Cathy Olszewski from Ann Arbor and Janice Holton and Laurie Preston from Grand Rapids, daughters of Jane Doyle, one of 38 Michigan women who served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII (WASPs) visited B52 Winery on October 17th during the Lucky Girl Brewing/B52 Winery Fall Festival. The event raised $2500 toward the completion of the Coming Home: Fight for a Legacy, the Red Door Films documentary on the WASPs. They are with Lucky Girl Brewing/B52 Winery Owner Jeff Westcott (second from left) and Red Door Fundraiser organizer, Lt. Col. Sarah Deal Burrow, U.S. Marine Corps (far right). The group is pictured with the Coming Home film poster, a photo of Jane Doyle during the 2010 Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring the WASPs as the first women to fly U.S. military planes, and an artist’s drawing of Jane and her favorite plane, the AT6. 

$2500 Raised Toward Coming Home Documentary About the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) of WWII

When Cathy Olszewski from Ann Arbor and Janice Holton and Laurie Preston from Grand Rapids heard about the fundraiser for Coming Home: Fight for a Legacy, a documentary by Red Door Films about the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots of WWII (WASPs) being held at the B52 Winery, 34016 M-43, Paw Paw, MI, they knew that they needed to attend. After all, their mom, Mildred (Jane) Baessler Doyle was one of 38 Michigan women who served as WASPs.

The daughters along with Laurie’s husband Ken came to the fundraiser, part of the Lucky Girl Brewing/B52 Winery Fall Festival, armed with photos and artwork and lots of stories about their mom. They were greeted by Lucky Girl/B52 Winery owner Jeff Westcott and U.S. Marine Corps Pilot Lt. Col. Sarah Deal, organizer of the Coming Home fundraiser. 

Jeff Westcott, a WWII history buff, has made the history and the legacy of the WASPs a center piece of B52 Winery. Visitors to the B52 Winery can learn about WASP history and purchase wines with labels honoring WASP aviation pioneers including 2019 Rosé|Sue, named after Suzanne Parish, co-founder of the Air Zoo Aerospace and Science Museum in Portage, Michigan. The Lucky Girl Brewing/B52 Winery fundraiser for Red Door Films’ Coming Home documentary resulted in $2500 being donated toward Red Door’s goal of $25,000.

Lt. Col. Sarah Deal Burrow is helping Red Door Films raise funds so that they can complete their Coming Home documentary because of the role the WASPs played in inspiring her to complete her flight training and become the U.S. Marine Corps’ first female aviator in 1995. “They were an inspiration to finish my training,” says Sarah. “Their courage was mind blowing and even though they did not get recognition, they held their heads high. Their courage, their desire to help their country—I kind of felt like them, just in a different time.”

Mildred (Jane) Baessler Doyle was one of 38 Michigan women who served during WWII in the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). She and other surviving WASPs received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010. Jane enjoyed giving talks on the WASPs and attending air shows until her death at age 97 in 2019.

The WASPs were aviation pioneers. Only 1,074 women made it through rigorous training to become the first females to fly military aircraft. They often flew planes that their male counterparts refused to fly because they were deemed too dangerous. These pioneering female aviators flew over 60 million miles and ferried every type of military aircraft to the war front. Thirty-eight members lost their lives and one disappeared while on a ferry mission, her fate still unknown. Then, two years into the program, Congress suddenly disbands the WASP, denying them all military benefits. Finally, in 1977, for their WWII service, the members were granted veteran status, and in 2009 they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Jane Doyle was one of these heroic WASPs.  In 1939, as a student at Grand Rapids Junior College, Jane became one of the few women accepted into the Civilian Pilot Training Program. By the fall of 1940, Doyle was enrolled at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and flying with the Civil Air Patrol to keep her pilot’s license. Jane was recruited for the WASPs by the group’s founder, Jacqueline Cochran. After completing her training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, Jane joined her sister pilots from 1942-44. The WASPs knew how to pilot 778 types of aircraft. Janes favorite was the AT6.

Jane’s daughters, Cathy, Janice, and Laurie didn’t know about their mom’s service as a WASP when they were growing up. They were adults in 1975 and 1976 when their mom asked them to help circulate the petitions which resulted in the WASPs finally getting military veteran status. The daughters learned even more about their mom and the WASPs when they began accompanying her to reunions that were held at the National WASP WWII Museum at Avenger Field in Sweetwater Texas.

The very first time I paid much attention to the WASPs was when I went to one of their homecomings in 2008,” says Laurie. “It was a huge event and that’s when I realized what these women did. I really learned the story more from then on because I would take her to speaking engagements. The more I went the more I learned about it.”  

The speaking engagements started after Jane, along with over 200 other surviving WASPs and the families of deceased WASPs, attended the ceremony on March 11, 2010 where they received the Congressional Gold Medal. The whole family attended that celebration. “I felt proud, very proud” says Laurie. “To have this honor finally given to this group of women was inspiring. Several of the grandchildren went. My children went. I felt that they had to see it to understand the magnitude of it. They had heard about it, but to be in the capitol, the recognition really impressed the fact on them.”

The last 10 years of WASP Jane’s life were filled with speaking engagements and air shows. She would be the guest of honor at those shows and she loved going because she knew she could always hitch a ride in one of the planes. “They would take a WASP up in a heartbeat!” explained the daughters. “She loved the fast ones,” says Cathy. “They would let her take over the controls. And she loved doing the rolls! She enjoyed it.”

Jane also enjoyed her speaking engagements. “A lot of groups and senior homes would invite her to come and talk,” says Laurie. “She basically gave the history of how it started and how she got started in it… She would stand up there at the podium for an hour to an hour and half, wouldn’t sit.”  

Jane also enjoyed inspiring others, especially youth. “She really enjoyed explaining the WASPs to the youth and inspiring them to do whatever they wanted to do,” said Cathy. “‘Don’t let anything stop you or get in your way,’ she would say. ‘Just pursue it!’”

Lt. Col. Sarah Deal Burrows can resonate with that inspiration. It is exactly what she did when she succeeded as becoming the first female aviator in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The B52 Winery event raised $2500 toward the completion of the Coming Home documentary own the WASPs. It was part of the Lucky Girl Brewing/B52 Winery Fall Festival. For information on the Red Door Coming Home documentary and to donate, go to https://thereddoorfilms.wedid.it/campaigns/7921.

Lucky Girl Brewing/B52 Winery is located at 34016 M43, in Paw Paw, Michigan. For more information, check out the Lucky Girl Brewing/B52 Winery website at www.luckygirlbrewing.com and the Lucky Girl Brewing Co. Crossroads Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/LuckyGirlCrossroads. Or call them at 269-628-0054.