June Bent, WWII pilot and lover of flight, dies at 102
June E. Bent, 96, of Westboro prepares for flight in the front passenger seat of a sailplane with pilot Dave Nadler of Acton at the Sterling Airport in October 2009. She had enjoyed gliding decades earlier when she lived in upstate New York, and when the Greater Boston Soaring Club learned of her hobby and her World War II service, it invited her to go for a ride. "It was great. It was a real treat," she said after the 40-minute flight. (T&G Staff File Photo)
By Craig S. Semon TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFFcraig.firstname.lastname@example.org
June Bent in a photo from her days as a WASP in Texas; Mrs. Bent referred to this as a "glamour" portrait of the sort that was customarily done for the women pilots in a commercial studio. Enlarge photo
WESTBORO — A World War II hero died peacefully Friday at the age of 102.
June E. Bent was one of the 1,102 women who used their piloting skills to help their country win World War II. They became the Women Airforce Service Pilots, women who were trained to fly non-combat missions in 1943 and 1944.
They didn't fight, but their work freed male pilots for overseas combat and they were the first women ever to fly U.S. military aircraft.
Thirty-eight WASPs were killed in service.
Newspaper clips from the 1940s describe her as one of the "attractive girls" who left home to fly bombers and fighters.
"They are a remarkable group of extraordinary women," Nancy A. Parrish, executive director of Wings Across America, said Monday. "There is no doubt, to have done what they did and the time that they did it, way back in the 1940s when women weren't expected to be heroes. They were supposed to raise heroes."
Fewer than 160 of the female pilots from World War II are still living, Ms. Parrish said. All of them are in their 90s.
"When you think about it, every time they climbed into a plane somebody was waiting for them to mess up," Ms. Parrish said. "And they didn't. They did their job better than anyone ever expected them to."
Mrs. Bent trained in Sweetwater, Texas, and served for about a year, doing engineering test flights on various planes. When a new aircraft was tested, or an older one had to be checked after repairs, that was a job for the WASPs. They tested the planes to make sure they were safe for male pilots to use in combat.
Women pilots who served in World War II were considered civilians, even though they had almost the same training as male cadets and served alongside military officers.
They didn't get any benefits: If a WASP died in service, her family had to pay to bring her body home. They weren't recognized as veterans until 1977.
Many women lost their husbands in the war; Mrs. Bent found hers. She was June Braun when she met a fighter pilot who had just returned from combat in North Africa. He was John T. Bent, known to friends as Jack, and he noticed her while she was sitting with a friend at the Air Force base in Merced, California.
"He asked, `May I sit with you?' He did, and two and a half months later, we were married," Mrs. Bent said in a 2009 interview with the Telegram & Gazette.
They were married at the chapel on base, in their uniforms, in July 1944.
"I didn't have any civilian clothes with me," Mrs. Bent said. So the first thing she did on her honeymoon was buy a purple suit, a matching hat and black suede sandals.
After the war, the couple lived in Kingsport, Tennessee, Chicago and Rochester, New York. They had two daughters. Mr. Bent worked for Kodak and Mrs. Bent designed jewelry for fun. Neither of them flew planes again, but they took up gliding as a hobby. And they traveled around the world.
Mr. and Mrs. Bent moved to Massachusetts around 2003 to be close to a daughter who, at the time, lived in Hopedale. Mr. Bent died in 2005. Mrs. Bent also lived at The Willows in Westboro.
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