Sunday, July 25, 2010

Highland woman was pilot in WWII celebrates birthday

Highland woman was pilot in WWII celebrates birthday


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10:00 PM PDT on Friday, July 23, 2010

By HOLLY LA PAT
Special to The Press-Enterprise


Alma Fornal fell in love with flying as a 21-year-old college student nearly 70 years ago.

"Somebody took me up in an airplane and I thought, I've just got to do this," she said.

The Highland resident, who became one of the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), received the Congressional Gold Medal for her service during World War II. She celebrated her 90th birthday Friday, surrounded by friends at the American Legion Post 106 in Redlands.

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Special to The Press-Enterprise
Alma Fornal, of Highland, received the Congressional Gold Medal for her service during World War II. She celebrated her 90th birthday Friday at the American Legion Post in Redlands.
"We met Alma years ago," said Jack Smith, a past service officer at the American Legion Post. "She joined our post and she's been a star ever since. She was ahead of her time."

In 1942, Fornal had already gotten her license when she heard the service needed pilots.

"The planes were piling up in the factories and all the pilots were overseas," Fornal said. "Mrs. Roosevelt said, 'Women can do that.' "

Of more than 25,000 women who applied, Fornal was one of 1,830 accepted and of 1,074 who successfully completed the required military training.

"It was the same training they gave to the men," Fornal said.

Her first assignment was as a test pilot, flying planes to make sure they were in working order. Her next job was riskier -- towing targets over the Gulf of Mexico for gunnery practice. "We'd make a rectangle over the water," she said. "I didn't realize it was a dangerous job, but I did well."

The women who flew during those years didn't receive veterans' status until 37 years after the war ended.

"When the war was over, they told us to go home -- they couldn't use us any more," Fornal said.

But she didn't go home. She stayed on base and taught flying at Kendall Field in Florida. There, she met Joe Fornal, an Air Force officer. They married in 1945, and she turned her attention to raising a family.

"I really didn't miss flying that much," Fornal said. "When I flew, he didn't mind it, but he preferred that I was on the ground because he worried. He wanted me to be safe."

Fornal's husband died in 2000. Their two children, John and Jean, are in their 50s.

"We had 55 years together," she said. "I would have missed flying more if I hadn't had a full life, but I've had a very full life."

In March, Fornal and the other surviving WASPs received the Congressional Gold Medal. She was also grand marshal of this year's Fourth of July parade in Redlands.

"There's been so much happening in my life lately that I can't believe it," Fornal said. "All these years, no one even knew we existed."

2 comments:

umer said...

-- towing targets over the Gulf of Mexico for gunnery practice.

This definitely was risky business, required courage. Our salute to the Veterans who put their lives in harms way for a our future.

And yes Happy Belated Birthday

umer
www.aerocinema.com

The Bilal said...

Hard work combined with passion never go amiss. So glad she got rewarded… albeit a little late.

I saw more stuff like this on www.aerocinema.com. Some really cool Aviation Videos as well. Do check those; out.