Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State and rightfully so. So many well known Tennesseans such as Davy Crockett have given their life in service to their country but Cornelia Fort is one Tennessean whose life and ultimate sacrifice is rather obscure.
My interest in Cornelia began while looking at some pictures of her at the work-out facility. So I started to so some web searching.
Woman aviator Cornelia Fort was a Nashville native whose love of flying led her to become a pioneer in women's military aviation as a member of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, which later became part of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) in 1943.
In 1941 she took a job as an instructor in Fort Collins, Colorado, then another in Honolulu. She was giving a flying lesson on the morning of December 7 when a wave of Japanese Zeros swept past her and began the infamous bombing of Pearl Harbor. Fort landed in a hail of machine-gun fire.
After her return to the mainland, Fort traveled and sold war bonds amid heavy publicity about her Pearl Harbor experiences. She longed for service in the war effort and found it in September 1942, when she and a handful of women were invited to become part of a new organization, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), which would ferry planes from factories to military bases, freeing men for combat flight. She was part of a pioneering group of twenty-eight women who established an excellent record of service and safety in the face of resistance from many quarters and less-than-ideal conditions. The women often flew in open cockpits in sub-freezing temperatures without radios or other equipment now taken for granted.
In January, Fort was transferred to Long Beach, California. It was there, while on a ferrying mission to Dallas, that she was killed in a mid-air collision on March 21, 1943. Her life and love of service were an inspiration to those around her, and her story continues to inspire new generations. The Cornelia Fort Airpark in Nashville is named in her honor.