During World War II, Blanche Osborn Bross flew a bomber known as the “Flying Fortress,” but she wasn’t recognized for her military service until 1977.
Last week, Bross, 92, died a veteran of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots.
Bross, who lived with her husband, Willis, in Bend for a time, was living in Eugene and working as an accountant at a plumbing company when she heard about the WASPs in 1943. Already a certified pilot, she applied.
More than 25,000 women applied to the program, but fewer than 2,000 were selected.
WASP training was competitive and only 1,074 women graduated from the program.
The WASPs were created in 1943 out of two smaller women’s flying groups. The female pilots delivered planes from factories to domestic military bases and flew cadets on training flights, among other missions.
During her time in WASP, Bross flew heavy, high-altitude B-17 bombers.
Bross flew the plane on training missions as gunner trainees shot from her plane at targets being trailed by B-25s.
“One of the gunners had combat experience, and he was amazed women were flying the B-17s,” Bross told The Bulletin in 2003. “When he saw the women pilots, he said, ‘I’m going to have to write home about this!’”
Bross’s service in the WASPs took her to places like Fort Myers, Fla., and Las Vegas.
She was one of four women in the famous “Pistol Packin’ Mama” photograph used by the government to promote the war effort. It has since appeared in commercials and other promotions.
During their time in the WASPs, 38 women died. But WASPs were not recognized as veterans until Nov. 23, 1977, when President Jimmy Carter signed a bill that changed their war service to active duty.
“It was when women got into flying, and we are part of World War II,” Bross said in 2003. “For me it’s not personal, but it needs to go down in history that we were there.”
After her service, Bross joined the American Red Cross and was sent to Kunming, China, where she worked at running clubs for overseas service members.
After returning to the U.S., she married Willis H. Bross and ran a seaplane business in Portland.
Bross is survived by her husband of 50 years; a son; a stepson; and stepdaughter.