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Woman who trained WWII pilots dies

September 23, 2006|By PEPPER BALLARD

BOONSBORO ? An 86-year-old woman who taught pilots to fly during World War II and taught Boonsboro teenagers home economics died Thursday from cancer, said her friend, Elisabeth Creech.

Emma Lou Schwagel, a resident of Fahrney-Keedy Home and Village, lived through the Dust Bowl, a series of dust storms in the central United States during the 1930s, before teaching pilots to fly at a time when the field was dominated by men, Creech said.

Less than a month before her death, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., presented Schwagel with a flight jacket and framed copy of a 1941 newspaper story.

"She was thrilled about that," Creech said.

Creech said Schwagel, a second lieutenant, never received a flight jacket while teaching flight and ground school at the Naval Air Primary Training Command's CAA-WTS School in Arkansas from 1941 until the end of the war.

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Schwagel taught home economics and served as a senior guidance counselor at Boonsboro High School for 25 years. Her husband, Rome Schwagel, a former two-term Washington County Commissioner and Keedysville mayor, died in 1994.

Rome Schwagel was the pilot school's physical training director.

The couple moved to Washington County in 1949.

Creech said the Schwagels never had children of their own, but Emma Lou Schwagel's sister had four sons and a daughter, whom Schwagel loved dearly.

Creech said she'll miss Schwagel's "wonderful laugh" and twinkling eyes. Schwagel was sharp and organized and loved gardening and cross-stitching, she said.

Schwagel, a Kansas native who studied home economics at Arkansas State Teachers College, applied and was accepted into a program launched by the U.S. government to give civilians 40 hours of flying time, a program that required only one in 10 program participants could be female.

She eventually obtained her instructor's license.

"I'd always had an interest in flying and I just took advantage of it," Schwagel has told The Herald-Mail.

She was the first woman to fly solo in a Cadet, a fast sport plane used to train anti-aircraft gunners, which earned Schwagel's students' respect, The Herald-Mail has reported.

The Washington County Commissioners presented Schwagel with a Citizen of the Month award in June 2004, recognizing her for her World War II contributions.

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps, who presented Schwagel with the award, recalled Friday how impressed she was with Schwagel's accomplishments.

"Being a female flight instructor in a piece of the military dominated by male pilots was outstanding ... that should speak volumes for her capabilities and her talents," Nipps said. "She was certainly one of her kind back then."

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