Aviation pioneer Bernice "Bee" Falk Haydu, 91, of New Jersey was part of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. She helped spearhead the effort for women to achieve veteran status in 1977. We caught up with her before she gave a speech to the women's organization Professional Dimensions at the Wisconsin Club.
Q. Did anyone ever tell you that a woman couldn't fly and what was your response?
A. No one ever told me that . . . I was one of the fortunate ones, although some of the women had been told that.
Q. Why did you join the WASP and how great a leap was that in your life?
A. I was a secretary because I was a Depression kid and I had a brother who was 11 months older. When it came college time, there just wasn't enough money for me. So I was very sad about that and decided to stop feeling sorry for (myself) after being in the working world for five years, and decided to take night courses (in aviation).
Q. What did you like about flying?
A. I liked being up there and looking down and the freedom and all your cares go away. It's a free feeling.
Q. What was your greatest accomplishment in the WASP?
A. I can't say that I had a great accomplishment in the WASP other than doing my duties. I like to think that what I did in 1977 was an accomplishment. I was the president of the organization (Order of Fifinella) and it was at that time that we were fighting for the recognition that had been promised us when we signed to become a WASP. We were told we would be taken into the Army Air Corps and we were unceremoniously disbanded Dec. 20, 1944. And as the president, I helped to organize, with the help of Bruce Arnold (General Hap Arnold's son), the battle of Washington, D.C. And we were finally recognized as veterans of World War II, which, as I said, we had been promised.
Q. When the WASP disbanded in 1944, you had to pay your way home. How did you get back into aviation?
A. We knew ahead of time that we were going to be disbanded. I wrote to many different organizations, flight schools, to try to get some kind of a job even with the airlines and heard no said in so many different ways. (I) decided that if I was going to stay in aviation, I would have to do something on my own. So I went back home in New Jersey, got my instructor's rating, I did freelance ferrying of aircraft around the country, then I started a ferrying business . . . bringing aircraft into the New York metropolitan area. That led to my getting a Cessna dealership and that led to my becoming part owner of a flight school. And in between there somewhere I met my husband (Joe) and we got married. He had been a pilot. We flew for our own pleasure after that . . . My husband and I stopped flying in our late '70s.
Q. When you speak to children, young boys, young girls, what is it that you try to tell them?
A. I try to tell them to persevere in anything that they really want to do, provided it's not robbing a bank. They have to expect that there are going to be pitfalls and there are going to be times when they're discouraged, but just hang in there and you'll succeed.