The Passing of a Legend
Last week we said goodbye to Dawn Seymour, who passed peacefully in her home overlooking Canandaigua Lake, New York. Seymour, a native of Rochester, New York, was 100 years old, and one of just a handful of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who were trained to fly the B-17 Flying Fortress during World War II, making her a legend in her own right.
Seymour was an incredible woman, passionate about sharing the WASP story with young people, and could often be seen at airshows around the North East doing exactly that. Last year at EAA AirVenture she joined the Commemorative Air Force for the launch of the CAF RISE ABOVE: WASP initiative. Seymour was eager to ensure that our program reflect the breadth of WASP experiences and accurately reflect the challenges and accomplishments of the women who joined the WASP program.
Her trailblazing spirit will live on in younger generations fortunate enough to hear her story.
WASP Class 43-W-5
Dawn Seymour graduated Cornell University in the Class of 1939. At 22 years old she did not have tremendous exposure to flying, but she had a favorite tree to climb when she was young and had found something attractive about being “up above.”
Following her graduation, Seymour was approached by Professor Richard Parmenter who offered her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He explained that he was running an experiment, under the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), whereby for every 10 male students enrolled for pilot training, he could accept one female candidate. Seymour had never flown before, so Parmenter took her to the Ithaca Airport and she took her first flight in a yellow Piper Cub.
Seymour recalled the flight, saying she was “dazzled by the sunbeams in the sky and how the land stretched out below seemed borderless.” She described herself as “overwhelmed by the circle of land meeting sky,” and immediately enrolled in the CPTP test program. To her delight, Seymour was accepted. In May of 1940 she received her private pilot’s certificate, having had only 40 hours of flying.
Seymour remembered the flurry of activity which surrounded the declaration of war and, like many would-be-WASP, she was eager to put her unique skill set to use in service of the United States. “I wanted to be near as I could to the fighting,” she recalled. When she learned of the new WASP Program, she enrolled and was accepted for training as part of Class 43-W-5.
Following her training at Avenger Field, Seymour was assigned to Lockbourne Army Air Field where she was trained to fly the B-17 Flying Fortress. On her first flight in a B-17, the number three engine caught fire and Seymour thought to herself “Oh my goodness, this is the airplane for me!”
Following the completion of her B-17 training, Seymour was stationed at Buckingham Army Air Field in Florida, where she would go on to fly B-17s for gunnery training. Each day, she would take up a B-17 loaded with gunnery cadets and each cadet would take turns practicing shooting at moving targets. Seymour would log more than 700 hours in the B-17.