As a follow up to last Thursday’s talk on “Four Saratoga World War II Veterans and Contractors” (which is available to view at https://www.facebook.com/historiantosaratoga/ )
In 1943 the Saratogian published an article about Virginia Sweet from Quaker Springs joining the WASP (1943-1944) during World War II.
“Former Quaker Springs Girl Joins Army Ferry Command
Mechanicville — Air Cadet Vlrglnla Sweet Disbrow, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Person Sweet, Schenectady, is the first woman from Schenectady County to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Command of the U. S. Army. She is now stationed with the 319th Army Air Forces Flying detachment at Houston, Tex., municipal airport.
Cadet Disbrow Is the former Miss Virginia Sweet and a former resident of Quaker Springs. She is a graduate of the Mechanicville High School and was a- student in the Civilian Pilot Training program at Union College and received a private pilot’s license in September, 1940. She married John Adam Disbrow, a flight instructor at the Haven Flying School, Schenectady County Airport who is now stationed at Yakama. Washington with the Pan American Ferrying Command. “
The following section will provide some background on Virginia Sweet, a woman that broke barriers in the aviation world for decades. She can provide inspiration and is a role models for young women seeking to enter the aviation profession.
Virginia Sweet was born in 1921 in the hamlet of Quaker Springs in the Town of Saratoga. Her father, Harry Sweet was a disabled (gas exposure) World War 1 veteran who passed away when Sweet was 9 years old. Her mother Jessica Smith Sweet struggled to raise Virginia and her two sisters. Virginia Sweet worked hard and was gifted in her academics. She skipped two grades at the Quaker Springs one-room schoolhouse. She graduated from Mechanicville High School and Duke University (with honors).
Her ”flying career was inspired by her grandfather and her reading of Amelia Earhart’s books when she was a youngster. When Ginger came home at the end of her sophomore year at Duke University, she found that her grandfather had a brand new car. She wanted to learn to drive it but he said no one was going to drive his new car. “Then I’m going to learn to fly instead,” Virginia retorted and did just that. “ according to the Troy Times 18 November 1952. She became a student in the Civilian Pilot Training program at Union College and received a private pilot’s license in September, 1940.
In 1943, she joined the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). The WASP were a corps of U.S. female pilots able to fill all types of flying jobs at home, thus freeing male military pilots to travel to the front line of World War 2. She was assigned to Romulus, Michigan, where she took her regular turn with male pilots in flight delivery of army aircraft. She is qualified to fly 23 different types of planes and to co-pilot Flying Fortresses, Liberators, Mitchel bombers and Catalina amphibians.
After WWII, she served as a reserve commission in 1949 and spent five years on active duty during and after the Korean War. She retired from the USAF Reserve in September 1979, as a Lt. Colonel after 30 years of service. In addition, she had the Amelia Earhart Scholarship presented to her in NYC in 1949, by Maj. Gen. Robert M. Webster, Commanding General of the Eastern Defense Command of the Continental Air Command, United States Air Force.
After WASP deactivation, she had a lifelong aviation career, adding some 55 different civilian types of aircrafts to her flight log, along with 14 sailplanes and gliders. She held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for single and multi-engine land and seaplanes, gliders, and an instrument and instructor certificate. She was an advanced ground school instructor and was a flight examiner for many years. She taught flying at Lake Champlain, at RPI to ROTC cadets, and at most of the airports in the Capital District.
Saratoga has been defined by the people who by choice or by chance make up this community. There are many individuals like Virginia Sweet that help define this country, our region, and this community. It is the determination of our forefathers, in surmounting overwhelming odds that help define the American spirit – the will and ability to shape a better future. It is the people it is that define this community by choice or by chance have changed this country and even the world. That is why studying the people of Saratoga is integral to a good understanding of the condition of being human.