Corsicana Daily Sun
by Deanna Kirk
January 17, 2017
Paying tribute to the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II is the main goal of The Forgotten Air Force, a play penned by Shellie O’Neal, Navarro College theater director, and performed by her students.
But if it helps them win at the Texas Community College Speech and Theatre Association State Play Festival in March, that’s even better.
The Forgotten Air Force
Dawson Auditorium, Navarro College
Feb. 23, 24 at 7 p.m.
Feb. 25, 26 at 2 p.m.
The play about the journey of the WASP began with an inspiration in the mind of O’Neal. Her voracious appetite for knowledge led her to do further research at Texas Woman’s University at the WASP Archives, thanks to a grant from Navarro College.
“I attended the WASP reunion in 2012 in Sweetwater at Avenger Field,” O’Neal said. “There are less than 100 of them still living.”
She was able to meet and interview 12 of those, however, which was invaluable to her research. These women ferried aircraft for the U.S. Army Air Corps, and they were all trained at Avenger Field.
“Some 25,000 women applied,” she said. “About 1,800 were accepted for the training, and 1,078 actually passed the training. Thirty-eight women died completing the missions.”
Moved by these women and their story, O’Neal wrote a play about it nearly four years ago. But timing and other factors just were not right, and her classes continued to be predominantly male, which made it difficult to cast.
“The result was, I totally scrapped the first play and rewrote it, and the play is much stronger now,” she said.
The stories told in the play are true, and the focus of the play is the fact some women crashed or were shot down during their service. When the students perform the play at the state festival, not only will they be judged on their acting, sets, set design, and costumes, but they will also be judged on the accuracy, and the research they have done to prepare.
“We went to Denton with the students, and they got to handle some of the WASP letters, and a parachute, and see a mannequin wearing an authentic jumpsuit,” O’Neal said.
The students will also have the opportunity to visit C. David Campbell Field (the Corsicana airport) courtesy of Todd Jones making arrangements.
“They have a LINK trainer from the 1940’s at the Corsicana airport, and the students are going to go see that and sit in some vintage airplanes,” she said.
O’Neal has also enlisted the help of former Vietnam helicopter pilot Dave Wansley to come teach the students the proper way to salute, as well as the proper motions one would make in the cockpit while flying a plane such as one flown by a WASP.
“As I was doing my research, he clarified a number of things for me,” O’Neal said. “It will be very educational for young people.
“It has been a real joy watching these students immerse themselves in the era of World War II. We really tried to mimic the language, and replicate the clothing with the costumes.”
Performances will be given locally at the Dawson Auditorium Feb. 23-24 at 7 p.m., and Feb. 25-26 at 2 p.m. and admission is free.
“We especially want to invite all veterans, and encourage them to bring their families,” O’Neal said.
“We have been asked to perform the play at TWU at the National WASP Archives, but that is still in the works. We are aiming that for May.”
SOURCE: Corsicana Daily Sun