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Media Life: Where is grave of Auburn pioneer WWII pilot that time forgot?

By: Gus Thomson/Media Life
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Media Life shed some well-deserved, long-overdue light recently on pioneer pilot Betty Wood of Auburn. Wood – a graduate of both Placer High and Sierra Junior College in Auburn – was one of 38 Women Airforce Service Pilots to be killed while serving their country during World War II. Now comes an e-mail from Jana Churchwell of North Carolina seeking some local help in her research on World War II plane crashes. Wood’s death in a crash of an A-24 attack bomber on Sept. 23, 1943, continues to be couched in a certain amount of mystery. According to one account, WASP founder Jackie Cochran was shaken to discover sugar in the Wood plane’s gas tank after the crash but didn’t go public with her concerns because it would have jeopardized the women’s flying program. She reportedly admitted privately that there was “enough sugar to stop an engine in no time at all.” Suspicions have led to suspect some male jealousy or misogyny behind Wood’s death but nothing has ever been proven. When Media Life raised the issue last February in the Journal, the curator of a WASP website responded that another pilot, killed a month earlier in the same type of plane at the same air base in North Carolina, was also rumored to have been the victim of sugar sabotage. Andy96 said that his mother and her best friend were at the base when both Wood and the other pilot were killed. Both told interviewers at a WASP reunion in 1998 that sugar was not the cause. Instead, they pointed toward planes that were old and war-torn, poorly maintained and fed low-quality fuel, he said. Looking at an uncensored accident report, Andy96 said the plane had a broken flap position indicator and inaccurate fuel gauges. It had been flying for more than two hours, with the engine stuttering once or twice, the surviving passenger said. If Wood was flying a banged up plane, the throttle may have stuck. That would have explained the plane rolling when Wood pulled up on the stick to gain altitude. While the mystery of Wood’s death at age 22 remains a big question mark, Churchwell has a simpler query. Or at least it seemed to be a simple one. Resting place unknown Churchwell was able to obtain Wood’s death certificate and it indicates only a cemetery location – “Auburn CA.” A check with the Auburn Cemetery District found no listing on their records of Wood being buried at the older Fulweiler Avenue location. There is no record of her being interred at the new cemetery nearby, either. The new cemetery was established in the 1960s and many veterans are buried there. Churchwell’s goal is to determine where Wood is buried and obtain a photo of the grave marker as part of her research. If anyone has that information – possibly the plot paperwork was lost in the shuffle over the years – Media Life will pass it on. Wood’s name continues to be conspicuously absent from the war memorial at the Auburn Cemetery. A total of 42 men are included on the wall of Auburn’s World War II dead. In case you’re wondering, Wood did receive belated status as a veteran. That occurred in 1977 with a bill signed by President Jimmy Carter and strongly supported by Sen. Barry Goldwater that recognized WASP service and officially made the program part of the Air Force. And Wood’s name is on a monument at the former WASP training base in Sweetwater, Texas that honors the 38 who died serving their country. Railroad past on film Colfax Railroad Days take place the weekend of Oct. 1and will showcase a virtual cornucopia of rail-related attractions. One that promises to draw a crowd at the old Colfax Theatre is a 45-minute documentary written, researched and produced by history aficionado Bill George. George, whose day job is press secretary to U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, spent many of his off -hours over the past five years putting together a film that focuses on the interesting sites that remain of the original 1860s construction of the Central Pacific Railroad between Sacramento and Donner Summit. George’s film, completed with the aid of photographer-film editor Brendan Compton, touches down on Bloomer Cut in Auburn as well as other historic points of interest. The cut was one of the first obstacles railroad builders had to overcome in their move up the mountain to the summit. The documentary will roll starting at 1 p.m. on Oct. 1. Salsa on a roll Papalote Roasted Tomato Salsa, a year-old venture involving Colfax High grad Jodi Hernandez and members of her family, received some local TV cred Thursday. Hernandez, a reporter with the Bay Area’s KNTV, partnered with husband Victor Escobedo and brother-in-law Miguel Escobedo to market the Papalote salsa brand – a spinoff from the business triumvirate’s San Francisco eateries. KCRA Channel 3’s Adrianne Bankert welcomed the brothers for a segment on the morning news segment to demonstrate how to roll the perfect burrito. The sauce – and its recent inclusion on the shelves of Nugget Markets – got a nice mention. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at (530) 852-0232 or gust@goldcountrymedia.com.