Pilot, horsewoman, artist and teacher, designed bronze sculptures for
Jacquline Cochran Airport in California
Highground Veteran’s Memorial Park in Wisconsin
By Bobbi Roe
Dorothy Swain Lewis, Woman Airforce Service Pilot WWII, created sculptures to honor fellow WASP. Her first sculpture, a full size WASP in training, is in the Wishing Well at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas; where the WASP trained. It is dedicated to the 38 women pilots who lost their lives during WWII
Coachella Valley Chapter of the Ninety-Nines
International Organization of Women Pilots
The Ninety-Nines International Organization of women pilots was founded in 1929. The first elected President was Amelia Earhart. There are over 5,500 members in chapters and sections all over the world.
The mission of the Ninety-Nines is to promote world fellowship through flight. Provide networking and scholarship opportunities for women and education in the community. Preserve the unique history of women in aviation.
Artist Dorothy Swain Lewis
Women Airforce Service Pilot WWII
Class 44-5Dorothy “Dot” Swain Lewis grew up in Ashville, North Carolina and followed her dream as an artist. She learned to fly and trained Navy Cadets before becoming an instructor for the WASP. She later joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots WWII and graduated in class 44-5. (Fifth class in 1944).
The Coachella Valley 99s ask Dot to create Bronze Sculptures to be placed at
Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport
Highground Veterans Memorial Park
Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport
Thermal, California – 2005
Coachella Valley Ninety Nines commissioned a sculpture for the airport in Thermal when it was renamed Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport, obtaining sponsors to make it a reality
Dorothy Swain Lewis WASP, created the bronze sculpture. The life-size bronze bust is on a black granite pedestal at the airport entrance.
Bronze bust of Jacqueline Cochran
Photographer credits: Christina Hutson
Chair of Coachella Valley Chapter of the Ninety Nines
An oil painting of Jacqueline Cochran painted by Dot is in the Women Pilot Museum in the headquarters of the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Jackie was Director of the Airforce Women Service Pilots WWII. The women flew every type of American military aircraft and relieved men to fly in the war.
In Carol Hamilton’s words: Narrative of history of the Dorothy Swain Lewis WASP Sculpture at Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport
Carol Hamilton and Ernie Griffes
During my service as Chair of Coachella Valley 99s, in 2003 I was asked to make an appearance before the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in support of changing the name of the Desert Center Regional Airport in Thermal to the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport.
Members of the 99s were acquainted with the few local WASP veterans in the area, in the process of researching Mrs. Cochran’s history at the Coachella Valley Historical Society museum, (which then had a wonderful display of Jacqueline Cochran memorabilia), I became aware that WASP Dorothy Swain Lewis (Dot) was living in nearby Idyllwild, California. Ernie and I drove up to meet her. We visited Dot several times and came to understand the remarkable artist she is in painting, and also gained some appreciation for her work in sculpture, particularly the WASP Memorial initially created for the Sweetwater Airfield in Texas where the WASP trained, and another one placed in the Honor Court at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, plus other additional memorials around the country.
Upon the approval by the County of Riverside for the name change, we asked Dot to create a sculpture of Jacqueline Cochran for placement at the entrance to the airport scheduled for November, 2004. It seemed fitting, as Dot had been personally acquainted with Jacqueline Cochran during her WASP training.
As we toured Dot’s home she showed us the life-size mold prepared for bronze casting of her WASP, and described the process. She thought she would soon destroy it, as she didn’t intend to create any more of the sculptures; four was enough.
The Highground Veterans Memorial Park
Neillsville, Wisconsin – July 2006
WASP Scuplture at Highground
Carol Hamilton, a member of the Coachella Valley Chapter of The Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots, led an effort to place a tribute in Highground Veterans Memorial Park in Neillsville, Wisconsin. She said she wanted people to remember the pioneers who had a dream to fly and despite great odds, learned to fly. She said the dedication is the culmination of a dream.
The guest speaker at dedication was Cholene Espinoza, a former United Airlines pilot after she left the Air Force, during which time she was the first woman to fly the U-2 spy plane.
Ninety-Nines with WASP attend dedication of Dot’s sculpture.
Front row L-R: Carol Hamilton (a 99), Margaret Ringenberg, Dot Swain Lewis WASP, Caro Bailey Bosca
Back row L-R: Bobbi Roe (a 99), Betty Jo Reed WASP, Dawn Rochow Seymour WASP, Betty Brown WASP, and Marty Wyall WASP.
In Carol’s words: Narrative of history of the Dorothy Swain Lewis WASP Sculpture at the Highground Memorial in Neillsville, WI
In January of 2005 Ernie and I decided to purchase a motor home, and during the summer made our maiden voyage in it to the Midwest. We wanted to visit the Highground Memorial, where Ernie had visited many times over the years during his travels and found to be a very unique and special place in its serenity and dignified manner of remembering the sacrifices necessary to preserving our values of freedom. We also went to see Dot’s sculpture at the Air Force Academy in Colorado on the way.
During his many visits there, Ernie had come to be acquainted with the volunteer management of the Highground, so during our visit there in approximately June of 2005, as I was also impressed by the setting, he asked me if I thought the 99s might be interested in helping us sponsor a placement of Dot’s WASP sculpture at the Highground, if we could get the Highground to approve it and accept it. We agreed that we would be personally prepared to underwrite whatever cost could not be covered through donations. We decided that if we could contribute some small amount in remembrance of these courageous and dedicated women, we should make the maximum effort to do so, and this was the perfect place for it.
So we made a proposal to Kirk Rodman, the manager, right then and there in June of 2005, and received approval on October 3, 2005. On the return trip we also visited the WASP sculpture in Sweetwater, Texas, as well as the WASP museum.
Immediately upon return to California in July we visited Dot and proposed the idea to her, and introduced her to the dignity of the Highground. After all, this would be a world treasure of her work, and she would need to be persuaded that it was an appropriate location, that it would be properly cared for and maintained forever. To prepare the molds once again after many years of some decay would require a lot of work, not to mention arranging for the bronze casting (if the foundry in Arizona still had the casting instructions and specifications) and getting it to the Highground. We had hoped that if all went well, it could be dedicated at the Highground on July 31, 2006 while the WASP were at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and could be present for the dedication in Neillsville.
Dot thought about it a while, and then agreed to prepare another sculpture, if the Highground approved and if the national WASP Organization also approved of it as an appropriate placing of their memorial. Carol Bosca, WASP President, gave approval for the project.
Upon approval by the Highground on October 3, 2005, we went into full gear. With only about seven months to a hoped-for dedication of July 31, 2006, there was a lot to be done.
In the spring of 2006 I presented the idea to the 99s annual convention in St. Louis, and it met with their concurrence as an activity suitable for association with the 99s organization. The Wisconsin Chapter of 99s was invited to participate in the project.
Ernie managed the project and shepherded it through the challenges of timing, getting the marble base arranged for the sculpture, the bronze cast and shipped, and coordination with the Highground for selection of the location and preparation of the site, all aimed at having it come together by early July so the site could be landscaped and ready for a dedication on July 31st.
As Ernie had been assigned to work in Arkansas during the summer of 2006, Carol drove to Wisconsin and joined the WASP in Oshkosh. She was assured that as many WASP as could would be present at the dedication.
She drove Dot to the Highground the day before the dedication, and Dot was interviewed at the site by Cholene Espinoza, a former United Airlines pilot after she left the Air Force, during which time she was the first woman to fly the U-2 spy plane. (Her book Through the Eye of the Storm is well worth reading.)
Again, thank you for your interest in telling this story.
Editor’s Note: Dot has been a friend for many years. Ann Cooper approached me to ask if I would be interested in publishing a book she was writing with Dot. The book “How High She Flies” is a hard-cover coffee table style book about Dot’s life growing up in Ashville, North Carolina, her art, teaching, horses and her experience training cadets and later becoming a WASP. Ann is an author of several aviation books and lives in Beavercreek, Ohio. She is a flight instructor. Her book is out of print but available from time to time on Amazon and Ebay.
Photos furnished by Carol Hamilton, Christina Hutson and Highground