Evelyn Sharp was only 17 years old when she earned her private pilot’s license, and in 1938 started flying at county fairs, rodeos and community celebrations giving rides to people who, in many instances, had never seen an airplane before. She quickly became a seasoned aviator and in the early 1940s, qualified as one of the first pilots in the U.S. Army’s Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. The following year, she became a member of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. Evelyn and the other women flyers in this unit were known as WASPs.

Over the next two years, Evelyn qualified to fly nine different military aircraft ferrying them to bases all over the country. In April 1944, she was transporting a high-performance P-38 Lighting fighter from an air base in Pennsylvania when one of the aircraft’s engines failed shortly after takeoff. Evelyn fought valiantly to turn the plane back to the airfield, and miraculously managed to make an emergency wheels-up landing. The impact with the ground, unfortunately, was so hard, it broke her neck. At the age of 24, Evelyn Sharp gave her life for her country.

Female aviation pioneer, Evelyn Sharp

On Memorial Day, the USS Midway Museum once again held a flight-deck commemoration ceremony to honor all service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. With this year also being the 50th anniversary of women in naval aviation, the ceremony made a special emphasis to underscored the service and sacrifice of women in the U.S. military – women like Evelyn Sharp.

“First and foremost however, we gather to remember those who have paid the ultimate price in service to this nation,” said retired Navy Capt. Tamara Graham, a naval helicopter pilot and guest speaker at the ceremony. “The patriots who have given their lives for this great country and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.”

As a trailblazer for women in naval aviation, Tamara is also keenly aware that women have served and lost their lives defending the United States throughout the history of the country.

“Women have served and died in our nation’s wars since the American Revolution,” said Tamara, who was one of the first women to lead a naval aviation squadron when she became the commanding officer of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron 4 (HS-4) in 2011. “Our armed forces have always been a reflection of society, so as society changed, so did the military, albeit a bit slowly.”

Tamara, along with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and local Girl Scout Mari Beck, laid a wreath of remembrance to honor the more than half a million sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have fallen while serving in the U.S. military.

“On Memorial Day, let the sacrifice of those interned at Rosecrans, Miramar, Arlington, across this country and around the globe be a reminder of our immense blessing as free people, an inheritance that so many around the world unfortunately do not enjoy,” reflected Tamara, who amassed more than 3,200 flight hours during her 30-year naval career. “Although the benefits of freedom and liberty are our collective birthright today, they are not a guarantee for the future. We must ensure them in the actions we take as everyday Americans, and also appreciate the everyday Americans who gave their lives so that we might have that opportunity.”

U.S. Navy Capt. Tamara Graham was the guest speaker at the annual Memorial Day ceremony on board the USS Midway Museum.

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