Virginia “Virgie” Lee Jowell Hagerstrom
December 12, 1920 – May 28, 2015
Training Location: Houston Municipal Airport (Tex.) and Avenger Field (Sweetwater, Tex.)
Planes flown: AT-6, B-24, C-47, PT-17
Assigned bases: Romulus Army Air Base (Mich.)
“Outside my family and my husband, the WASP program was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I wanted to fly…. I loved it. If you know what you want to do, don’t let anybody stop you. You can do it!”
Virginia Lee Jowell Hagerstrom was born December 12, 1920 in the small East Texas town of Frankston. She excelled in school and had her heart set on going to college, even though it was the middle of the depression. She managed two years at Lon Morris, a small Methodist college in nearby Jacksonville, by literally singing her way through in a small band that toured the state on weekends and holidays. She then transferred to Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College in Nacogdoches where she graduated with a major in English and a Spanish minor. While there she participated in the Civilian Pilot Training Program and after graduation went to work for Delta Air Lines in Atlanta as a ticketing agent. When the WASPs were organized, she applied and was accepted.
During her time at Avenger Field in Sweetwater she made friendships that lasted her entire life. She was still a WASP when she met her future husband, James P. Hagerstrom — fresh back from his combat tour in New Guinea. They were both Army Air Force pilots passing through Orlando, Florida. He proposed three weeks later and they were married at Romulus Army Air Base, Michigan, where Lee was stationed, with a fellow 43-W-4 classmate Grace Clark Fender as maid-of-honor.
The couple settled in Houston and Lee taught school until the birth of her third child. With the outbreak of the Korean War her husband was recalled to active duty and he again flew combat missions (he became a double fighter ace, as he was also an ace in WWII). The fifties hosted the birth of five more children, and postings in Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Japan, and Hawaii. The sixties were spent in Southern California where Lee returned to teaching and her husband attended law school at night while finishing out his Air Force career, including a tour in Vietnam and Thailand.
In the seventies the family began a series of adventures on sailing yachts, even building one from the keel up. They sailed down the coast of Mexico, to Hawaii, and to Micronesia. The eighties first saw Lee and James in the Dominican Republic, and then back in Micronesia where Lee taught at the college and James was legal advisor for the local government.
In the early nineties the couple moved to a small town in northern Louisiana, where they spent their time gardening and enjoying visits from family. After the death of her husband in 1994, Lee lived with one or another of her children in San Francisco, Korea, Burma, Mexico, Maryland, and Texas. Her last years were spent near family on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She died there, peacefully, on the morning of May 28, 2015.