Michigan’s last female WWII pilot dies at 97

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids native who was among the first women to fly a U.S. military plane has died.

Mildred Jane Doyle passed away Friday at the age of 97, her daughter told 24 Hour News 8.

Doyle was among more than 1,000 women who first flew military planes in the 1940s as part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots program, also known as WASP.

During World War II, more men were needed to serve the U.S. military in combat overseas. In an unprecedented move, women were suddenly called on to fly stateside. Doyle was among them. 

“They call us pioneers now,” Doyle said in a 2017 interview with 24 Hour News 8. “I said, ‘I never thought I’d be a pioneer, but I guess I am.'”

A primary task for the WASP was to test-fly military planes before they were sent overseas.

The women did not take part in combat missions, but it was still a dangerous job. Thirty-eight of them were killed while serving.

However, the WASP pilots’ contributions were hardly known. 

“Even people in the Air Force didn’t know about us unless we were stationed at a base. They kept it quiet,” Doyle said in 2017.

Decades later in 1977, the WASP program was finally given some well-deserved recognition. Legislation was passed that gave WASP pilots veteran status. And in 2009, members of the WASP program were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Doyle was the last living WASP in Michigan. Many current female pilots now credit WASP members for blazing a trail for women in aviation.

Doyle was Grand Rapids Community College’s Distinguished Alumna of 2018.

“Jane Doyle said attending Grand Rapids Junior College in 1940 changed her ‘whole life’ — and what an amazing life it was,” GRCC President Bill Pink stated in a Friday news release. “Jane was a military aviation pioneer, putting her life on the line to serve her country. Hers is a story of determination, bravery and sacrifice. We share our heartfelt condolences with her family, and she will continue to inspire GRCC students for years to come.”

Doyle’s family is asking memorial contributions in her honor be made to the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, Texas.

Doyle’s visitation will take place Sunday, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Arsulowicz Brothers Remembrance Mortuary at 3525 Remembrance Road in Walker, according to her online obituary. Her funeral will take place at 11 a.m. Monday at Parish of the Holy Spirit in Grand Rapids before she is interred at Rosedale Cemetery.

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