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Cornelia Clark Fort
February 5, 1919 - March 21, 1943

Historical Marker
SW of Merkel, Texas
Cornelia Clark Fort,  Texas historical marker near Merkel Texas
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson
Historical Marker Text

Cornelia Clark Fort

February 5, 1919 - March 21, 1943)

Born into an affluent Tennessee family, Cornelia Fort attended the Ward-Belmont School in Nashville and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in New York in 1939. She returned to a society life in Tennessee but was soon introduced to flying by a friend.

In her first week in the air, Fort logged over 2,000 miles. She became an instructor in 1941, a year after her first flying lesson. She worked with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's civilian pilot training program at Fort Collins, Colorado, before taking a similar position in Hawaii. She was airborne with a trainee when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor; Fort landed safely while under enemy fire.

By 1942 she was part of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) commanded by Nancy Harkness Love. Fort and 26 other women pilots ferried war planes across the United States. Fort was transferred to a new squadron in Long Beach, California. On March 21, 1943, she ferried a BT-13A airplane toward Dallas' Love Field. While flying in formation, her plane struck another aircraft. Available records indicate that Fort was the first American woman pilot to die on active military duty when she plunged into the rugged terrain of Mulberry Canyon, three miles southeast of this site. Shortly before her death at age 24, Cornelia wrote, "I am grateful that my one talent, flying, was useful to my country."

On August 4, 1943, WAFS personnel merged with and helped create the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), led by noted aviator Jacqueline Cochran. The WASP's most famous training ground was Avenger Field at Sweetwater in nearby Nolan County.
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