Female WWII aviation pioneer, Elizabeth Strohfus, leaves lasting legacy
By Tech Sgt Lynette Olivares, 133rd Airlift Wing
/ Published June 02, 2016
Faribault, Minn -- Some join the military out of pride for their country, a passion to be a part of something bigger than them or even maybe just to do what they love.
For Faribault native Elizabeth "Betty Wall" Strohfus it was a combination of all three and she was a force to be reckoned with. As one of the first Women Air Force Service Pilots, she was a part of a proud group of women pilots who served in World War II. Earlier this month, she passed away at the age of 96 surrounded by family and friends.
"I was so sorry to hear of the passing of one of the great (and local) women in aviation, 'Betty Wall'," said Maj. Stacey Meiser, a Minnesota Air National Guard C-130 pilot at the 133rd Airlift Wing. "I am so grateful for the pioneering efforts made by Betty and others like her which have allowed me the opportunity to follow my dream of being an Air Force pilot."
After the military, Betty had a family, but her love and passion for flying never settled down. Her energy, spunk and passion for airplanes and life was contagious not only to other women in aviation, but nearly everyone she met.
"In my career I have been fortunate to meet both my heroes in aviation: Chuck Yeager and Betty Strohfus; both started in the U.S. military as WWII pilots, both broke records and barriers in military aviation, but of my two aviation heroes, my favorite is the gritty pilot who had the tactical patience to wait 35 years for her status as Veteran," said Lt. Col. Patricia Baker, a Minnesota Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk pilot, who served multiple tours in the Middle East.
Betty's passion and life-long aspiration was to tell her story about her time in the military and inspire and encourage anyone she met.
"I stood in line for almost an hour at the annual EAA Oshkosh fly-in in July 2004 just to get an autograph from retired Brig. Gen. Yeager, but to Betty, I was a fellow military aviator who stood with her side-by-side," said Baker.
Betty Wall was always a proud advocate for the WASP and proud of her military service despite not always being recognized as a military member. It wasn't until 1977 that WASPs were granted full military status for their service, a law which she and other WASPs lobbied Congress to pass. In 2010, she received the Congressional Gold Medal for her service in Washington D.C., along with more than 200 surviving WASPs.
Air Force Col. Nicole Malachowski, the first female pilot in the Air Force's air demonstration squadron, was instrumental in shaping a bill to honor and recognize the WASPs and also met Betty.
"If you spend any time at all talking to these wonderful women, you'll notice how humble and gracious and selfless they all are," said Malachowski. "Their motives for wanting to fly airplanes all those years ago wasn't for fame or glory or recognition. They simply had a passion to take what gifts they had and use them to help defend not only America, but the entire free world, from tyranny. And they let no one get in their way."
Betty will be remembered fondly and will be missed. She was laid to rest March 15, 2016, and buried with full military honors.