Evelyn Genevieve Sharp (1919-1944)
Evelyn Genevieve Sharp was Nebraska's best-known aviatrix during her eight-year career. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John E. Sharp and was born October 1, 1919, in Melstone, Montana. Her family moved to Ord in her youth.
She became interested in flying at age fourteen, and she soloed under the tutelage of Jack Jefford at sixteen. Two years later she received her commercial pilot's license, one of the youngest persons to achieve this rating.
At twenty Evelyn became an instructor. Over 350 men learned flying from her in Spearfish, South Dakota, her first teaching assignment. She was the nation's first female airmail pilot. With the coming of World War II, Evelyn joined General H. H. "Hap" Arnold's Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, expert pilots who flew aircraft from factory sites to shipping points. Her proficiency enabled her to fly everything from training craft to bombers.
On April 3, 1944, at the age of twenty-four, Evelyn Sharp was killed near Middleton, Pennsylvania, in the crash of a P-38 pursuit plane. At the time of her death she was a squadron commander only three flights from her fifth rating, the highest certificate then available to women. She is buried in Ord.
Ord Rotary Club
Evelyn Genevieve Sharp (1919-1944)
Everyn entered the WAFS in October, 1942. She was assigned to the 2nd Ferrying Group, New Castle Army Air Base, Wilmington, Delaware. She was killed on April 3, 1944 when an engine on the P-38 she wasferrying failed on take-off at New Cumberland, Pennsylvania (Evelyn was one of the most experienced women pilots in America, with 2,968 hours of flying time when she entered the WAFS.)
Evelyn Sharp (centre) and other WAFS, March 7, 1943
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Evelyn Sharp (1919-1944), known to friends as "Sharpie", grew up in the small town of Ord on the edge of the Nebraska sandhills. She was the youngest American woman to hold a commercial pilot's license. By the age of 20, she was one of only ten female flight instructors in the United States.
When the War Department organized the Women's Auxilary Ferrying Squadron in 1942, Sharpie qualified as its 17th member. She served until April 1944, when the Lockheed P-38 fighter she was flying lost power on takeoff and she was killed.
"Sharpie" left a lasting legacy in the pilots she taught, in the female pilots she inspired in Ord, where the local airport is named for her and tne community celebrates Evelyn Sharp Days in June.
WAFS Barbara Jane (Erickson) London and Evelyn Sharp
Barbara London prepares to take off in the P-51 Mustang - the Army Air Forces' hottest fighter plane. Evelyn Sharp wears the gabardine WAFS uniform. The WAFS were disappointed when they had to exchange their uniform for the Santiago Blues worn by the WASPs. [USAF; USAF neg. No. K-621]
Sharpie: The Life Story of Evelyn Sharp - Nebraska's Aviatrix
A Synopsis by Diane Bartels
In the throes of the Great Depression, amidst the red dust and grasshoppers borne by a wind from the Oklahoma Panhandle, a young girl named Evelyn Sharp grew up in the north central region of the Nebraska Sandhills.
It was there she assimilated the values of perseverance and commitment, and acquired a sense of adventure which would clearly define her character. Evelyn would not settle for the security of a loving husband and home. She wanted to fly.
Born humbly, she was adopted by a loving childless couple who moved often, finding opportunity wherever it seemed to be. In her adult life, Evelyn would learn that a woman known to her as Aunt Elsie was in fact her biological mother.
Evelyn was into every activity Ord High School had to offer, and she graduated in 1937 as the best girl athlete in the history of the school. During that time, an itinerant flight instructor, behind in his room and board bill at John Sharp's rooming house, offered to give Evelyn free flying lessons. Her fate was sealed. ...more
Evelyn Sharp of Ord, Nebraska, got her first flying lessons from a barnstormer who could not pay a bill owed by him to her father. Her first lesson was on February 4th, 1935 when she was 16 years old. She earned her amateur pilots license later that year followed by her private pilots license at 17. At 18, she became the youngest person - male or female - in the country with a commercial pilots license.
With tremendous perseverance she worked at various jobs in order to earn money for more lessons and finally became a barnstormer herself. She eventually taught flying in California and when she joined the WAFS she had 2,968 hours to her credit - the most of any WAFS pilot. ...more
Evelyn Sharp Day 2000
To but a few, the name Evelyn Sharp was special or even known, and for those few, celebration of Evelyn Sharp Day in Ord, Nebraska in the year 2000 carried with it a significance of pride as recall of those days, now long gone, brought a resurrection of a unique special warmth of an era when a community took pride in the accomplishments of its own and suffered as intensely when their lives were removed prematurely. And of the few her life touched; their number diminishes with the passage of time, yet her community refuses to let her memory die nor to surrender the roots of what they were.
In the fertile mind of a young girl dreams of glamour and the romance of aviation enveloped the stirring imagination to the point of addiction and through determination she pursued her dreams. Soon she was to learn this art of flying wasn't done as a conversation endeavor, for it was to become her way of life and of her death. Evelyn Sharp, Nebraska's premier aviatrix, had her confrontations during her pursuit of excellence though they proved no deterrence, particularly when the community provided its timely assist with pride. Share the joy of what flying meant as we note the smile while in the cockpit or propping her Cub. ...more
Bartels, Diane Ruth Armour,
Dageforde Publishing - 1996
A move to the Nebraska Sandhills and an itinerant flight instructor's overdue room and board bill put her in the front seat of an Alexander Flyabout. She is a "natural", earning her private, commercial, and instructor's ratings by age 20. Sharpie is the biography of an early Nebraska barnstorming pilot who became one of the first women to ferry US Army Air Force fighters during World War II. It is the life story of a remarkable woman who gave her life for her country.
Editorial Reviews : Amazon.com
As the powerful P-38 lifted off the runway at New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, on April 3, 1944, the pilot, Evelyn Sharp, knew she was in trouble. She did not need to see the black smoke belching from the pursuit's left engine. Her cockpit instruments told her all she needed to know. With not enough altitude, nor engine performance to gain that altitude, a twenty-four-year-old barnstorming pilot from Nebraska set the Army Air Forces state-of-the-art fighter down on a grassy knoll near a wooded ravine.
In the throes of the Great Depression , amidst the red dust and grasshoppers borne by a wind from the Oklahoma Panhandle, a young girl named Evelyn Sharp grew up in the north central region of the Nebraska Sandhills. It was there she assimilated the values of perseverance and commitment, and acquired a sense of adventure which would clearly define her character. Evelyn would not settle for the security of a loving husband and home. She wanted to fly. ...more
From the Back Cover
Sharpie was a very special person, and I am absolutely fascinated with her life. Although the book reads like fiction, the writing is a masterful work of historical research. Diane Armour Bartels has insightfully captured the love, warmth and spirit which epitomize my very good friend. Teresa James, Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron.
The residents of Valley County, Nebraska, have waited some fifty years for a writer to pen the biography of their hometown heroine. Their dream is at last a reality. Bartels has honestly and eloquently portrayed the human history of a place, its people, and a time. (Heloise Christensen Bresley, Valley County Historical Society). ...more
Diane Ruth Armour Bartels does not ever remember a time in her life when she did not want to fly. As a young girl growing up on a farm in northeast Nebraska, she experienced her first flight when local pilots took up farmers in order to survey conservation practices in the county. In the 1950s. the Signature Book Series introduced her to a world where women made a difference.
The first biography her mother gave her was entitled The Story of Amelia Earhart. Diane read and reread it, absolutely fascinated that a young girl from Atchison, Kansas, could grow up to be a world famous pilot. Diane wanted to be just like her. Graduating as the University of Nebraska's Outstanding Senior Woman in 1964, Diane earned her private pilot license on August 12, 1966, after two months of flight training. . ...more
Evelyn Sharp : Birth: Oct. 1, 1919 Death: Apr. 3, 1944
Called "Sharpie" by her friends. Subject of public television documentary, "Sharpie: Born to Fly." One of the first female pilots in America. She was, in the late 1930's, the youngest aviatrix in the nation. Learned to fly in her home town, Ord, Nebraska.
"Sharpie" made her first solo flight at age 15, and got her private pilot's license on her 17th birthday, and a year later had a commercial transport pilot's license, and began flying mail between towns in central Nebraska, as well as barnstorming rodeos and country fairs. She taught flying in South Dakota and California.
Then, in 1942 she was one of the first 23 women chosen for Army Air Corps' new Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Her military task was to fly newly built military aircraft from West Coast manufacturers to the Eastern US for shipment to war zones.
On April 3, 1944 an engine blew up in a new P-38 she was piloting over Pennsylvania. It crashed. She was killed. The airport at Ord, Nebraska is called Sharp Field in her memory. Nebraska's main newspaper, The Omaha World-Herald, calls her "...one of the most memorable Nebraskans of the past century" (editorial page, September 10, 2000).
Evelyn Sharp: Well Worth Remembering
Omaha World-Herald, Sunday, September 10, 2000
Residents in parts of the Sand Hills could look up in the 1930s and see a miracle. Floating below the clouds was a plane serenely piloted by a teen-ager - Evelyn Sharp. Sharp, an Ord resident, made her first solo flight at age 15. She earned her private pilot's license shortly after her 17th birthday, in 1937. A year later, she became a licensed commercial transport pilot.
A serendipitous turn of events in the mid-1930s had brought Sharp into contact with the then-young world of aviation: A resident of her family's boardinghouse had given her flying lessons in exchange for room and board. Businessmen in Ord, encouraged by local optometrist Glen D. Auble, came to recognize Sharp's talent and spirit and contributed $600 for a down payment on an airplane for her.
The exuberant young pilot, called "Sharpie" by her friends, repaid the debt in the late'30s by flying the mail route connecting Ord, Greeley and Grand Island and by barnstorming county fairs and rodeos. She named her plane after her hometown. One side of the plane bore the words, "Nation's Youngest Aviatrix." Frequently her co-pilot was her dog, Scotty.
This month, Nebraska public television will recall those and other exploits from Evelyn Sharp's life in a documentary titled "Sharpie: Born to Fly."
Sharp's flying career reached a turning point in October 1942. After serving during the preceding two years as a flying instructor in South Dakota and California, Sharp became one of 23 women chosen for the Army Air Corps' new Women Airforce Service Pilots. As a WASP, she flew military aircraft from West Coast manufacturing plants cross-country to Eastern shipping points.
Lois Durham, a former WASP pilot living in Ralston, told The World-Herald in 1998 that the members of the WASP squadron "were women who loved to fly and probably the gutsiest girls I know."
The dangers involved in the WASP ferrying service became grimly evident on April 23, 1944, when the right engine blew at takeoff on a P-38 fighter Sharp was piloting over rural Pennsylvania. (With no atlitude and no way to fly it higher or far enough to get back to the field) Sharp brought the plane down in a field, but she did not survive the crash landing. She was only 24 years old.
A white cross and a bronze eagle mark Sharp's final resting place in the Ord Cemetery.
More than five decades after her death, Evelyn Sharp continues to be remembered fondly in her hometown. Ord named its airfield after her and has held community events in her honor.
A look back at Sharp's life points up several things: A young woman who realized her special talents and worked hard to make the most of them. Parents who believed in their daughter and gave her the freedom to pursue her dreams. A community that stood behind a hometown teen-ager and helped lift her up. A nation that was served courageously in wartime by a squadron of female pilots, even to the point of highest sacrifice.
Evelyn Sharp stands as one of the most memorable Nebraskans of the past century. Her example continues to inspire. And to the people of Ord, her memory still soars.
More about the Women's Auxillary Ferrying Squadron