WWII WASP with Pine Ridge roots: "A Long the Way"

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During World War II, about 11-hundred women piloted planes here in the U.S. so male pilots could fly war planes overseas.
The women were known as WASPS, and the number of survivors, is dwindling due to age.

For the past several weeks we've been working to track down the story of one surviving WASP with deep South Dakota roots.
We found her "A Long the Way" in the Southern Hills.

In the city of Hot Springs, in the South Dakota State Veterans Home, lives Ola Mildred Rexroat, still feisty at 98 years old.

Ola Mildred Rexroat says, "Well I go by Millie, or Rexy, or hey there."

In 1944, she ascended from being an average citizen, to a history making-- barrier breaking young lady, a member of the very elite:

Millie Rexroat says, "Women Air Force Service Pilots".

Born in 1917, inducted into the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame, 90 years later, in 2007.

Millie Rexroat says, "About the only way you could get flying time unless you were quite rich and had a plane of your own or something was you had to get a job flying."

So she did: She would have been in her mid 20's back then. She can't see well or hear well anymore, but can still speak her mind just fine.

Millie Rexroat says, "Of course you had to know what you were doing or you might end up dead."

Her memory has become a bit fuzzy, especially on dates, but her plaque on the wall at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, is like a treasure trove in clear focus, providing on one small slab of wood: the source of many of the details for this story.

Millie says WASPS did whatever was needed like transporting personnel or sometimes towing targets for student pilots to fire on.
That part sounds a bit dangerous, but Millie, was just focused on her job.

Millie Rexroat says, "You didn't have time to be frightened or scared or anything like that, I was usually more concerned about my landings."

Part of the learning process would have included flying a trainer like this one at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum.
Millie loved to fly. In fact, on her list of favorite things: being a pilot would rank:
Millie Rexroat says, "Oh I'd put it right up there like number 1 or 1 and a half"

But getting that chance was far from easy. Keep in mind, it was the 1940's and things were far less fair on many fronts.

Millie Rexroat says, "Yes there was prejudice against women definitely, but I just didn't let it worry me."

She didn't come from a rich family.

Millie Rexroat says, "No-I was poor"

And perhaps the greatest distinction of all: she's believed to be the only Native American WASP.

Millie Rexroat says, "You're just born and you have whatever blood came with the package."

She was born in Kansas, but soon moved to South Dakota. Her Mother was Oglala, her father was white.

While details are scarce, we know Millie grew up partially on the Pine Ridge Reservation and says she's a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe.

Millie's picture in a WASP yearbook, boldly identifies her as being from Pine Ridge.

Millie says her mother described her as bullheaded. I asked Millie why?

Millie Rexroat answers, "Maybe because I was."

And who knows, maybe that gave her the strength and determination to be successful.
But perhaps, the bottom line for Millie is this:

Millie Rexroat says, "Well I'm glad I did it, glad I had the chance to do it. If I had it to do all over again. I'd do the same thing."

If you've met someone cool "Along the way", please e–mail or call us with your story ideas.

After the war, her Hall of Fame plaque says she was an Air Force Reserve Captain for almost 10 years at Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

Millie went on to have a career as an Air Traffic Controller.

And quite honestly , interviewing her was like having a conversation with a page of history.