Living her dreams
Inspired to fly by her maternal grandfather, a World War II pilot, US Navy Lt. Valerie Cappelaere Delaney received her appointment to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, not far from her home in Ellicott City, Md. Val loved the many challenges of being a midshipman and with persistence excelled. She selected the difficult major of Aerospace Engineering with a minor in French, her father’s native language.
Val, a determined and faithful young woman, achieved many of her goals. At the academy, she played varsity Lacrosse, sang in the chorale and paid it forward becoming an inspiring mentor to many younger midshipmen. During a required summer training block, she served aboard a French Navy Corvette out of Brest, France and even completed a semester at the French Military Academy. For another summer training, she was assigned to the Guided Missile Cruiser USS Cowpens of the Pacific Fleet. Within the same battle group, aboard the Super Carrier USS Kitty Hawk, was her future husband, also a USNA midshipman, Sean Delaney. Though the two attended Annapolis together and were from adjoining counties in Maryland, they did not meet until they were on shore leave in Perth, Australia.
During her Second Class year, (equivalent to third or junior year in college) Val made her service selection – Navy Pilot. From graduation, Val reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola (Fla.) for basic flight training, then on to NAS Corpus Christie (Tex.) where she soloed in her first military aircraft, the T-34 Turbo Mentor. Her ratings were high enough to earn her a coveted spot in the jet-training program at NAS Meridian (Miss.). Val was pinned her Wings of Gold in February 2012 becoming a Naval Aviator. Following, she and her husband Sean received assignments to NAS Whidbey Island (Wash.). Together, living the dream, the young, happy Navy couple bought a house. All their stars had aligned. Until …
On March 11, 2013, USN Lt. Valerie Cappelaere Delaney, USN Lt. Cmdr. Alan Patterson and Lt. J.G. William McIlvaine III perished, when the Navy jet Val was piloting crashed in eastern Washington State during a low-level flight mission. Their families, their friends and the country lost so much that day. But, the tragedy of Val’s death has created a memorial that inspires and benefits many who aspire to “touch the face of God.”
Pilots’ wings are treasured emblems – symbols of their profession, their accomplishments and their passion.
High Flight, by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace Where never lark nor ever eagle flew-
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
When anyone dies, regardless of the circumstances, those left behind look for meaning – the legacy of that life. When a young person dies without a succeeding generation in whom to place the hopes of the future, it is often difficult to make sense of the tragedy. Finding meaning consoles those left behind.
Albeit brief, Val’s life touched so many in countless positive ways. That fact became evident when something remarkablehappened at her funeral held at Arlington National Cemetery. Val’s heartbroken Navy aviator “sisters” who could not attend paid tribute by sending their pilot’s wings to the family. Word of this seemingly small gesture inspired other women aviators to follow and wings arrived from nearly 200 from around the globe, even those who had not known Val but who were touched by the story of her life and tragic death. Val’s family was both moved and comforted by the wings. These meaningful acts of homage inspired Val’s family to donate the collection to the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Other memorabilia were gathered to create a Wings for Val exhibit that honors Val’s life and the solidarity of female military aviators.
Assembling that exhibit further encouraged the family to establish the Wings for Val Foundation (W4V) dedicated to providing flight scholarships for women who are pursuing careers in aviation. The legacy of Val lives on through the good works of the foundation.
W4V is a burgeoning organization that has to date awarded $33,000 in scholarships to ten worthy recipients. Women In Aviation, International (WAI), an organization to which Val belonged, works with W4V to select the scholarship recipients. Members of WAI may apply for the $5,000 scholarship toward a fixed wing private rating or the $5,000 scholarship toward a rotary wing private rating. You’ll find the scholarship application directly linked from the homepage of wingsforval.orgor from the scholarship information page.
As with any foundation, fundraising is the fuel it must source. To that end, W4V has partenered with the Travis Manion Foundation and their 9/11 Heroes Runs with Team Wings for Val. All funds raised above the individual registration fees are donated directly to W4V. In 2015, Team Wings for Val was inaugurated at the Annapolis 9/11 Heroes Run with 65 runners, increasing to over 180 runners in three different cities in 2016. In 2017, the number of runners grew to 209 in even more cities. W4V is also registered with the Amazon Smile Foundation. Simply select Wings for Val Foundation as your designated charity and shop Amazon through smile.amazon.com. (Learning this, I have just changed my designated charity. I invite you to join me there.) To make a contribution directly, go to wingsforval.org and look for the DONATE link.
Participating in a run, attending the W4V annual event at Arlington or donating in any way to the Foundation will help this worthy institution continue to support women with their futures aimed toward the skies. You are encouraged to honor the memory of Val, to honor women aviators, and to honor aviation with your support.
Recent research has proved that having is not the key to happiness — giving is.1 ACN
- Research reported here.