Charlyne Creger's family hopes she is flying higher than ever before.
The 86-year-old veteran of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, died Jan. 1 after a lengthy illness.
Feisty and fiercely independent, with a strong compassion for other people, Creger's first love was flying, said her niece, Janis Christenson of Fayetteville, Ark.
Creger's love of flying began when she was an 8-year-old girl in Noble, Okla., when she got a 15-minute promotional ride. But women didn't do such things so she didn't think she had a chance.
"It's an ethereal feeling," Creger once told The Times of flying in an open-cockpit plane. "You feel close to God. Here's all the little people on Earth and you're up there with nothing to chase but the clouds."
During World War II she joined thousands of other women working in a defense plant. But she put her earnings toward flying lessons.
She then became one of more than 25,000 women who applied for a spot in the WASPs. Of those, Creger was one of 1,830 accepted and 1,000 who completed the training. The U.S. Army Air Forces assigned her as a ferry pilot, taking planes from where they were built to where the service needed them.
"Charlyne flew every type of aircraft there was," said retired U.S. Air Force Col. Steve dePyssler, head of the Retiree Activities Office at Barksdale Air Force Base. "She flew B-17s, B-24s -- everything."
After the war the WASPs were disbanded, but Creger wouldn't quit the military. She went to nursing school and served during the Korean War.
For the rest of her career she got extra training to be a nurse anesthetist and worked in many hospitals in the Shreveport area.
But her military ties never left her. Post-retirement she campaigned for a Washington memorial to honor women veterans, which was finally dedicated in 1997.
In the last years of her life she remained a contributor to her church, First United Methodist, and traveled the world extensively.
"When she was feeling good she was a lot of fun," said longtime friend Leo Bone. "She never met a stranger. I'll miss her a great deal."
Creger never married or had children, but she was always looking out for others, said her great-niece Eva Ruth Craig. Even in her will, Creger left money to pay for the medication of some elderly friends until their deaths.
"She was a very giving, thoughtful person," Craig said. "She was a hard worker and expected people to do the same."
Times reporter John Andrew Prime contributed to this story.