Nadine Engler Canfield Nagle
October 5, 1918 – August 29, 2018
Training Location: Avenger Field (Sweetwater, Tex.)
Planes flown: PT-13, BT-13, AT-6, AT-10, UC-78
Assigned bases: Lubbock Army Air Base (Tex.)
Thank you to author Sarah Byrn Rickman for giving us permission to share this story from her series of WASP blog posts “WASP I’ve Been Privileged to Know.”
Nadine Engler grew up on a farm outside Chapman, Kansas. She attended Emporia State Teacher’s College to earn her teaching certificate. “In those days we’d go two years, earn a Primary Certificate, and start teaching. I began teaching in Marion, Kansas, in 1940.”
While in college Nadine met Dale Canfield, also studying to be a teacher. They planned to marry, but their first teaching jobs separated them. He was in Western Kansas, she in Eastern Kansas. The December 7, 1941, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, that brought America into World War II, changed their plans.
Rather than be drafted, Dale joined the Army Air Corps and was sent to pilot training in California. He and Nadine decided to marry in April 1942. Dale couldn’t get leave to come home, so Nadine took the train to California and they were married there.
Dale Qualified on the B-24
“From there, we were sent to Wichita. There, Dale qualified as a B-24 copilot. The fall of 1942, the Army posted his squadron to England with the Eighth Air Force. I accompanied him east on the train, saw him and his squadron off, then returned home to Chapman.”
Early January 1943, Dale died when his B-24 crashed while attempting to land back in England. The squadron had been on a raid over the German submarine pens on the northern coast of France. Nadine was devastated, but she had accepted a teaching job in Junction City beginning the second semester, a little over a week away. She went. Slowly, she began to put her life back together.
In March, she read a magazine article about a flight training school for women down in Texas. Famous racing pilot Jacqueline Cochran, who ran a cosmetic firm bearing her name, had started the school with the backing of the Army Air Forces Commanding General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold. Cochran was recruiting women to learn to fly “the Army way.” The article got Nadine’s attention.
“I Wanted to Fly in His Place”
“If my husband can’t fly for our country in time of war, I’ll fly in his place,” she vowed. She had never been in an airplane.
That summer, Nadine went to Wichita, worked in a dime store, saved her money and took flying lessons. “I didn’t sign another contract to teach. If I was called into the WASP, I wanted to be ready to go. That fall I stayed with a cousin in Topeka and continued flying. I took a job in a drugstore as a cashier.”
When she had her required 35 hours, Nadine wrote to Jackie Cochran seeking admittance to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). She was accepted into class 44-W-9, which would begin in April 1944. The 44 represented her graduation year; the W stood for women; the 9 indicated that hers would be the ninth class to graduate in 1944.
“Though I wasn’t a natural born pilot, I acquired the skills to be a good pilot.”
Nadine reported to the school in Sweetwater. She trained for seven intense months, passed all her flight checks, and graduated November 10, 1944.
Sent to South Plains AAF for Active Duty
Posted to South Plains Army Airfield, Lubbock, Texas, Nadine served on active duty for just under six weeks. The WASP were disbanded and sent home December 20, 1944. It is with great relish that Nadine tells the story of her most memorable flight.
“I was assigned to fly five non-flying officers to San Antonio in an AT-10 for a meeting. The AT-10 was a twin-engine plane with room for a crew of two, but I was the lone pilot.
“We flew down, they went to their meeting. Late afternoon they called and told me their meeting was lasting longer than expected. We’d have to take off later. I changed the ETA and re-checked the weather.
Back to Lubbock After Dark
“Well, by the time they got down to Operations it was late in the afternoon. This was November and, of course, the days were getting shorter. We were going to be flying at night. I double checked everything again … you know, just to be sure. Our night training at Sweetwater had been very thorough and I had not been scared doing it. Still, I was a little bit … not nervous, but very conscious of what I was doing.
“When we landed at Lubbock, the men filed out of the plane and each one said, ‘Thank you for the nice flight. Good night.’ I said, ‘Thank you. Good night.’
“But I’ve always said there were six prayers going up to Heaven that night.”
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Texas Women’s University, Denton, Texas. WASP collection