July 15, 2024

**Do Not Use**

New Director's Dialogue available in ARC Event Library

Saints and Siblings

By Bevan King

Silenced by Congress and omitted from the history books – how does a heroine recover her story and dignity after 30 years? How does she survive the sting of rejection after tasting the sweet morsels of success? Saints and Siblings is such a story about a sister searching for her place in life against the backdrop of her brother – in a world that is constantly testing the boundaries of gender equality. With the advent of WWII, these two siblings are eager to answer their country’s call to service. They both volunteer for military pilot training and make great sacrifices – it changes their lives forever – but will they both be remembered well by a grateful nation?

Ruth and James are born into anything but a traditional family. Their accountant father is a 32nd degree Freemason and their mother is a member of the Eastern Star – high morals and good works set the proverbial ‘low bar’ for fthis family of six. Ruth and James have a good dose of spoiling common to being the youngest children – they also have a good-natured competitiveness that seems to drive them. When the Great Depression hits, both siblings work hard raising pigs and tending the garden to help feed their family and less fortunate neighbors. Ten years pass slowly as they dream of better days ahead. James earns a military college degree, while Ruth attends a local business college that owes her father money. When WWII raises it’s ugly head, a career door opens for Ruth that catches her and her brother by surprise.

Commissioned at graduation, James’ hopes for playing in the NFL are delayed and he is sent off to pilot training along with several of his classmates. With only a ‘promise’ of a military commission, Ruth also volunteers for pilot training – an experimental program for women – and is ushered off to a once-abandoned airfield deemed too hot for training men. Unlike James, Ruth already has a pilot’s license, but the government insists these women need to learn to fly the “Army way.” Separated by 2000 miles and 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the dead of summer, Ruth and James’ training is conducted exactly the same – but there are some differences. The government doesn’t want to risk losing male pilots, so they send the planes deemed “less worthy” to train Ruth. While James writes glowing letters home about his flying prowess, Ruth is ordered to remain silent about her flight training. Until complete success can be assured, the country can little afford embarrassment of training girls.

Ruth pins on her wings – beating her competitive brother to the “stick” is indeed a sweet first, but also short-lived. She remains stateside, while James gets orders to the exotic Pacific to fly bombers against the Japanese. Determined to fly them all, Ruth volunteers to ferry fighters, bombers, transports…the bigger the better. Her flying days are at times just as harrowing and dangerous as her brother’s, like the time she gets her tail shot off by green trainees firing live ammo at her tow target. Heralding the plane to a safe landing, Ruth receives praise for her flying skills, but is quickly grounded for the few expletives she bleeps over the radio – it is the only discipline given out that day. While James has enemies that he can easily recognize, Ruth faces Gremlins, both real and imagined.

Inequities persist, but no one can overlook the contributions of these skilled female pilots to the overall war effort. Their success prompts the government to begin drafting civilian male pilots for non-flying duty overseas. But these civilian pilots were not eager to leave the relative safety of their stateside jobs for foot soldiering. With D-Day just around the corner, they need a quick end to the women’s flying program. Sordid tales about the women pilots begin to spread quickly, but the final straw is funding. Unaware that military commanders are using secretive backdoor tactics to fund the women’s flying program, Congress is outraged. As testimony against the female pilots’ mounts, the women are ordered to stay silent. Failing enough Congressional votes to militarize, the program is immediately shut down and the civilian male pilots resume their coveted stateside flying jobs.

Ruth is sent packing along with all the other women pilots, their services no longer needed, and the promise of a commission long forgotten. As for James, he has 65 missions under his belt and a plane full of holes. He volunteers to take command of wounded soldiers on a hospital ship and returns home a decorated hero – while his sister is left on the side of the road to find her own way home. No ticker tape parade or celebration for Ruth – the nation expects her to resume the life of a charming wife and competent mother and forget the past.

Bestowed with a Purple Heart and air medals, James’ business and family enjoys the fruits of his military distinction. Ruth waits over 33 years to finally receive recognition as a veteran with limited benefits. marries a highly decorated naval officer and in l977 Congress finally grants her veteran’s status. The story of these siblings teaches us a valuable lesson that life is not always fair, but it is rich with adventure and challenges – if you will accept them as such. After similar brief illnesses, Ruth and James die in 2007, just 3 months apart. They leave a legacy of mentorship to all of us, enabling barriers to be broken and dreams to come true. In the end, both of their caskets are draped with the American Flag as customary for all veterans. Finally, hailed in today’s history and in this story, both Ruth and James, brother/sister pilots of WWII, are equally remembered by a loving family and a grateful nation.

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