"Minnesota's Greatest Generation" series continues with a memorable Minnesotan
Tami Moehring from the Minnesota Historical Society took on the role of Virginia Mae Hope, a member of the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II.
Virginia was born in Winnebago, Minnesota in 1921 and died in 1944.
Dressed in a period-specific uniform accompanied by artifacts and photographs of Hope's, Tami brought forth a performance of a skilled actor and history instructor.
Virginia Mae Hope ("Ginny") earned her pilot's license in 1941. The United States had begun an experimental program with women pilots who would fly planes from factories to military bases during the war.
Moehring told a tale of tradition during the originally experimental program. When Virginia passed her sixth months of training, she was lifted up on her shoulders and dropped in a well by her fellow female pilots.
As part of the tradition, Virginia grabbed two coins from the well - one for herself, and one for her instructor.
Virginia was honored with her silver wings on November 13, 1943. She was awarded the wings by Jackie Cochran and not the United States government, as the program was still classified as experimental and not an official program.
Moehring shared the tale of female pilots flying with targets on the back of their planes. Soldiers would fire color-coded bullets at the target, but often new recruits would mistakenly fire at the plane itself.
Making WASPs official
In the summer of 1944, the government decided to honor the women as official government personnel. This would allow the women an extra $100 a month (the same pay as men), and payment for women killed in action.
When a member of the WASPs died, other members would offer money to give their fallen comrades an official funeral.
When the war suddenly changed and the government needed foot soldiers, the bill to make the women official military personnel lost by 9 votes in October.
Men had dissenting opinions on the bill, which would have put them on the front lines if they could not serve their country as pilots.
On December 20, the United States government informed the women that their services would no longer be needed.
Virginia went on to fly for the Reconstruction Salvage Company, which Moehring noted was a particularly dangerous job. Virginia's duty was to take "dying planes" to their "graveyards," and parts were often flying off of the planes as she flew.
On December 7, 1944, Virginia boarded a plane that crashed shortly after takeoff. Neither the company nor the government informed the family of her death.
Virginia's family was informed of her death by their neighbors, who had heard of the crash on their radios.
She had written a letter to her family saying that the WASP program no longer existed and she would be home for Christmas.
"Minnesota's Greatest Generation" series
Julie Adams, Director of the New York Mills Library, praised the Historical Society by saying, "They have such amazing programs to offer us. The whole presentation was a history lesson but a fun performance."
Gail Nordstorm, who serves as a Public Library Consultant for the Viking Library System, was present at the event.
"I think it's important for the public to know of the Legacy Funding," she said.
The event was made possible by a partnership between Minnesota Regional Public Libraries and the Minnesota Historical Society. Funding provided by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008.
"Some libraries are sporadically presenting this series," Nordstrom said.
Right now, the Historical Society is programming specifically for the Minnesota's Greatest Generation series.
"Julie has done brilliantly by offering the program as a series. It's so important for New York Mills to have the Cultural Center here to host these types of events," she added.
The woman behind Virginia
Tami Moehring has been with the Minnesota Historical Society for 5 years now, and has been portraying Virginia Mae Hope for 2 years.
"Through this series, we're reaching an audience that's not just students from the fourth to eighth grades," she said. "It's a great way to meet people and talk of the Greatest Generation."
Moehring pointed out that she gets more responses from members and not so many questions, which brings audience members into the presentation.
"They send me back with questions for me and I can include that information in my next performance," she said.
"It's certainly a joy to be Virginia and it's a lot of fun."
The Historical Society offered information on the time period and the Women Air Force Service Pilots. Moehring is given the opportunity to study the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the WASP program.
"There's a lot of flexibility," she said. "We have the chance to write our own scripts, so performances can vary slightly."
She pointed out that she tries to use as many historical materials as possible. Some items are replicas, but Moehring is able to present the uniforms, accessories, and ration books.
It would be hard for a person to differentiate between replicas and the authentic pieces.
"I really enjoy New York Mills. It has that small town charm. It's the same size as my home town and people are very welcoming."
"It's been great to go to different libraries and see all the different parts of Minnesota," she said.