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Ginny Tonkin loves traveling off the beaten path, learning about new cultures through food, and everything outdoors. She recently spent eight months teaching English in Vietnam, and loves swapping travel stories.   Read more about this blog.
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Honoring Women Veterans: Veterans Day 2011

Florence “Shutsy” Reynolds was seven years old when she announced to her skeptical family in 1928 she was going to be a pilot.

“They said, ‘That’s too bad. Women don’t fly planes,’” said Reynolds.

She proved them and societal convention wrong in 1942, by joining the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II.

Today, women veterans are honored at Active Aging’s 12th annual “Through a Veteran’s Eye: A Salute” in Meadville for Veterans Day. Each year, the event selects a unique group of veterans to commemorate. This year, Reynolds, now 90, along with Debbie Ford, 91, a nurse who served in hospitals in North Africa during WWII, will address the event.

“It’s a great honor to be asked to speak,” said Reynolds, who as a WASP flew on the home front to free male pilots for combat missions. She wants the WASP legacy and work of women in the armed services to live on.

“When the war broke out, woman were only 10% of the work force. They could only work as nurses, stenographers, or school teachers. If they were married, they didn’t work,” said Reynolds. “The need was desperate. They needed pilots.”

“Women’s roles have changed so much. Previously, they could only play in the band, work in communications, or in administration,” said Director of Veterans Services, Fred Cunningham. “Today, they’re right in the thick of everything.”

Cunningham emphasizes that women are imperative to the work in Iraq and Afghanistan today, because of the sensitive nature of gender roles in those countries. For Veterans Day, both Reynolds and Ford will be able to share their stories, many of which of gone unheard or unappreciated.

“In December 1944, WASP was disbanded, and buried and classified for thirty years,” said Reynolds. “The male officers were afraid that we proved we did the job.”

Reynolds says that women were treated as second-class citizens. A male officer told her, “WASPs are expendable. If you don’t like it, pack your bags and go back home.”

“We have a unique ability to have the opportunity to do something for someone local,” said Cunningham. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to invite the children, to talk with people of the era.”

“It’s amazing the relationships and connections that are formed,” said Pam Roberts. “We saw a real need for veterans to come together and share stories.”

The opening ceremony starts at 8:30 am.


This article appeared in the November 11, 2011 print issue of

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