The Denver Hospice honors veterans

We honor veterans

Courtesy The Denver Hospice, East Denver LIVING WELL Magazine

From the time she was a young girl and her father would take her out to the cornfields of her childhood home in Illinois to watch the barnstormers perform aerial feats, Betty Jo Reed knew she wanted to fly.

“The cars would line up along the road and we’d see wing walkers, parachutists, planes going by upside down,” recalls Reed sitting in her Denver apartment. “That and listening to stories of Charles Lindbergh made me want to fly some day. Lindbergh was my idol.”

Reed, who graduated from high school in 1942, just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, landed a job as a file clerk at the Douglas Aircraft Co. plant in Chicago, which was building the C-54 aircraft, then the world’s largest cargo plane.

“All the guys were going into the service, so I thought I would do war work and learn to fly,” says Reed, who would visit the tiny Palwaukee Airport and plunk down $9 for flying lessons.  She’d return on weekends eager to get in even 15 minutes of flying time to build up her flight hours.

Then on July 19, 1943, while scanning a magazine rack looking for the latest aviation magazine, Reed saw a Life magazine cover that would change her life. Pilot Jacqueline Cochran, who headed Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), a women’s training detachment in Sweetwater, Texas, was on the cover.

“I wanted to get into that, so I called the Pentagon looking for Jacqueline,” says Reed, whose boyfriend was killed flying in combat in September 1942. “I felt I could carry on for him.”

She already had 36 hours of flight hours and by 1944 was in a class, flying a PT-17 Stearman biplane, the first of several aircraft she’d fly as a WASP.

“I was so proud,” says Reed. “Nobody could have ever been more excited when I got accepted into that program. I was flying airplanes and did what the guys were doing.”

Reed is among veterans in the care of The Denver Hospice, which participates in the “We Honor Veterans,” a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Veterans often have special needs,” says Maria Kallas, The Denver Hospice liaison to the Veterans Administration. “The program teaches respectful inquiry, compassionate listening and grateful acknowledgement of those who served our country.”

For Reed, serving her country meant being assigned to the Eastern Training Command in Columbus, Mississippi, where she served as an engineering test pilot.

“We checked out the airplanes to make sure they were okay to put back on the line for the guys,” says Reed. “It was hard for me to believe I was doing something to help our country while also doing what I loved––flying.”

Reed was in the WASP program a year when it was deactivated.

“We did everything in our power to convince them to keep the program going,” says Reed. “We even tried to volunteer and not be paid.”

Reed returned to the Douglas plant in Chicago, where she worked as a mechanic before marrying Carl Reed in 1946. The couple had four children, moved to Colorado and opened the nation’s third McDonald’s restaurant following a chance meeting with McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. Ultimately, they would own five McDonald’s restaurants and Reed would serve as a corporate pilot for her husband’s company.

“Flying was always in me because nobody ever told me that I could or couldn’t do it,” says Reed. “Even as a child, I had dreams of flying. Before I woke up every morning, I had dreams that I was flying around the house and I loved it ever since.”