A 15-year-old Jane Soeten joined the Civil Air Patrol as a cadet in Tulsa in 1943 with her sights set on flying with the women’s air force during World War II.
But the war came to a close two years later, before the Muskogee native was old enough to fulfill her ambition and join the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs.
Now 87 and a recent transplant to Alaska, the longtime Tulsa resident is being honored along with perhaps 100 other living Civil Air Patrol members from the World War II era for their contributions to the war effort. The Civil Air Patrol itself is receiving the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the more than 200,000 people who served prior to the war’s end, and the surviving members all will receive replicas.
The ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
While proud of the achievement, Soeten says her service wasn’t on par with that of the men and women who were actually fighting overseas.
“I kind of had mixed feelings about it because I think about these veterans who won the war for us and how they sacrificed and everything, and I didn’t do all that,” Soeten said.
Elmer J. Wynn, 88, of Tulsa is also is being honored. Wynn spent a summer as a Nebraska Wing cadet in 1942, according to his biography on the website dedicated to the Civil Air Patrol veterans service — capgoldmedal.com. He later joined the Army Air Corps and eventually became a crop duster and commercial pilot.
Soeten plans to make the trip across the country for the ceremony. After all, she isn’t one to be kept down.
Soeten stays active by competing in the National Senior Games, having captured gold in hammer throw and discus in 2013, as well as a bronze in javelin. She took up basketball at age 65 and intends to return to the National Senior Games for its biennial event in 2015.
Soeten recalls flying often during her Civil Air Patrol tenure, building up hours to acquire her private pilot’s license.
As a cadet, Soeten learned Morse code, meteorology and navigation, solving problems, such as determining wind speeds and the appropriate trajectory when flying into a head wind. She also learned to march — “the whole works,” she said — and competed with other Civil Air Patrol groups across Oklahoma.
Sometimes a single-engine plane would go down in her area, and the cadets would search for it.
The cadets were broken into two squadrons based on gender, Soeten said, and she was the lieutenant over the women.
Soeten also remembers the fervor the war caused, such as when Americans had to ration such goods as sugar, coffee and cigarettes, she said, or how boys in high school would “lie like dogs” about their ages because they wanted to serve the country.
“This country was so united you wouldn’t believe it,” Soeten said.