My Father the WASP Instructor
The Texas Story Project. Inspired by WASP Pilot Nell Stevenson's Flight Log.
During World War II, my father, Rigdon Edwards, Jr., served as a primary flight instructor for the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). He lived in Sweetwater, TX, where the WASP trained at Avenger Field. Edwards became a primary flight instructor in May 1944, only a few months before the WASP program was ended in December 1944. While he was at the airfield everyday, his wife, Mary Emma, took care of business at the Magnolia Petroleum Agency.
What my sister, Sydney, and I remember most about WWII and Avenger Field is taking Daddy to work every morning. Mother would wake us, we would get into the back seat of the car still in our pajamas and robes, and she would drive Daddy to the airfield. When we arrived at the gate, the guard would shine his flashlight into the car to see who was there. Then we would proceed into the base. When Daddy was ready to come home in the afternoon, he would buzz the house three times. That was the signal to go get him.
The WASP came to Sweetwater in the spring of 1943. The program with a purpose of training women to fly military aircraft was under the Civil Service Commission with civilian trainees. During the time the program was active at Avenger Field, there were over 700 local people who worked in civilian jobs at the airfield. Some were instructors, some were mechanics, some drove fuel trucks, some were air traffic controllers in the tower, some were cooks and others were custodians, but all the people worked together to do their part for the war effort even though they stayed at home.
As a primary instructor, my father was known for his patience with and concern for the young women who were learning to fly. If a girl was about to “wash out” (be dismissed from the program), Daddy was often asked to take her up and see if he could tell what kind of problem she was having. Many have told me that Daddy was the reason that they did not get sent home. Instead of cursing at the students and berating them, he would patiently work with them until they could pass their tests. He had lots of wonderful stories to tell about his students. One of his students told me that she still has the wrapper from the candy bar that he gave her after her first solo flight. She also said, “He always spoke gently and never lost his cool.”
Up until Daddy died in 1998, he always kept in touch with the WASP. He was very proud of his students and their accomplishments, and he was very proud to have served his country in Sweetwater, TX during World War II.
Posted September 19, 2014