Skip to comments.Remembering Indiana's Flying WASP First Lady: Josie Orr 'lived one-of-a-kind life'
Posted on 10/13/2006 6:08:36 AM PDT by bd476
Josie Orr, a former Indiana first lady who once lived in Vanderburgh County, died this week and was remembered for her adventurous spirit.
She was 85.
Born in Longmeadow, Mass., she moved to McCutchanville with former Indiana Gov. Robert Orr, an Evansville native, after their marriage in 1944. The two met when he was in prep school in Connecticut. The two had been divorced for several years before the former governor's death in March 2004.
Josie Orr's death Tuesday launched a flurry of stories and memories from state officials, friends and family who remember her as an outgoing woman with an appreciation for art and a flair for decorating.
Current Gov. Mitch Daniels released a statement Thursday upon news of Orr's death.
"Josie Orr was a one-of-a-kind who lived a one-of-a-kind life," he said. "She risked her life for her country as a pilot in World War II, ferrying airplanes across the country on their way to Europe. From a prominent family in the East, she moved to Indiana after the war, adopted our state as her own, raised a family and was heavily involved in her community in Evansville, all before ever becoming first lady. On behalf of all Hoosiers who remember her fondly, I express sincere condolences to her children and grandchildren."
Marge Donovan of Evansville described her as "colorful" and said she was one of the first people she met when she moved here after World War II.
"I was at a party, the first party I was at in Evansville, and we were seated at the same table," Donovan said of her first introduction to Orr. "She was one of the very first persons I met in town. We were both newcomers at this party. I knew right then that she was going to be interesting."
An ambitious woman, Orr was squadron commander of her Air Force class during World War II and ferried planes during the war.
In Evansville, she was the first president of Planned Parenthood, a member of the Philharmonic Board and an organizer of the McCutchanville Garden Club.
Her active lifestyle spanned many hobbies. An Evansville friend, Luise Whiting Fryer, once described Orr in a newspaper article as an "accomplished horsewoman" as well as a "crackerjack tennis player, skier and participant in many other sports."
Orr was also a supporter of the arts. Once asked by a reporter why she installed a black wrought iron gazebo in the back lawn of the governor's mansion, Orr replied, "That's easy. I love beautiful things. I love to uplift the quality of people's lives, and I love to support Indiana artists."
Robert Orr Jr. said his mother "was quite a character."He said he was most proud of her service during World War II. "She flew every kind of military plane. She kept up her pilot's license for many years after, until it started becoming more technical and hard to keep up with."
Robert Orr Jr. said in more recent years his mother spent her time going to operas and the Indianapolis Zoo, which he described as one of her favorite places.
Orr said his mother suffered a short but serious illness that would have required surgery.
"I was just called at the beginning of last week and heard she was experiencing some shortness of breath, weakness and confusion," he said. "But many of her friends have told me it came on quickly because she just had lunch with some of them recently and this did not seem to be on the horizon."
Orr wished to donate her body to the Anatomical Gifts Program at the IU Medical School. Because of that, there is no funeral service, but family members are planning an outdoor memorial service in Indianapolis sometime in the spring.
"We want it to be a fun, outdoor event where people can share their many stories of her," Robert Orr Jr. said.
Orr is survived by three children, Robert Orr Jr. of New Haven, Conn.; and twin daughters, Robbins Hail and Susan Jones, both of Osceola, Mo. She is also survived by eight grandchildren.
"Josie Orr, background left, campaigns in Evansville with her husband Lt. Governor Robert D. Orr, right, during the late 1970s.
Note: This is probably misdated. Lt. Governor Orr is wearing a Nixon Bowen campaign button which would make the date of this photo 1971-1972.
God Bless and keep Josie Wallace Orr. God Bless and comfort her children, family and friends.
Rest in peace, Josie. You were always a champion in my book.
Saturday Evening Post
By John Bollow
At the beginning of World War II, the job of flying combat planes for the American military seemed only a dream to female pilots. For some, the dream came true. While the war raged in Europe, air racer Jacqueline Cochran wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, introducing the idea of starting a women's flying division in the Army Air Force. It made sense, Cochran argued. By utilizing trained female pilots to do domestic, noncombat jobs, it would relieve men to fly combat in Europe.
In 1941, at the suggestion of General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, architect of America's air superiority during World War II, "Jackie" recruited 25 American aviatrices to go with her to England to study how women there were being successfully used in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). The American recruits flew the Royal Air Force's front-line aircraft in noncombat roles, but they worked under combat-like conditions.
During Cochran's time in England, her dream of a U.S.-based women's air corps had begun to take shape; simultaneously, the United States was suffering a severe shortage of combat-ready American pilots. Thanks to Cochran's vision, Arnold realized that he could replace men with women in stateside flying roles and send more men to the fighting front. Thus, the Women's Air Force Service Pilot program (WASP) was formed, with Cochran at its head.
Returning to the United States, Cochran worked with ferocious energy on the WASP program. Her team spent countless hours researching statistics on women pilots.
Among other qualifications, the candidates had to be between 21 and 35 years of age and have logged at least 200 hours of flying time. As word leaked out about the revolutionary new program, applications began pouring in, eventually totaling over 25,000. Actresses and secretaries, dancers and housewives, nurses and doctors--patriotic women of all backgrounds applied. Those who were able to stand up to Cochran's flashing brown eyes during the interview received telegrams that read: "Report to Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, for training."
Finally, 1,830 were accepted into training, but select few graduated. The well-trained graduates were assigned to all branches of the U.S. Army Air Corps throughout the country: Service Command, Tow Targets, Weather Wing, Ferry Command, navigators, and bombardiers. Today, surviving WASPs look back on their wartime experiences with a mixture of pride and humor.
Chance of a Lifetime
Unlike many WASPs, Jo Wallace Orr had not considered a career in aviation before World War II. Nonetheless, the taste for adventure, promised in Jackie Cochran's innovative new program, looked like too rare an opportunity to pass up.
At 19, Jo located a small, farm-based flying school in Stormville, New York, and began racking up flying hours. With the required flying hours under her belt, Jo Wallace sent in her application, fit the description of what Jackie Cochran was looking for, and was accepted into class 44-W-2.
After six strenuous months of flight training and one month of flight-instrument training, the big day arrived when the hard-working new pilots won their wings and assignments.
General "Hap" Arnold attended Jo's class graduation to show support for their wartime efforts. "Our graduation was the only one he attended, so it was a thrilling occasion," she remembers.
When it came time to pin on the wings, General Arnold unbuttoned the top button of the uniform jacket, as he always had, to place the prongs on the back of the wings.
"I was the first one up. He unbuttoned the top of my jacket, put his hand in--and all of a sudden turned beet red," Jo laughs. "He was so embarrassed that everyone else was handed their wings."
After graduation, Jo was assigned to the Ferry Command, considered a "plum assignment." One of her many tasks was picking up Bell aircraft from Buffalo, New York, to be delivered to the Russians in Great Falls, Montana. After Jo delivered the P-39 and P-63 fighters into Russian hands, the friendly Russian pilots would insist on her joining them for vodka.
"They'd really get mad if I didn't drink," Jo remembers. Because alcohol consumption was strictly forbidden while on assignment, Jo faced a dilemma--and no amount of explanation would make the Russians desist. So what's a young girl to do?
"I'd fill my boots with vodka," Jo reveals, "slosh to the bathroom, then dump them in the john."
Flying routes all across the country on a regular basis, Jo encountered camaraderie, respect, and more than one look of surprise as a female military pilot. One memorable occasion occurred while ferrying a C-47 (the cargo version of what would eventually become the DC-3 passenger plane) from Norman, Oklahoma. Upon parking next to a commercial-airline plane at a stop in Memphis, one of two pilots was overheard to say, looking over at a woman pulling in the same plane they were flying, "Well, I guess they found us out!"
Because the military was predominately male, clerks and supply personnel handed out materials so routinely that they often didn't even look up.
One time, after delivering and checking in a B-25 transport plane to Dorval Field in Montreal, the clerk, busy checking papers, perfunctorily pushed a kit across the counter. Back at her hotel, Jo opened it and discovered prophylactics--something the innocent young girl had never seen before.
On her next trip, Jo was once again handed the "kit." This time, however, she loudly cleared her throat, immediately getting the attention of a very embarrassed soldier. "He just about died," she says with a laugh.
Jo became a well-known face along the "southern route," which went through states like Mississippi and Alabama. Mechanics along the route were so thrilled and impressed with the young female pilot (they'd never met a woman pilot before) that they started a Jo Wallace Fan Club.
"They'd find out when and where I was coming in, and the word would spread like wildfire. They'd rush to greet my plane," Jo fondly remembers. "When I'd park, they'd all want my autograph.... It was funny and flattering."
As long as she lives, Jo Orr remains grateful for the training and discipline she received as a WASP, always remembering her military service as an "experience of a lifetime above anything else imaginable..."
Excerpt. Article continues: Remembering the WASPs - Women Air Force Service Pilots in World War II - The Post Remembers World War II
Fort Wayne News Sentinel
Former Indiana first lady Josie Orr dies at 85
Wednesday October 11, 2006
INDIANAPOLIS - Joan "Josie" Orr, who spent eight years as Indiana first lady while her husband, Robert Orr, was governor, has died. She was 85.
Orr died Tuesday, the Alpha Funeral Home said.
Her husband, a Republican, was governor from 1981 until 1989 following eight years as lieutenant governor.
She married him in 1944, after spending part of World War II as a pilot ferrying airplanes across the country on their way to Europe. They lived in Evansville as Robert Orr entered the family business, Orr Iron Co., and became active in politics.
The Orrs had three children and divorced in 2000. Gov. Orr died in 2004 at the age of 86.
Gov. Mitch Daniels said Josie Orr "lived a one-of-a-kind life."
"She moved to Indiana after the war, adopted our state as her own, raised a family and was heavily involved in her community in Evansville, all before ever becoming first lady," Daniels said. "On behalf of all Hoosiers who remember her fondly, I express sincere condolences to her children and grandchildren."
Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced. Daniels directed that flags at state offices be lowered to half-staff through the day of Orr's funeral.
Former Indiana first lady Josie Orr dies at 85">
Josie Orr and the Governor enjoyed a lifelong friendship with President Gerald and Mrs. Ford. Bob Orr and Gerald Ford had met while Bob was in Yale's Graduate School of Business and Gerald Ford was attending Yale University School of Law. Later the Fords and the Orrs would have condos next door to each other in Vail, Colorado.
I say rest in peace, but this is highly disturbing. I hope she repented. It's bad enough when 'Rats belong to evil groups like this, even worse when Republicans are.
W A S P
Women Airforce Service Pilots
Joanne Wallace Orr
New Castle Army Air
Base, Fairfax Field
AT-6, BT-13, C-47, B-25
So I guess it's her I have to thank for my itchy eyes and runny nose in the springtime. McCutchanville truly is a well kept secret in Evansville. Lush lawns, private ponds, flowers and trees. There are a few recently built tract homes but most of the houses are unique.
RIP Josie! Job well done.
CholeraJoe wrote: "So I guess it's her I have to thank for my itchy eyes and runny nose in the springtime. McCutchanville truly is a well kept secret in Evansville. Lush lawns, private ponds, flowers and trees. There are a few recently built tract homes but most of the houses are unique."
That's Josie. She paid great attention to details and loved to share her enjoyment of beauty.
Thanks for adding your thoughts, Joe.
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