Betty Lee Heinrich Berkstresser
May 12, 1919 – July 1, 2018
WASP Class 43-W-4
Planes flown: B-13 and AT-6
Bases assigned: Love Field (Dallas, Tex.) and Hondo Army Air Field (Tex.)
“Go! Have fun!”
~WASP Betty Heinrich Berkstresser
Betty Lee Heinrich Berkstresser was born May 12, 1919, in Houston TX. She attended Travis and Browning Elementary, James Hogg Middle School, La Porte High School and was a graduate of the University of Houston.
When a U of H math professor for whom she was grading papers asked, “Would you like to be a pilot,” Betty jumped at the chance to learn to fly. She immediately enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training program at U of H, took her flight training at Hobby Airport and began adding hours to her logbook.
Betty’s love of flying enabled her to serve as a Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP). She was accepted into the 43-4 class of WASP trainees and reported to Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas. Betty’s favorite plane was the AT-7, in which she flew over 500 hours. Following her graduation in August of 1943, she was assigned to Love Field in Dallas, Texas as a ferry pilot, as a ferry pilot and then as a Link Trainer instructor in Orlando, FL.
After a transfer to Hondo Army Air Field in Hondo, Texas, a navigation and engineering school, Betty’s assignment was navigational flying in C-45s training cadet navigators. She met her soon to be husband, pilot Virgel K. Berkstresser (Herky), while in Hondo and remained based there until the WASP were disbanded.
Two days after the WASP were disbanded, Betty married her co-pilot, and they later settled in Houston to rearing their family. Betty was a wonderful mother to her four children: Betty Keene, a former NASA aerospace engineer and private pilot; Peggy, a former teacher and outdoor educator; Terry, materials manager and private pilot; and Kerry, an actuarial analyst, and hot air balloonist. While rearing their family, Betty taught multiple grade levels for many years at Houston ISD elementary schools Garden Villas, Bastian, and Golfcrest, eventually retiring from teaching in 1983.
Throughout her retirement, she immensely enjoyed visits from former students and room mothers. Betty loved to read, garden, sew, quilt, stargaze, and travel. She rode more than 50,000 miles around the U.S. and Canada on her Honda 500cc motorcycle with Herky and Garner State Park with friends. She and Peggy took her two grandchildren on yearly road trips throughout the west and to Canada. Gallivanting, whether around the country or just around town, was always much loved. A special memory was the “extraordinary day” when she and all WASP were honored in Washington D.C. at the Capitol with the Congressional Gold Medal for their pioneering work during WWII.