Today marks 73 years since the D-Day invasion of World War II when more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy.
It was during this time when female civilian pilots were first called to serve under military command in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program, even though they weren’t acknowledged as veterans until 1977 nor given full burial rights at Arlington until 2016. Women have made tremendous strides in military and in aviation in the decades since WWII but there is still much progress to be made until gender equality is reached.
Val’s dad, Pat, a French native, had the opportunity to travel to France last week to not only visit with his family, but to participate in a special event over the weekend dedicated specifically to Val and to all women in military service, past, present and future.
Here are his poetically written reflections from the day’s emotionally and historically charged series of events:
“Camp Arizona, Carentan, June 2017, France:
Camp Arizona is one of the reconstitution camps in the Normandy area that comes alive during the D-Day celebrations in June. Carentan is nearby Saint Mere l’ Eglise, one of the first sites preceding the D-Day landing of the allied forces that would eventually free Europe from the forces of Evil. A paratrooper can still be seen hanging off the steeple of the church.
In the camp, jeeps, trucks, and motorcycles abound. Some are being worked on, some are ready to move equipment and personnel around. In a field nearby, a couple is enjoying a beautiful day, laying on a blanket sipping a glass of wine, and eating some fresh baguette and mandatory Camembert cheese. Music from the 1940’s can be heard muffled at times by the sound of simulated aircrafts flying over the camp.
At 13:00, everyone gathered in front of our tent. Many of the young ladies were dressed in pilot uniforms, while others represented various military services from the Allied forces. Scottish bagpipers were warming up.
After a few words of introduction, Capt Rudolph de Patureaux, French Navy, opened the ceremony as a dedication to the women in the military from the past and present, selfless warriors seldom recognized at the time but serving their countries and paying the highest price. History has unfolded from the efforts of Women Air Service Pilots (WASP) of the 1940’s to his meeting with LT Valerie Cappelaere Delaney in 2007. Val was the first and only US Naval Academy female midshipmen being exchanged with the French Military Academy of St Cyr. He was apparently very impressed with her fluent French and contagious smile.
My turn finally came to explain how Rudolph and I became virtually connected. A few months earlier, Rudolph had managed to organize a series of vintage photographs with his friends holding the portrait of Valerie, in effect connecting the past and the present, with the heroes of a different era coming to life and holding Val close their hearts. Was time a mere illusion? There is no doubt that this same feeling came back to me, but this time, we had entered a new time zone..
Around us, so many in uniform were touched by the sacrifice of the young American pilot serving her country, remembering and honoring similar sacrifices across time and continents.
A community was coming alive. They were now honoring military women.
Bag-pipers started Amazing Grace. Tears filled up our eyes.
Red, white and blue balloons left for the blue sky.
The American and French national anthems were played with full attention followed by a French legionnaire playing TAPS.
Rudolph gave me a flight jacket with a special hand painted portrait of Valerie in front of her Prowler plane on its back, reminiscent of the special nose art figuring feminine figures on the nose of airplanes for good luck.
The French Army even managed a flyover at the last minute as a sign of support. A large paratrooper-dropping plane roared over the camp several times, titling his wings in deference.
In the last 73 years, some progress has been made — with perseverance, silver wings finally were transmuted to gold. WASPs can now be buried with full military honors at Arlington National cemetery. But gender equality in the aviation community is still not achieved, as less than 6% of women become pilots.
As a representative of the Wings For Val foundation, I had the privilege to announce a second scholarship to be awarded next year in honor of Capt Sara Knutson Cullen, a helicopter pilot who shared Val’s fate on the same day of Mar 11, 2013 when two new angels with golden wings departed with no fear and no reproach, surrounded by countless generations of winged angel warriors.
May we one day, grant a scholarship to a young deserving french woman to help her reach her dreams and follow in Val’s footsteps. Rudolph promised even more financial support from the sale of his series of books “Un francais dans la tourmente”. This could potentially start a third scholarship.
The ceremony ended surrounded with my own French immediate family. They came from the northern France to be present and to share this indelible moment. Three generations of Cappelaere’s paid a final tribute to a fallen family member. I am grateful for their presence.
But that day, it also became obvious that Val was part of a much larger family, holding wings with Sara and so many others that answered the call of “If not me, then who…” that we translated to French as: “Qui d’autre que moi”. Not sure if this will stick in a similar manner. But there is no doubt that their spirits will inspire the next generation.”
Operation Legacy, a national week of service coordinated by the Travis Manion Foundation (TMF), aims to cultivate character development in future generations. By uniting communities for a common cause through volunteer led service opportunities, volunteers live the “If Not Me, Then Who…” mantra of TMF and lead a movement of character, leadership, and selfless service. During April 22-30, you can join this movement and help honor the legacies of America’s fallen heroes through one of more than 30 service projects nationwide.
Val’s dad, Pat, has answered this call to action and organized an ambitious tree planting and community revitalization project in the Irvington neighborhood of Baltimore. The event will take place on Saturday May 13 to accommodate working with the students of Mount St. Joe’s High School, who have already taken great ownership of this project. This will not be a one-time event but rather the first in a series that will take place twice a year until a total of 220 trees are planted, one for every fallen hero recognized in TMF’s database to date. There is already significant buy-in from the school community and partnerships are in place with Tree Baltimore and National Wildlife Federation to acquire and maintain the trees over time. Wings for Val Foundation is also helping sponsor a portion of this effort.
To Pat, this project is about connecting gold star families, students, and community members with the spirits of our fallen heroes in every tree that is planted; and in doing so, growing some new life into a bruised inner-city neighborhood. Stories of the fallen heroes will be told and shared through a unique tree tag with a QR code (sponsored by TagStand) that will direct people to a web page, where photos can be uploaded and shared. Every tree will be an opportunity to learn a new story and share pictures taken on the streets of Irvington as the neighborhood gets transformed.
One tree at a time, together, we can redefine America’s national character inspired by the spirits of true American Heroes still at work within us.
How you can get involved:
- Come out to volunteer in the actual event by registering online. You must be registered through this site by April 30th to be guaranteed a t-shirt.
- When: MAY 13, 2017 @ 8:30AM – 12:30pm
- Where: Collins Ave Thrift, 4020 Frederick Ave., Baltimore, MD 21229
- Materials will be provided, just come ready to get dirty!
- If you can’t make it to the event but would still like to donate to the effort, submit your donations online.
- For every $25 donated, you can choose to receive one tree tag for you to use to plant your own tree. If you choose not to plant your own tree, the tag will be used on tree planting days in the Baltimore area starting May 13th 2017. If you choose to accept the tag, you are responsible for the purchasing of the tree, we encourage all trees to be planted on your OWN property. If you decide you would like to plant your tree on public property, it is your responsibility to seek out the proper course of action to get a tree planted in your community approved. The trees should be dedicated in the legacy of the fallen hero on the tag and please make sure to take a picture to share with us.
For any questions, contact Pat directly at email@example.com
On this fourth anniversary of Val’s passing, we have a very special tribute to share that threads together so many connections within our family and the aviation community that crosses generations and continents. Val’s legacy has taken flight this year in ways we could have never imagined.
Some background first:
Sans Peur et Sans Reproche. These words are etched into Val’s tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery. Like “Adapt and Overcome”, this represented one of her favorite guiding mottos that got her through tough times and kept her focused on achieving her dreams of becoming a Naval Aviator. The phrase comes from Pierre de Bayard (1475-1524), a renowned French military leader who became known as the fearless and faultless knight (le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche). Val heard this story from our father, a native of Calais, France, who moved to the U.S. after falling in love with our mother while she was studying abroad in college (a classic love story!) The three of us girls grew up speaking French and taking regular trips to visit our family in France, which I believe developed in us a sense of worldliness from a young age that expanded our horizons of possibilities and impacted our ambitions.
Val seized every opportunity she could to deepen her connection to the French language and culture and to our French side of the family. She minored in French while studying at the Naval Academy and took two opportunities to spend significant time there. The first occasion was a month-long tour at the French Naval Academy (École Navale) in Brest, France during the summer of 2006. She and her group of fellow midshipmen had a great experience on the small French warships, called corvettes, and while touring around in their free time. During her second-class (junior) year, Val spent a full semester in France at the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, the prestigious military academy that is comparable to our West Point. While West Point has had a long standing exchange program with Saint-Cyr, this was the first time that the Naval Academy sent two midshipmen for a semester abroad… and unfortunately, it was the last. In typical Val fashion, she broke barriers and challenged herself to take the most difficult path. And difficult it was. Saint-Cyr was a struggle for her not only academically because she ended up having to do independent study to complete required coursework for her aerospace engineering major, but also socially since she was one of so few women in an extremely male-dominated culture that was not accepting of women. She overcame these challenges with grace and did end up making the best of the situation, taking the opportunity to perfect her French speaking, to visit with family on the weekends, and to fall in love… with a horse named Diamond Rose.
Fast forward to 2017:
Just a few weeks ago, we randomly received a message on our W4V Facebook page from a man named Rudolph De Patureaux. Rudolph is a retied French Naval officer and writer now living in Canada with his wife and four daughters. He shared that he met Val while she was at Saint-Cyr in 2007, but didn’t find out until recently that she had passed away. She left such an impression on him that he wanted to do something to mobilize the French and Canadian aviation communities in her honor and in support of our foundation. We didn’t know quite what to expect at first, and we are still processing what has since taken place… My dad and Rudolph have been regularly exchanging messages through Facebook like they are old friends. In Rudolph’s words, “It is an honor to help you. You are a part of France in USA. And I have four daughters… I hope, they are future proud women.”
It started with advertising on Avialogs, an online aviation library organization based in Canada that is supporting Women of Aviation Worldwide Week and donating all the subscriptions fees registered, new or renewed, between March 4-11 to our Foundation.
Rudolph then shared a eloquently written reflection of his encounter with Val at Saint-Cyr in 2007, which you can read in full here in both French and in English.
Then came this video:
The video credits lists more than 60 people that contributed to this project in a very short period of time… Female soldiers, French army pilots, warbirds fans, aerian photographers, retired navy officers… all who were asked to take a picture of them with one of Val’s portraits. While we didn’t understand the significance of the vintage style filming at first, Rudolph explained that he used this style and many re-enactors dressed in vintage aviation uniforms because he “wanted to make a link between the past WASP of WWII to enlighten the destiny of Val.” This video amazingly connects several generations of armed forces across two continents with simple images from strangers. This is a living memorial, a historic chain of memory and love between France and the US, that celebrates our heroes of past and present in a way that can inspire the future generation of young women and leaders.
Rudolph shared that this is “For Val. For Women. For WASP. For Valor. For Victory. For Veterans. For France and USA.” We are blown away from the power and sincerity of this tribute, showcasing the “big big big hearts” of the military aviation community around the world. To yet again quote Rudolph, “When you fly without knowing if you will land, you will measure the value of life.”
Thank you to Rudolph for mobilizing your community in this way. We are honored and humbled, especially that you received the Wings for Val t-shirts we sent you and took these great photos to share!
Here is a selection of some of our favorite vintage-style reenactment photos from the collection, which is still growing (many featured in video)!
We are thrilled to have awarded the 2017 LT Valerie Cappelaere Delaney Memorial Scholarship to Sinead Kirnan of Newburgh, NY who will be using the $5,000 towards earning her private pilot’s license as part of her journey towards Air Force Aviation.
Our W4V entourage traveled down to Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Florida on March 2-5 for the 28th annual Women in Aviation International (WAI) conference. In addition to myself, my mom and sister, and two of our close family friends and one of their teenage daughters, we were joined by our 2015 scholarship recipient, Ashley Taylor (the smoke jumper!) and this year’s recipient, Sinead. It was an amazing crew of ladies to spend the weekend with, along side 5,000+ other conference attendees (most of whom were also women!)
More about this year’s scholarship recipient: Sinead is currently a C-17 Loadmaster with the Air National Guard, 105th Airlight Wing based in Newburgh, NY. She is finishing her BA in Biology in May at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz with an impressive 3.79 GPA. When she’s not in school or on base, she has been working towards completing her private pilot’s license so that she can eventually go through flight school and Officer Candidate School to be commissioned as an Air Force officer and pilot. In addition to these achievements and ambitions, Sinead is actively involved in community service through volunteering at the local VA and with the Hudson Valley Honor Flight. Like Val, she is one of three girls and passionate about female leadership and mentorship.
In her application essay, Sinead shared that since being very serendipitously introduced to Val’s story, “every time I fly or have the smallest lack of confidence in the task I am trying to accomplish, I can see Val’s smiling face. When I run my physical fitness test in the military, I think of Val and ask her for that extra little push to finish… It is because of people like Val that I am constantly reminded to be level-headed and focused on the big picture in life.” Amazingly, Sinead had written in her 8th grade yearbook that she would be flying jets in the Air Force and she has more confidence and determination now than ever to achieve that goal.
We are so excited to welcome Sinead into our scholarship family and to support her along her aviation journey in memory of our Val. When Caroline and I presented the scholarship award at the conference, it was an emotional moment of reflection for me and us that, while we still feel a huge hole in our hearts without our middle sister Val between us, we have gained so many new incredible sisters in the aviation community. It’s what keeps us inspired and dedicated to raising money for these scholarships so that other women can pursue their aviation dreams and soar to great heights!
Here are a few other highlights and photos from the conference:
- There was an amazing presence of female Naval Aviators, past and present, at the conference celebrating the induction into the WAI Hall of Fame the four women who made up the first class of female aviators in the Navy. They humbly acknowledged that they stand collectively on the shoulders of the giants who came before them, most notably the WASP of WWII, several of whom were in attendance at the conference.
- We loved reconnecting with Danielle Thiriot and KC Binder, two of Val’s close friends, fellow Navy aviators and W4V advisory committee members, pictured in their jump suits with us below.
- We had the honor of meeting Yvonne Cagle- Retired Air Force Colonel, NASA Astronaut, and Physician (talk about impressive!) – after hearing her inspiring keynote address. In her words, “Anything is possible because nothing is impossible. I AM Possible… Reach for the stars and launch your dreams.”
- We connected with Becky Watson, a USNA Class of 2013 graduate from Maryland who is now a Growler pilot with VAQ-129 at NAS Whidbey Island, WA. Becky knew Will McIlvaine, who was also killed in the crash alongside Val, and ended up pursuing a similar path as Val towards Naval Aviation. It was her boyfriend’s parents who we found out had been donating money to our Foundation around Christmas time each year on Becky’s behalf, and that’s how we eventually were connected. As God’s hand is clearly at work in this story, it turns out that Becky ended up at the same St.Mark’s Episcopal Church in Corpus Christi, TX that Val went to while she was there during flight training and met Father John and other families who told her how much she reminded them of Val. So, while Becky didn’t know Val directly, she felt very connected to and inspired by her and her story on her journey to now being only one of a handful active duty female Growler pilots. We were so happy to meet and spend time with Becky in person – we felt like we’ve known her forever and she quickly became a part of our growing family brought together by Val.
- Of course it wouldn’t have been a trip to Orlando without some Disney influence (even Mickey shaped butter and dessert) and exploration around downtown Disney Springs.
It was definitely another successful and enjoyable conference all around. We’re so proud of our scholarship recipients and our Foundation’s ability to grow the scholarship each year from $1,000 the first year to now $5,000 (an amount that rivals some of the larger scholarships given by major corporate airlines). We hope to continue increasing our scholarship program each year, while also continuing to support, encourage, and reconnect with our past scholarship recipients as they work towards their goals. The financial need is real and the future in aviation is bright, and we are humbled to play a small role in making these ladies’ dreams come true (with the help of a little bit of Disney magic, too!)
2016 was the first full year of our Foundation’s official nonprofit status and what a year it has been!!
Here are a few of our top highlights:
- We kicked off January with a service day on the slopes for Navy Gold Star family members and wounded warriors in partnership with Two Top Adaptive Sports Foundation at Whitetail Ski Resort. This was Delaney’s first official day on the job as our family’s service-dog-in-training from Warrior Canine Connection. She has continued her training with WCC and has been working hard towards her promotions, bringing so much love to our family and to everyone she meets!
- On February 29th, Team Val participated for the second consecutive year in the 6th annual 100k Vertical Challenge skiing event and fundraiser at Whitetail Resort for Two Top Adaptive Sports Foundation. Our team came in first place and raised over $12,000 for Two Top!
- We had a very exciting March at the Women in Aviation, International conference in Nashville. We were thrilled to have awarded the third annual LT Valerie Cappelaere Delaney Memorial Scholarship to Army Captain Danielle Williams who is pursuing her private pilot license and has an intense love of sky diving. We connected with our two past scholarship recipients and other Navy girls and even shared Val’s story as one of the educational breakout sessions. It was an especially memorable way to spend the three-year anniversary of Val’s passing.
- Inspired by Travis Manion Foundation‘s motto “Honor the Fallen by Challenging the Living”, Pat has been putting his engineer mind and software skills to work on a unique challenge coin concept with the technology to track the coin’s travels and challenges on a map for all to share. The CTC Foundation has been extremely generous is funding our efforts to develop and pilot these challenge coins- check them out at www.coinsforval.org. We have given the first batch of these coins out all year, including to the graduating seniors of the Navy Women’s Lacrosse team during their post-game reception in May.
- Our most popular blog post came in June when Captain Katie Higgins, first female to fly with the US Navy Blue Angels sent us a set of her pilot’s wings to add to our collection of female military aviator wings on display as part of our Wings for Val Exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery. This post reached over 30,000 people on Facebook!
- In August, we supported the Travis Manion Foundation at Genesee Valley Outdoor Learning Center with the women’s soccer and volleyball teams of UMBC Athletics. With the guidance of TMF and W4V advisors, the teams completed a series of physical and psychological obstacles, building their character and leadership in honor of our fallen heroes.
- Our 2nd annual fundraising event in September was OUT OF THIS WORLD!! We took it up a few notches from last year with NASA Astronaut, Nicole Mann, as our guest speaker for Saturday’s events at USNA and at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington, generating some great press coverage for us (including a live TV interview on NBC4 and shoutout by Kimberly Guilfoyle on Fox News “The Five”!) It was also very serendipitous that our events coincided with the 40th anniversary of women at the Naval Academy. The excitement continued on Sunday with over 180 runners (up from 65 last year!) on our Wings for Val team in the Travis Manion Foundation‘s Annapolis 9/11 Heroes Run. We even had runners supporting Team W4V in the San Diego race and in Paris! Throughout the weekend, we raised over $15,000 towards supporting our mission (up from $10,000 last year)!!
- We debuted an incredible short film that was made for us by 3 Penny Films about Val and our Foundation.
- In October, at the Navy Women’s Lacrosse alumni night, Caitlin Hill (Val’s friend and fellow USNA alum) gave the second annual Wings for Val award to senior Meghan Hubley. Her name was etched into a custom plaque that will hang proudly and accumulate with a new name each year.
- Pat, as an ambassador for the Travis Manion Foundation‘s “Character Does Matter” program, completed several presentations to share a message of courage, integrity, leadership, and service with young adults in the area. We are working to adapt this presentation to include several stories of female fallen heroes to be able to especially focus on inspiring young women.
- Finally, for some social media updates — we had over 18,000 views on our website this year (up 2,000 from last year)! Facebook also had a big jump this year from 735 likes to 1,039… can we get to 1,500 this year?!
I’m extremely humbled, amazed and thankful reflecting back on all that we’ve done this past year to continue honoring Val’s legacy and inspire the next generation of female leaders. We have had incredible support in this second year and we are so grateful!! Please consider continued contributions by donating online. We have a lot of exciting things in store for 2017 and we can’t do it without your support!
Many blessing for a faithful, fearless 2017!
Being a small family foundation, we still generally know the individuals who send in donations. When we receive a notification from PayPal that a donation has been made from someone we don’t know (which we hope will continue to happen as our foundation grows), we typically like to follow up with a personal note of gratitude and curiosity for how they found out about us.
Just recently, we noticed a name who had made several generous donations to W4V since last year. When Doreen inquired as to how they found out about us, we were blown away by the response, which received permission to share with you all:
“Hi Doreen! Actually, my husband and I are in our early 60’s and are retired. Our way of celebrating the holidays with our 3 children is that every year, we ask them to select any charity they would like to donate to and in lieu of gifts, which they actually don’t need, we will donate the money we normally would spend on them, on their charity.
It is so wonderful to see the various charities they select–sometimes different every year, sometimes the same one–military organizations, domestic abuse shelters, animal humane societies, children’s cancer organizations, organizations to help out the families of fallen police officers in Los Angeles,…..these are just some of their choices.
Wings for Val is a favorite of our son and his girlfriend (of 7 years) who are both Naval Aviators. They both attended the Naval Academy, he graduating in 2012 and she in 2013, and now he is stationed in San Diego as a COD pilot, and she is in Anacortes, Washington learning how to fly the Growler. He will deploy to the Middle East in June and we are not sure where she will end up going. For the last 2 years they have selected Wings for Val as their charity.
I am not sure if Rebecca knew Val or not, but being a female Naval Aviator, she definitely feels an affinity for the cause.
Thanks so much for the email. It is so nice to know the monies are appreciated and will be used for a noble cause rather than for useless gifts that would probably be re-gifted or tucked away in some drawer 🙂
Hoping you have a wonderful holiday season! I will forward your email to my son and his girlfriend so they can also answer your query.
All our best,
Pete and Carol, from Wyoming”
Our family was completed amazed by this story, by the connections within the aviation community, and by the unique generosity of this family in lieu of Christmas gifts. Hearing these kinds of stories behind the donations help motivate us to continue working towards our mission, and we hope they inspire you to continue finding ways to give back to organizations that mean something to you and to your community. ‘Tis the season, and we are so grateful!!
What are your stories for why you donate to W4V? Feel free to share them in the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Merry Christmas and God Bless!
Things have quieted down a bit for us with the Wings for Val Foundation since our momentous September event where we raised over $15,000 to support our mission going into 2017. I feel like I’m still recovering in a lot of ways from such an emotionally intense and action-packed weekend; and as things picked up with my day job, it was probably a good thing to take a bit of a breather and recuperate. Part of the blessing and challenge of leading this foundation that encourages women to spread their wings and soar is that I am simultaneously trying to spread my own wings and soar higher in my chosen profession of nutrition using Val’s legacy as my motivator. Figuring out that balance is my life’s work, but I’m up for the challenge if it means that more young girls and women can feel encouraged to fearlessly and relentlessly pursue their dreams as Val did and as I’m trying to do.
This Thanksgiving I am especially grateful for everyone who continues to support and encourage my family to continue the important work of this Foundation, even in our weakest moments. For these and all the daily challenges life throws at us, Val’s three simple words of wisdom – “Adapt and Overcome”- help to pull us through. We hope they can be a source of strength for you, too. We all need to hear words of support, love (sometimes even tough love), and compassion… and this time of year makes me especially reflective about wanting to be better at this.
As we come to a close of another Thanksgiving and all the shopping frenzy that follows, consider participating in “Giving Tuesday“, a global day dedicated to giving. In true holiday spirit, this day is all about uniting people and organizations around the world to show that the world gives as good as it gets and that ordinary people can come together to do extraordinary things.
Donating to the Wings for Val Foundation will help support our scholarships for women in aviation and other female leadership opportunities that we’d like to develop. We still have a lot of work to do even telling the incredibly inspiring stories of all the women aviators who donated their wings after Val’s death in such a symbolic act of solidarity and sisterhood. To soar more, we’ve got to give more … and your financial contribution will go directly towards inspiring more women to soar!
Wishing you all a very blessed holiday season!
Allison Righter, President