Gail Sigford, left, who died in 2007 at the age of 85,
will be honored March 10 with the Congressional Gold Medal
for her service during World War II with the Women Air Service Pilots.
Female WWII pilot lead the way
By RYAN PFEIL
H&N Staff Writer
Monday, February 8, 2010 11:00 PM PST
Former resident to receive Congressional Gold Medal
Former Klamath County resident Gail Sigford will be honored this spring with the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously for her service with the Women Air Service Pilots, or WASP, during World War II.
Sigford, who was a resident of Burien, Wash., when she died in 2007 at the age of 85, will be honored with the medal March 10 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The medal is awarded to U.S. residents who illustrated the “highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions,” according to information from the U.S. House of Representatives.
“It’s the recognition of their part in the war effort,” said Joan Hill of Ashland, Sigford’s niece.
The WASP was a civilian corps of pilots trained to do the work of male pilots who left their posts to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
“They were instituted during World War II to take over some of the mundane sorts of things,” Hill said. “Ferrying supplies back and forth, moving planes back and forth. They didn’t actually do combat or were on bases. They were a support group.”
Sigford, who had dreamed of flying since she was a young girl, joined in 1943, about 10 years after graduating high school in California. She attended Altamont and Mills elementary schools in Klamath Falls, and Merrill Junior High School in Merrill.
She traveled first to Winnemucca, Nev., for her training and became part of the 44-W-10, the last class to graduate WASP training.
After logging 35 hours of flight time in a Piper Cub training plane, Sigford traveled to Sweetwater, Texas, for continued training at Avenger Field. Because her class was the last to participate in the program, they became known as the Lost Last Class of Avenger Field.
Hill said her aunt told many stories of training in a Stearman bi-plane over the hot Texas landscape.
Hill said Sigford tried to have as much fun in the air as she could. She flew close to the male barracks at night, called “buzzing.” The rush of air from her propeller also blew laundry off clotheslines.
“It was far beyond anything in her wildest dreams,” Hill said.
Sigford soon piloted an AT-6 Texan, nearly on par with U.S. fighter planes in terms of maneuverability.
She graduated from the program Dec. 9, 1944. At her graduation ceremony, Gen. H.H. Arnold, U.S. Army Air Force, commended the efforts of WASP pilots.
“If ever there was doubt in anyone’s mind that women can become skillful pilots, the WASP have dispelled that doubt,” Arnold said.
After graduation, Sigford lived in San Francisco, North Carolina, Virginia and Illinois. She also studied art and pottery making at the University of Ohio and the University of Oregon, where she received her bachelor of arts and master of fine arts degrees. She spent the last 30 years of her life in Washington.
While she lived in a variety of locales, Hill said Sigford always considered Klamath County home.
Hill expects Sigford’s ashes to arrive home on Independence Day. She thinks they will be scattered at the top of Stukel Mountain in Klamath Falls.
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This article appeared in the Klamath Falls Herald & News, February 9, 2010.