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This Day in History: WWII Pilot Gertrude Tompkins

On this day in 1944, an elite American female pilot climbs into a P-51D Mustang fighter. Gertrude Tompkins Silver was tasked with ferrying the plane to the east coast. She was never seen again.


Gertrude is the only member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) still missing in action after World War II.

Her path to the WASPs was unusual. Gertrude spent much of her childhood struggling with a stutter. She hated school because she was relentlessly teased, so she did just enough to scrape by. Books were her main escape.


Gertrude’s life would change forever in late 1940 or early 1941, when she was in her late 20s. By then, she was working for her father’s company. One night at a dance, she met Mike Kolendorski. He was an American pilot volunteering to help England against Germany.