When she was a little girl, Geraldine “Jerry” Jordan of Moline escaped to the clouds by reading her older brother’s “Flying Aces” pulp magazines.

The stories about those intrepid World War I aviators made her want to become a pilot herself. Her worried stepmother couldn’t discourage her, even when she showed her newspapers with headlines such as ” Pilot dies in fiery crash.“

Jordan got her wings. She grew up to become one of 1,074 pilots to fly with the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) during World War II.

She opened doors for women and helped our nation win a war — good reasons to get to know her as we celebrate Women’s History Month.

Piloting every aircraft in the Army Air Corps inventory, from observation planes to heavy bombers, Jordan and her fellow WASPS performed a variety of missions intended to free male pilots for combat.

WASPS served as transport pilots, flying generals and other VIPs. They delivered airplanes. They towed targets for aerial gunnery practice.

The skies first beckoned Geraldine Hardman Jordan when she was growing up in Oregon, where her family had been pioneer ranchers. In addition to her brother’s “Flying Aces” magazines, her other major aviation influence was her uncle, who ran an airport in Ontario, Ore. She did odd jobs in exchange for flying lessons. At 16, she had a student pilot permit.

She attended the University of Nevada at Reno and became a secretary to the president, earning enough to pay $75 for monthly half-hour flying lessons at the Vista Airport in Sparks, Nev.

When World War II broke out, she volunteered for the WASPS, an organization established by Nancy Love and Jacqueline Cochran. The program began Nov. 16, 1942, at Howard Hughes Municipal Airport in Houston, and disbanded Dec. 20, 1944.

Jordan graduated with her WASP class in August 1943 at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Tex. As the inscription on her silver wings states, she was in class “43 W-5.” Of 127 candidates who started, 85 finished.

She was assigned to Newcastle Air Base, Wilmington, Del., as a member of the Ferry Division, Air Transport Command. She flew everything from observation planes and trainers to multi-engined C-47 transports and B-25 bombers as she delivered planes to bases around the country.

Once she flew a spotter plane to an artillery unit at Fort Riley, Kan., where her great-grandmother stopped during the family’s westward trek in a covered wagon in 1849.

She and her fellow pilots showed esprit de corps by wearing the image of Fifinella, Walt Disney’s female gremlin caricature. They ignored the “powder puff pilots” reference made by newspaper columnist Drew Pearson.

As Jordan helped her country gain air superiority, she suffered two terrible blows. Her older brother George, to whom she gave his first airplane ride, was lost in action when the Navy TBF he was piloting disappeared in a storm off Guadalcanal. Her stepbrother Jack, an Army airborne infantry lieutenant, was killed in France shortly after the D-Day invasion.

Jordan, 77, chronicles her flying days in scrapbooks, photographs, orders, magazine articles and her insignia. Hanging in a hallway of her home is a painting of her wearing her officer’s “Class A” uniform. She and her fellow pilots wore the uniforms for the first time while attending a Broadway performance of the musical “Oklahoma!” One of the show’s stars, Celeste Holm, stopped the show, came over to the footlights and asked the women what outfit they were in.

Although WASPS wore officers’ uniforms, they had no rank and were not granted veterans’ status until 1977.

Jordan met her husband, the late Edward James Jordan, an air defense artillery officer, during the war. After they left the service, her husband began a U.S. government career that brought the family to the Quad-Cities 25 years ago. They became parents of nine children. A sign on her front door, “Bear hugs given here,” provides a warm welcome for her 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

She still gets flight time by occasionally joining her oldest son, Michael, a purser with Lufthansa, on his trips. Accompanied by four daughters, she attended a WASPS reunion in September in Omaha, Neb.

Once, while flying back from Washington, D.C. ,where she had visited the women in the military memorial, she met the airplane’s female captain. The captain said thanks for helping make it possible for her to command an airliner.

Jordan and her fellow WASP veterans promote aviation opportunities for women, such as offering scholarships for women attending the Air Force Academy. Women in today’s Air Force, and those in the other armed services, fly with men in a variety of combat and combat-support aircraft, in large part through the trail-blazing efforts of the WASPS and a similar group, the Women’s Air Force (WAF).

The pioneer women aviators achieved success in a man’s world through their own skills, fortitude and self-confidence.

“We didn’t have NOW (National Organization of Women) working for us. We had to do it ourselves,” Jordan says.

Comments, questions or ideas for this weekly local history/nostalgia column? Contact John Willard, Quad-City Times, 500 E. 3rd St., Davenport, Iowa 52801, telephone (319) 383-2314. Copyright 1999 by Quad-City Times , All rights Reserved.

Caption/Lead: When she was a little girl, Geraldine “Jerry” Jordan of Moline escaped to the clouds by reading her older brother’s “Flying Aces” pulp magazines.

The stories about those intrepid World War I aviators made her want to become a pilot herself. Her worried stepmother couldn’t discourage her, even when she showed her newspapers with headlines such as ” Pilot dies in fiery crash.“

Jordan got her wings. She grew up to become one of 1,074 pilots to fly with the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) during World War II.


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