Former WWII weather observer relives sunny days during trip to Scott

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Norma Gene Cadena's last wish is to relive her days as a weather observer and to see what it would be like today to do the same job. At 87, Cadena has terminal lung cancer and, through the Sisters of Saint Mary Health Hospice and Home Health Foundation "Memories that Last" program, her wish was granted to visit the 15th Operational Weather Squadron on Scott Air Force Base, June 26, 2015.

Towards the end of World War II the U.S. Weather Bureau hired more than 900 women as observers and forecasters to fill the positions of men who'd been called to duty; one of those women was Cadena. Although she said she was only a "weather girl" for about a year she still remembers the responsibilities and importance of a weather observer's job.

Cadena's trip to Scott began with a welcome by members of the 15th OWS followed by a trip to memory lane where Airmen showed her nostalgic photographs and items the squadron has collected over the years.

The items brought up memories that she began to share about her time as an observer.

"I went to training school in Fort Worth, Texas," she said. "Then we were assigned to a base where they needed weather forecasters. I was assigned to a Marine Corps base in Beaumont, Texas. All the women were treated the same as men. We were busy. I remember in the 1940's we had no days off."

After her tour of the heritage wall, Airmen explained their training process and what equipment they use today. But Cadenas eyes grew big as they rolled her into the room where all the Airmen worked and determined forecasts daily.

She was interested in learning about all the technology the Airmen have available today. She worked her way from one side of the room to the other, talking to many different Airmen about their jobs.

"I used to have to fill a balloon with helium, release it, and then track it," said Cadena. "We would press a button, 'cheep, cheep,' to take a reading. Then, by watching the balloon we had to chart or draw the velocity, the type of clouds, and direction of winds on a map. The forecast was provided to the Marines to make sure they could come back from the Pacific Islands safely."

At the end of the tour Lt. Col. Danielle Budzko, 15th OWS commander, gave Cadena a squadron coin and took a group photo with her. After she received the coin she kept asking members if they wanted to see it, but wouldn't let anyone hold it.

"I was so shocked that everyone would want to talk to an old person like me," she said. "It was such an honor to be allowed to come into the base. I appreciate seeing the technology you all have to work with today. When I see it I just think" oh my goodness, oh my goodness"!"

Prior to the trip, Airmen were notified of Cadena's condition and that she may need to use oxygen frequently. But that wasn't the case according to her care giver.

"When I visit with her, she always mentions how she used to be a weather forecaster but wasn't able to elaborate on her job details," said Gina Bax, SSM Hospice Social Worker. "Since we walked in the door [at Scott] I have never seen her more lively and talkative. She didn't ask for her oxygen the whole trip."