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Excerpts from Madge Rutherford Minton's letters home


Wed. P.M. 2/25/43

Dearest Mother & Dad:

I'm honestly too worn out to write about this day in the detail it deserves - but - there are 100+ girls (I seem to have less hours and experience, age, etc. than any) - we fly 175 hsp. Fairchild trainers every day we're issued flying jackets, helmets, gloves and goggles (I like mine better). I have a good chance of getting my April leave but it will be short. I like the girls I've met. The food is excellent, our barracks promise to be comfortable. There are swarms of army cadets on the field, we get paid $165 per month and they take out $12.15 for everyday's room and board. I have to study now before lights out at ten - I got a couple of cheerful letters from the Doctor - I'm a bit homesick, but need sleep, chiefly - I love you both very much.

Madge

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Friday, A.M. 3/5/43

Dearest Mother & Dad:

Well, little 6'3" Mr. Jones admitted yesterday in his Texas drawl that "Baby, you're doin' bettah! But there's a H- of a lot room for a H- of a lot more improvement." He is mildly profane as all Texans seem to be here in Sweetwater. We took P.T. 114 off the line at 10:00, trundled her through clouds of dust and sand down to the take-off line and I took off from a half-ground loop along with 3 other planes simultaneously. The traffic here is terrific. I haven't made a landing "solo" yet. It can't be helped with 40-50 planes going off and coming back at approximately the same time in our flight (II) and as many cadets in flight at the same time, also. You have to feed in right rudder on your sewing machine during takeoff until you're holding it on all the way when she leaves the ground. Well, we got off, and trudged manfully up into the air at about 90 knots, turned at 300 ft, at 500 ft and brushed off various sister bugs to rise to 2500 where I stalled and stalled and banked and stalled until I thought surely he would wash me out of the course for lack of coordination. But he simply snap-rolled it a few times to loosen me up and I did much better after that. When I would skid turns, etc. he'd sing to the tune of "I can't give you anything but love, Baby" - "Oh, How I'd like to see you shake your bank, baby." I feel better about the whole thing today. But I can't fly because about 20 ships are in the shop for minor repairs and since I have as many hours as any, they are taking girls who are behind in their time.

Last night spring came to Texas. We had a real old-fashioned thunder storm which brought the first dampness here since last November. It was just like home to see the lightning, etc. Everyone in the barracks was at the doors or windows. We were very excited about it all. For the first time, I woke up without sand in my mouth and the damp odor of clay and old rain permeates the flight room here as I write. The sunrise this morning was chiefly green.

Another navigation test this afternoon but I think I'm ready for it. If someone wants to send me a box of stationary for my birthday, it would be greatly appreciated.

I've written you'all almost every day. You are getting my letters, O.K., aren't you? Sometimes the mail doesn't go out here and we all are very irritated about that.

Say! How about that box of candy you mentioned. I'm afraid I can't hold myself much longer.

To clear our minds and refresh our souls, some of us congregate for 40 minutes + or - every evening in the canteen to hold a good gripe session. That + sunsets + letters from home + the airplanes compensate for army discipline which I do not like. Forgive me please.

It's good to have all the details, mother. Don't let the submarine get you under too far.

Love, Madge

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Friday P.M. 3/13/43

Dearest Mother & Dad:

Reported to flight line this afternoon but no flying. There is a southeast wind, about one mile visibility and a five hundred foot clear space between us and the soup. Instead, we had a lengthy if humorous lecture on patterns by Mr. Jones who told me that I was loosening up better and improving. I was more than grateful for these pearls.

You see we have a pattern, a very definite field pattern, and the student that skids merrily into it and across it at a foreign angle can expect to pack his bags and take the next train out. For Dad's information, it's about like this on any tee setting.

That's what I practiced for about an hour on auxiliary field #1.

This afternoon, later the sun came out full force and now the airport is steaming like a Turkish bath. We are dismissed and I am all showered and relaxed, ready to dress for dinner.

For Papa's pride, another perfect Math test paper returned this morning. But they're getting tougher.

I sincerely hope my present arrived in perfect condition. In case you wonder, it weighs 18lb. It is cured, but not cooked, I don't think, and I got it quite legitimately through the head of the kitchen here at the field. I suppose he got a rake-off, I don't know.

A party tonight for the graduating cadets. And tomorrow morning we have that awful inspection. I'm satisfied with my lockers, I only hope that the Lt. is. Since I didn't bring much and have acquired very little since arrival, I don't have to worry like some of the girls. One brought 13 pieces of luggage and a steamer trunk.

Give my love to Mama Rossell and everyone.

Glad you like your new job, Mother. You and I get paid the same now, except I don't get all mine. Am also very glad to find Dad bestirring himself concerning the Navy. Good luck, Dad. See you upstairs.

Love Madge

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5/14/43

Dearest Mother & Dad:

We had four lovely ships come in yesterday in spite of fog and almost instrument condition. Imagine the thrill of meeting a P-40 at the flight line plus its pilot who proved to be an understanding chap and who helped me into the cockpit where I messed around, very confused by the variety of unfamiliar gadgets. The gun-sight was especially interesting. not to be outdone, the pilot of a P-51 of Mustang took me over to his ship which was even lovelier and sported a bombsight. Then a B-25 same in and Taylor and I ran cockpit checks in it, too. It was throwing a lot of oil from its Wright radial engine and I got some on my slacks but I expect the cleaner will take care of that.



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Tuesday, P.M. 6/1/43

Dearest Mother & Dad:

Weary I am, practically doped, if you understand what I mean. Last night I reported to flight line at 2300 (11:00 P.M.) for a night x-country of approximately 350 miles or about three hours. The ships were late coming in, getting in about 12:30 and we were not able to get gassed until 1:30. We took off into a star-studded sky at 1:45 and flew a lighted line of light beacons to Mineral Wells. Just as we arrived at our destination an overcast closed in and we had to fly on instruments 80% of the time, praying that we could gauge the wind correctly and hit our own beacon. We did very well for, when the overcast thinned out over our airplanes, we were only about 5 miles south of course, which, after night, is pretty good. We continued on across the Sweetwater Airport which was set in the earth like jeweled brooch of red, green amber lights and continued to Westbrooks where we ran into another overcast and I was plenty lucky to find and fly the course back. The airport has never looked more beautiful than it did at 4:00 A.M. this morning when we entered our dive at 6300 feet and began our letdown. My landing, my first at night, was pretty bouncy but we stayed down. I got to bed at 4:50 and slept through to 11:45, missing ground school but none of us were supposed to go, thank goodness.

I have flown already this afternoon one hour under the hood with Fran Rohrer in the front cockpit. She is a former Link instructor and is mighty fine for buddy rides. I didn't do too badly.

There was no moon last might and we were on and above the overcast; you had to keep a close check on your instruments in order to be sure you were right side up and straight. I certainly wanted a moon. It would have been a great help.

Here comes that man again. The photographer from the Life Magazine. He has taken 6 pictures of me already and now into eight. Poor chap, he likes my grin. I hope that at least one of those is used. I'm beginning to take an awful beating from the girls because of this sort of thing. The newsreel cameraman had me climbing into BT's and grinning for them last Friday.

I go up solo next period. Thanks for the wonderful candy for me and my bay-mates who think there is nothing in this world so delicious as your cinnamon roll. The fruit cake certainly tasted like home.

If you need sugar, you can use mine. Uniforms here are khaki tan slacks, white silk blouse and overseas cap. Since we aren't officially in the army, we haven't any other official uniform.

Now for a solo period.

Love, Madge

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Letters from Long Beach Army Air Base, Long Beach, California, while assigned to the 6th Ferrying Division of the Air Transport Command, August 1943-April 1944.

Dearest Mother & Dad:

Tonight I am here in El Paso. Yesterday morn I was unexpectedly put on orders to pick up a BT at Blythe, Calif. and deliver it to Enid. I rode on the back seat of a BT as far as Blythe, then pushed up my own ship and conveyed it to Tucson. I stayed at the Pioneer Hotel in one of those converted miniature crystal ballrooms with 8 other girls. We saw "Madame Curie" which I recommend highly to you.

I had hoped to deliver today in order to get back to Long Beach in plenty of time but the ceilings on east were low and the weather in Oklahoma foul. If it does not clear tomorrow I shall have to wire for instructions.

We took off from Tucson this morning at around nine. Four of us, two Sts and two Wasps flew an irregular but amusing series of formations as far as Cochise where I was forced to break up the formation by leaving it in order to stay on course. The hind ship was headed towards Amarillo by then. I was astonished to note how the desert has changed these past five days since I flew over it the last time. The cacti has a new fresh yellow green color and great patches of yellow and purple flowers make the ground look like a beautiful crazy quilt.

The mountains are almost free of snow and when one flies over the Canyon, one can see a torrent of ice-blue water rushing thru them. Even the pines look greener.

On arriving at El Paso we encountered a thick hazy condition and were forced to curtail our flight whose destination was originally Midland. We RON'd and came to town where Hazel Pearce and I are rooming together in a fair hotel. I spent the last two hours of daylight wandering around Juarez but didn't buy anything. I guess I've bought all the Mexican goods I want and unless you want anything, I'll not get much else.

If the truth were known I really went over to look at a fence. It is composed of great ornate hoops of iron grill works and is quite the loveliest fence you can imagine. Each elaborately costumed hoop is set like a jewel in a mountain of white washed adobe. And the house that this remarkable fence surrounds has windows that are all circular and protected by a master-craftsman's art in wrought iron. I never miss going to see it if possible.

It seems we are to leave a few weeks respite now while the bill goes thru Congress and is signed by Mr. Roosevelt. Somehow I can't give up hope that it will be stopped somewhere along the line; I hate to consider quitting but on the other hand I guess the prospect scares me. It wouldn't be the little things like drill and saluting that would bother me so much as the knowing that if one of you should be ill, I probably couldn't come, or if Shay should come back for a spell of shore duty after a year or so at sea I wouldn't be able to be with him. No one seems to be able to get a very clear idea as to how long this will last and the prospect of being in for the duration is frightening. I suppose I'm being a coward standing on a woman's prerogative. Sometimes I wonder why with Shay gone I would even consider getting out and other times the very idea of being militarized is unbearable. I have never been so wishy-washy about anything in my life. It's disgusting.

Well, 'night now and pleasant dreams.

Love, Madge



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Dearest Mother & Dad:

Like horses of the apocalypse, a tread of inspecting colonels beats down our barracks hall. I have locked my door against this invasion but sleep is not possible. We have finished our required pre-flight course now and work half days only, but Colonels do not respect our emancipated status.

Guess I'm out of the Putt-putt class now. Yesterday I finished P-40 training and then spent hours in the P-47, and airplane that's all it's cracked up to be and more. She cruises at better than 230 and if you point her on one heading for more than ten minutes you're lost without a map. I just fly a big circle between Port Isabel of pirate fame and the mouth of the Rio Grande. It's a fast life.

I hope that your garden is doing nicely. Perhaps I'll be seeing you when I start ferrying P-51's to Newark, New Jersey.

Love, Madge

Courtesy of The Woman's Collection, Texas Woman's University



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