Elizabeth Strohfus, who flew military planes across the country during World War II and received two Congressional Gold Medals, died March 6 at an assisted-living center in Faribault, Minn. She was 96.
The cause was complications from a fall, said a son, Art Roberts.
Mrs. Strohfus was one of the last remaining members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, known as WASPs. She ferried military planes in 1943 and 1944 and helped train air and infantry gunners at Las Vegas Army Airfield in Nevada.
She was one of 1,074 female pilots to earn silver wings in the WASP program. The female pilots flew military aircraft in noncombat roles during wartime to free up male pilots for combat. The women were considered civilians until Congress retroactively granted them veteran status in 1977.
Elizabeth Bridget Wall, known as Betty, was born in Faribault on Nov. 15, 1919, and described herself as an adventuresome tomboy in childhood. After completing high school in 1937, she worked in the register of deeds office at the county courthouse. It was stifling.
“When I was in school, I couldn’t take any classes except home economics or classes for working in an office — like shorthand, typing and that sort of stuff,” she told the Owatonna People’s Press in her home town. “We were very limited because we were women. It was kind of too bad because I wasn’t too interested in those things.”
One day, she overheard a conversation about flying and grew intrigued.
“I thought, ‘What a wonderful thing to get above it all and see the beautiful world there,’ ” she said. “He asked me if I wanted to fly after he saw I was interested. I said: ‘Yes, I do. I’d love to fly.’ ”
She began spending many afternoons after work volunteering at the Faribault airport, learning from pilots with the local flying club. She became so adept at the controls of the Piper Cubs that when one of the pilots left for military service, she was asked to replace him. It would cost $100 to join.
She went to the local bank for a loan, using her bicycle as collateral.
After the WASP program was disbanded in December 1944, she was turned down for a pilot’s job with Northwest Airlines and worked as an aircraft controller in Wyoming. She eventually returned to Faribault, about 50 miles south of Minneapolis, where she married Arthur Roberts and raised a family.
Widowed in 1972, she worked for the American Cancer Society in New York as a research consultant. She wed Francis Langeslag in 1979; he died in 1988.
A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
A member of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, Mrs. Strohfus received Congressional Gold Medals for her service as a WASP and for her service in the Civil Air Patrol.
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