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Lilia Litvyak meets her childhood heroes, Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Lilia Litvyak, the heroine of my book, Call Sign, White Lily, became fascinated with the idea of flying at the age of 12. A rather bold thought for a young Russian girl living in a male dominated society during the 1930’s. But, for those of you that have read the book, you know that Lilia was no ordinary young lady. In fact, as a schoolgirl, her favorite book was the story of flight featuring the biographies of her heroes’ Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Lily’s book of flight in Russian that sits in the tiny Lilia Litvyak Museum in Krasny Luch, Ukraine

Lily’s book of flight in Russian that sits in the tiny Lilia Litvyak Museum in Krasny Luch, Ukraine

Recently, retired Navy pilot Peter Hartsock visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, N.C., where the brothers built their planes in a small wooden building and took to air at a modest nearby airstrip. He also brought with him a first edition copy of Call Sign, White Lily which he presented to the Memorial Curator.

Pete, Lilia and Kitty Hawk curator Maureen

Pete, Lilia and Kitty Hawk curator Maureen

While Pete was there, he also discovered a few interesting facts. The sewing machine the Wright Brothers used to make their canvas wing covers in 1903 was the same machine that Lila used to make clothes with her mom during the 1930’s. It was a Singer.

(r to l) Orville’s sewing machine and canvas wing at Kitty Hawk; Lilia’s sewing machine at the Litvyak Museum in Krasny Luch.

(r to l) Orville’s sewing machine and canvas wing at Kitty Hawk;
Lilia’s sewing machine at the Litvyak Museum in Krasny Luch.

The visit created what I would term comparativeness sadness. The Wright Brothers’ achievements were memorialized appropriately, since they had accomplished something that had never been done before. At the end of what was once a modest airstrip sits a 50 foot high granite monument pointing skyward.

The Wright Brothers monument at Kitty Hawk

The Wright Brothers monument at Kitty Hawk

In ironic contrast, some 40 kilometres outside of Krasny Luch, down a poorly paved road, in the middle of a barren, open field, lays the simple gravestone of the greatest female pilot in the history of the world.

Lilia Litvyak’s modest gravesite near the village of Marinovka, population 827

Lilia Litvyak’s modest gravesite near the village of Marinovka, population 827

The moral of the story? Do something that’s never been done before to become a part of history, but don’t let your accomplishments get lost in time for 66 years.