Monday, September 6, 2010

Late Billings aviator to be honored at Billings Logan

Billings Gazette: The widower of a WASP pilot will receive a medal on Tuesday in recognition of her service during World War II.

Ken Rolle of Billings will receive a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of his late wife, Marjorie, who flew 22 months with the Women’s Airforce Service Pilot’s program.

The medal is the highest civilian honor given by the U.S. Congress. The original gold medal was presented to the WASPs as a unit in March in Washington, D.C., and has been donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

The ceremony will be at Billings Logan International Airport, a fitting location because the airport was named after Marjorie’s father, Dick Logan, who sold land to the city for the facility.

Logan also managed the airport for 33 years until his death in 1957.

Marjorie Logan Rolle, the oldest of four Logan daughters, grew up in Billings at a ranch on top of the Rimrocks near the airport.

Dick Logan introduced Marjorie to every famous aviator, including Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, who flew through Billings.

“He’d call me at school, and I’d come up to the airport” when celebrities arrived, Marjorie said in a 1988 interview with The Billings Gazette.

When Marjorie wasn’t in school, she helped her mother, who ran the airport’s restaurant, bummed airplane rides and “worshiped pilots as all girls do,” she said.

After graduating from high school, she took flying lessons and earned her pilot’s license in 1940.

After working in Seattle for the Civil Aeronautics Administration, which later became the Federal Aeronautics Administration, she joined the WASPs in 1943.

Gen. H.H. “Hap” Arnold, commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, founded the group. More than 1,000 women flew 60 million noncombat miles during the war.

Although trained by the Army, the women remained civilians and weren’t recognized as veterans until the late 1970s.

During her service, Marjorie was a pilot and co-pilot on planes that ranged from single-engine Piper Cubs to B-24 “liberator” bombers, testing the planes and ferrying them from factories to U.S. airbases.

The day the WASPs were disbanded on Dec. 20, 1944, “was the saddest day of my life,” Marjorie told The Gazette. “I really wanted to stay in.”

After the war, Marjorie continued her interest in aviation.

She joined the U.S. Air Force Reserves, retiring as a major. She was active in the Civil Air Patrol and became one of the charter members of the Montana Chapter of the “Ninety-Nines” the first organization of female pilots founded by Earhart.

Marjorie also worked for the Federal Aviation Administration.

She married Ken, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, after the war. He managed airports in Montana and California before the couple retired to Montana.

Marjorie died in 2002 at the age of 86.

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