Overview of Gertrude Thompkins Silver
Gertrude Thompkins Silver is the only WASP pilot ever to go missing in WWII.
She joined the WASPS (Women Airforce Service Pilots) during WWII and primarily helped move planes to different bases over the continental US. This special sect of pilots were dedicated to testing planes, ferrying aircraft from base to base, and training pilots. This branch was entirely women so male pilots were able to fly overseas in combat roles during WWII. They had the same training and responsibilities as their male counterparts in the 1940's but were not formally recognized as veterans until 1977. Their sacrifices and efforts went unappreciated until 2009 when President Obama gave the WASPs Congressional Medals of Honor to commemorate their contributions to the war effort on American soil.
A shy and quiet child, Gertrude had a background in horticulture and went to school in Pennsylvania, but changed her career path after her boyfriend, Stanley Kolendorski introduced her to the world of aviation. Stanley flew for the Royal Air Force in WWII, and was killed when his plane was shot down by Nazi forces. Heartbroken and determined to make a difference, Gertrude enrolled in the only branch of the military she was allowed to at the time, the WASPs. She had a debilitating stutter but tried to hide it while flying, and allegedly never stuttered again after piloting a P-51 Mustang for the first time. She worked her way up to becoming one of the best WASP fly girls; her performance allowed her to attend Advanced Pursuit School out of 126 other female applicants.
There, she met fellow soldier Henry Silver, an Army Technical Sergeant. They wed quickly, reportedly because Silver was trying to adopt a child his sister had out of wedlock. Gertrude did not go by her married name, nor did she wear her wedding ring while on the base. Marriage was frowned upon by WASPs in active service, so she did her best to keep it a secret. After their wedding in September 1944, Gertrude and Henry never saw each other again.
The day of her disappearance, she was flying a P-51D Mustang destined for a base in Coolidge, Arizona, beginning her flight out of Los Angeles.
After being briefed by her fellow pilots, the women were instructed to leave by a certain time to avoid flying at night, or else they would need to stop over in Palm Springs. Gertrude was, in fact, the last to leave the base due to a bent door on her craft that needed repairing.
There was a cascade of unfortunate events that day, the most detrimental being a misreported weather report that omitted blinding fog over the bay. In addition, Gertrude's disappearance was reported three days later due to misreporting of takeoff and landing paperwork.
By the time a crew was sent to look for her three days later, there was no trace of her craft on land, at sea, in the mountains, or in the vicinity of Palm Springs.
There is still no trace of Gertrude to this day, and no evidence of her plane crashing has ever surfaced.