Gardner was born in Rockford, Illinois, in 1921. She graduated from Rockford High School in 1939. She was a mother and housewife before the war started. After she married, she took the last name Remba.
After enlisting as a Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), Gardner "had two days of training under Lieutenant Col. Paul Tibbets, who later commanded the B-29 that dropped the first atom bomb on Hiroshima." She was the subject of an often-reproduced historical photo when she was 22 [see image above]; the original is held at the National Archives.[B] The photograph became emblematic of the place of women in the service of their country.
After years of fighting for recognition of their military service, Women Airforce Service Pilots were recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.
Later life and legacy
Congressional Gold Medal awarded to WASPs
In December 1944, the government disbanded WASP, and Gardner returned to the private sector. She was a commercial pilot after World War II, flying for Piper Aircraft Corporation in Pennsylvania. In that capacity, she became involved in public relations, using her piloting skills to ferry Piper customers, meeting with the Department of Defense, and writing all of William T. Piper's speeches.
Gardner worked as a test pilot after the war, including for General Textile Mills, which was working on an aircraft parachute that was intended to safely land aircraft that became disabled in flight. She participated in at least two tests with the device in December 1945, both of which forced her to bail out of the aircraft when the parachute became tangled in the test aircraft. During the second incident, the aircraft entered a dive when its elevators were jammed by the parachute; Gardner escaped from the cockpit, but she was only 500 ft (150 m) from the ground when her own parachute opened.
She died in New York on December 22, 2011.Rockford, Illinois held a mural festival downtown in 2019 and included a mural by Ohio artists Jenny Roesel Ustick and Atalie Gagnet based on Gardner's time as a WASP.
^"Paid Notice: Deaths GARDNER, ELIZABETH (LIBBY)". NYTimes.com. January 6, 2012. Archived from the original on May 27, 2019. Retrieved May 27, 2019. ...WASP aviator during WWII, brave and caring social justice activist, writer, computer programmer, autodidact with a vast range of curiosities and pursuits.
VanWagenen Keil, Sally (1979). Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines: The Unknown Heroines of World War II. New York: Rawson, Wade Publishers, Inc. pp. 307–316. ISBN978-0-89256-066-0. OCLC4491705.