THE EARLY YEARS...
By Mararett Thomas (TOMMY) Warren

Fifinella

An object of unit pride was the WASP emblem designed by Walt Disney, who was intrigued with the work of the WASPs. The symbol was a dainty little winged sprite called "Fifinella." Fifinella was considered to be a sister of the prankplaying "gremlin" that caused pilots trouble, but unlike her brother, she was a kind-hearted little elf who helped the WASPs out of tight situations.

Nancy, Tommy and Susie

It was Wednesday, October 27, 1976. Nancy Harkness Love died last Friday. Mary Fearey, who had just returned from a WASP reunion in Arkansas, said they had given Nancy their award "The Order of Fifinella;' a few days before she died. I wonder if Nancy gave a damn, or maybe it was something she wanted, a comfort. After all, she was in line to be Commander of the WASP until Jackie Cochran came home from England, and, to our surprise, was appointed. I must call Susie. I don't imagine she's heard.

How many years ago was it when Nancy, Susie and I lived together- I think it was 1934. Let's see ... thirty-four, forty-four, fifty-four, sixty-four, seventy-four-five, six, seven, eight, nine. My God! That's forty-five years ago!

We lived in Mark Twain's old house, 21 Fifth Avenue, New York City on the corner of Ninth Street, next door to the Brevoort Hotel with its sidewalk cafe that made us think we were in Paris. It was down the street from Washington Square and Greenwich Village.

We had the ground floor. Our living room had two pairs of French doors that opened onto balconies bordered with iron railings. A leap over the railings would bring you onto the sidewalk. How safe the world was in those days. On hot nights, we wouldn't even bother to close the doors, much less lock them.

We were three young fliers. Good-looking, penniless and out to seek our fortunes. Susanne Humphreys was last year's debutante, the only native New Yorker among us-brought up in private schools and riding-to-hounds. Her family could no longer support her, so she (in theory anyway) had a job in a fancy dress shop selling clothes to her friends. The only reason we had this apartment was because her cousin gave it to us, he had moved elsewhere and his lease wasn't up. Nancy was from Michigan and had left Vassar after two years. We were about the same age and our common burning interest-no, our passion-was flying.

Sometimes we actually missed a meal or so, but we did have a steady supply of beer because somebody whose father owned a brewery sent it like a standing order for roses to a chorus girl. Of men, there were plenty, but pilots mostly, not a rich lot.

We had a private telephone number and somehow became a sort of central aviation recruiting office for the Spanish Civil War. The Loyalists, of course. I think it worked like this: One of the boys would say he'd like to join up. Someone telephoned at intervals and we'd supply names; the mysterious "other end" would take it from there. We'd later learn that Bill or Jim or John was gone.

I remember the night we all got in about the same time, very late, from our dates and nightclub visits. We talked awhile and then decided to go to Roosevelt Field and fly as soon as the sun was up. Flying made women comrades in the same way that men can be comrades. But women seldom are. There are many ties women share, wornan-to woman, to men's exclusion, but they are rarely companions in the "Three Musketeers" sense. But we were. I have a photograph of about a dozen of us, lined up in front of an airplane, everybody with their arms linked or an arm around another's shoulders.

The end came when Nancy decided to marry Bob Love. Susie and I were shocked, horrified. I shall never forget her departure. Bob's family sent their car, a great black Packard limousine with a chauffeur. The chauffeur held the door open. Nancy hesitated a moment, then climbed in, looking determined. Susie and I stood on the balcony, waving and crying. That was the year of the song, "When a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes."

I think we both felt that the real world was beginning to show its hum-drum face, and, as it turned out, we were right, in a way. In another way, we were wrong. But that's another story.

Go to the Top of the Page


Copyright © 2001 US Trade Inc. All rights reserved
/