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Book Review: Wings: A Novel of World War II Flygirls by Karl Friedrich

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Wings: A Novel of World War II Flygirls by Karl Friedrich is about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). The WASP were part of the US Army, before the Air Force became its own entity.

Lead character Sally Ketchum comes from a poor family of dirt farmers, but her mundane life is changed forever when she meets Tex, a pilot who makes his living barnstorming. However Tex dies in an accident and Sally enrolls in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program.

At the school, she becomes known as Avenger Sally and learns to fly planes, large and small, while also contending with sexism, egoism on part of her commanders and fellow WASPs, and high-powered Washington lawyers hell bent on shutting the program down.

That makes it a fascinating book centered around strong female characters, and given that I love World War II books and that the stories which come out of that period of time never cease to amaze me, a real winner.

The book is rich in history and does justice to a group of women who deserve the attention. Until recently it seemed that history forgot their magnificent contribution to the war effort. This select group of young woman, 1,074 to be exact, were pioneers, heroes, role models, and very much equal pilots to their male counterparts.

This novel is readable and fun. The author does a fantastic job of making the WASP candidates determined, intelligent, resourceful, and capable individuals who are getting a shot at making something out of themselves, regardless of class, social standings or background.

I did find the dialogue a bit clunky and that the characterization played up to stereotypes, but that was part of the fun of the book. The plot was over-the-top entertainment; Sally seems to find herself regularly involved in near-fatalities which she survives only due to her tremendous flying skills, honed during her barnstorming days.

However, the details of the WASP program and the airplanes were what made the book worth reading for me. Mr. Friedrich has a marvelous ability to combine technical writing and ease of understanding difficult subject matters (aeronautics, maneuvering, learning to fly etc.).

It was astonishing to me to learn of the way the U.S. military treated women during World War II. I’ve been in the military and while sometimes resentful of the support personnel who were eating cake and sipping coffee in the town square while I was eating mud on a cold night (that’s the way I envisioned them anyway), in hindsight I always appreciated them. Once I worked my way up the ranks (not too high), I learned how valuable they actually were.

Coming from this point of view, it seemed incredible and idiotic that the top brass didn’t recognize what the support at home always knew: how valuable these personnel actually are.

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