, and they dropped a bomb right in the water beside
the ship. His roommate was asleep, and it killed him. So my father
always reminded my future husband he'd saved his life."
Blake, who worked at Pearl Harbor as a secretary before she married
Tackaberry, moved to the East Coast when he was reassigned to a ship in
Erie, Penn. A couple of years later, she was selected for the first
women's pilot training class in Houston, near Ellington Field.
Unlike the casual way women pilots are regarded today, Blake recalls a
much different attitude during World War II. However, she had an
advantage her fellow classmates didn't. She was already accustomed to
getting along with men from growing up with two brothers in a
neighborhood filled with boys.
"I got along fine with them because I'd grown up with boys," Blake said.
"I knew how to joke, spit through my teeth and crack my jaws with them.
That was very fortunate because some of the girls were in tears if a
boy made a crack. I just joked back. They were always my pals.
"But a lot of the men were not happy having the women fly the same
planes they were flying. They watched us like hawks, and if we did
anything wrong, it was back at our base before we could get back."
After completing training, the graduates from the first class were given
their choice of assignment and job. Blake chose ferry command at Long
Beach, Calif., because she figured she'd be able to fly home to
Honolulu. She never got the opportunity, but met her second husband, who
was also assigned to Long Beach. Blake was part of a group of pilots
who shuttled aircraft from factories to sites where they could be sent
overseas. There was some discussion of using WASP pilots as co-pilots
for overseas flights, but the war in Europe ended before it could
"So, I didn't get checked out in a lot more planes that I would've liked
to have flown because they brought all the men pilots back and didn't
need us anymore," she said. "They gave us three days' notice, and it
was, 'Goodbye, girls.'"
Blake ferried about 35 aircraft models, in addition to the AT-6 and
others she flew in during training. But one airplane still remains her
favorite even today.
"The P-51 (Mustang) was definitely my favorite," she said. "Whenever one
goes overhead, and there are still a few of them flying around, I hear
that sound and instantly know it's a P-51. It was reliable. I liked the
engine, and I just felt safer in it than anything else."
Blake recently attended a funeral for the only other living graduate
from the first WASP class, who also lived in the Phoenix area. The class
of 1943 that was the source of the young Luke AFB pilot's gratitude is
down to just one.
"Now I'm the only one left, and I hope I'm here for a while," Blake said.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
The April 4, 2013, episode of American Heroes Radio features a conversation with retired Staff Sergeant John Kriesel, USA (ret.).
Program Date: April 4, 2013
Program Time: 1500 hours, PACIFIC
Topic: Still Standing: The Story of SSG John Kriesel
Listen Live: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/lawenforcement/2013/04/04/still-standing-the-story-of-staff-sergeant-john-kriesel
About the Guest
Staff Sergeant John Kriesel, USA (ret.) “was nearly blown to shreds by a 200 pound roadside bomb in the parched sands of Iraq, but battlefield angels in army uniforms kept him breathing long enough to reach a field hospital. He died three times and was shocked back to life. Somehow he survived through four hospitals, 35 surgeries and months of recovery. He lost both legs and suffered numerous other major injuries, but it was the loss of two close friends that hurt the most.
Four years after his near-death experience in Iraq, Kriesel became a civilian marketing employee with the Minnesota Army National Guard and in 2012 was named Director of Veterans Affairs for Anoka County. He also is a part time host on KFAN Sports Radio and former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. He was elected to the House in 2010 after a vigorous campaign where he was told a Republican could not win in his district, never had. He personally visited several thousand homes in all weather conditions and literally wore out the socket in one of his prosthetic legs. He won. After tours of duty in Kosovo and Iraq and a lengthy medical recovery Kriesel’s two sons wanted to spend more time with him and he chose not to run for re-election.” John Kriesel is a co-author of Still Standing: The Story of SSG John Kriesel.
According to the book description of Still Standing: The Story of SSG John Kriesel, “When SSG John Kriesel lost his legs and two buddies in a roadside bomb explosion, no one expected him to survive. He died three times on the operating table. Miracles, a lot of miracles, starting with a few grunts who refused to let him die in Iraq, ripped the young warrior from the grip of death and sent him on to four hospitals, thirty-five surgeries, and months of recovery and rehabilitation. Medical miracles put his body back together, but it was an incredible confluence of angels at every step along the way that breathed life into his shattered body.
This is not just another war story. This is the story of an ordinary young man who overcame extraordinary challenges with a lot of help from others, including many strangers and he emerged stronger and more in love with his country, his wife, his children, and ultimately, his own life.”
About the Watering Hole
The Watering Hole is police slang for a location cops go off-duty to blow off steam and talk about work and life. Sometimes funny; sometimes serious; but, always interesting.
About the Host
Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster was a sworn member of the Los Angeles Police Department for 24 years. He retired in 2003 at the rank of Lieutenant. He holds a bachelor’s from the Union Institute and University in Criminal Justice Management and a Master’s Degree in Public Financial Management from California State University, Fullerton; and, has completed his doctoral course work. Raymond E. Foster has been a part-time lecturer at California State University, Fullerton and Fresno; and is currently a Criminal Justice Department chair, faculty advisor and lecturer with the Union Institute and University. He has experience teaching upper division courses in law enforcement, public policy, law enforcement technology and leadership. Raymond is an experienced author who has published numerous articles in a wide range of venues including magazines such as Government Technology, Mobile Government, Airborne Law Enforcement Magazine, and Police One. He has appeared on the History Channel and radio programs in the United States and Europe as subject matter expert in technological applications in law enforcement.
Listen, call, join us at the Watering Hole:
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Program Contact Information
Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.), MPA