During World War II, a select group of young women pilots became pioneers, heroes, and role models...They were the Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASP, the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft. In memory of those we have lost and in honor of those we still cherish... WELCOME TO WASP on the WEB, a site dedicated to sharing the history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, and shining a light on the inspirational stories of their lives before, during and after WWII."This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and ever weapon possible. WOMEN PILOTS, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used." Eleanor Roosevelt, 1942
Have you not heard of the WASP? It's sad, because a lot of people haven't. And the reason you might have just heard of them recently was because they've been in the news a bit. But they weren't always.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), and the predecessor groups the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) (from September 10, 1942) were pioneering organizations of civilian female pilots employed to fly military aircraft under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. The female pilots would number thousands, each freeing a male pilot for combat service and duties. The WFTD and WAFS were combined on August 5, 1943 to create the para-military WASP organization.Those last two sentences just break my heart. In addition, since they weren't considered military veterans, none of them got any benefits from the government after their service. Many found it difficult to get flying jobs after their discharge from military duty (though I understand Delta Airlines offered them STEWARDESS jobs).
The WASP women pilots each already had a pilot's license. They were trained to fly "the Army way" by the U.S. Army Air Forces at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. More than 25,000 women applied for WASP service, and less than 1,900 were accepted. After completing months of military flight training, 1,078 of them earned their wings and became the first women in history to fly American military aircraft.After training, the WASP were stationed at 120 air bases across the U.S. assuming numerous flight-related missions, relieving male pilots for combat duty. They flew sixty million miles of operational flights from aircraft factories to ports of embarkation and military training bases, towing targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice, simulated strafing missions, and transporting cargo. Almost every type of aircraft flown by the USAAF during World War II, including the early U.S. jet aircraft, was also flown by women in these roles. Between September 1942 and December 1944, the WASP delivered 12,650 aircraft of 78 different types. Over fifty percent of the ferrying of combat aircraft within the United States during the war was carried out by WASP, under the leadership of Jacqueline Cochran.
Thirty-eight WASP fliers lost their lives while serving their country during the war. Because they were not considered to be in the military under the existing guidelines, a fallen WASP was sent home at family expense without traditional military honors or note of heroism. The military would not even allow the U.S. flag to be put on fallen WASP pilots coffins.
Here's something I didn't know: "On June 21, 1944, a bill in the United States House of Representatives to give the WASP military status was narrowly defeated after civilian male pilots lobbied against the idea. As a result, Arnold ordered that the WASP be disbanded by December 20, 1944."
A short explanation of current efforts to publicize the WASP contributions can be found in this online publication from the Wings Across America project that is currently on display at the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Wings Across America is a pioneering project, blazing a trail into the future of education, where digital information will explode into learning adventures, and where history will come alive through the colorful and unique eyewitness accounts of surviving WASP of WWII, FIRST WOMEN IN HISTORY TO FLY AMERICA'S MILITARY AIRCRAFT!
In the years after their service, all records of the WASP were classified and sealed for 35 years, so their contributions to the war effort were little known and inaccessible to historians for many years. In 1975, under the leadership of Col. Bruce Arnold, son of General Hap Arnold, the WASP fought the "Battle of Congress" in Washington, D.C., to belatedly obtain recognition as veterans of World War II. They organized as a group again and tried to gain public support for their official recognition. Finally, in 1977, with the important support of Senator Barry Goldwater (having been a ferry pilot himself during the war with the 27th Ferry Squadron), President Jimmy Carter signed legislation #95-202, Section 401, The G.I. Bill Improvement Act of 1977, granting the WASP corps full military status for their service. In 1984, each WASP was awarded the World War II Victory Medal. Those who served for more than one year were also awarded American Theater Ribbon/American Campaign Medal for their service during the war. Many of the medals were received by their sons and daughters on their behalf.
Because of the pioneering and the expertise they demonstrated in successfully flying every type of military aircraft, from the fastest fighters to the heaviest bombers, the WASP had proved conclusively that female pilots, when given the same training as male pilots, were as capable.
The latest news, though, is as follows:
On 1 July 2009 President Barack Obama and the United States Congress awarded the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal. Three of the roughly 300 surviving WASPs were on hand to witness the event. During the ceremony President Obama said, "The Women Airforce Service Pilots courageously answered their country's call in a time of need while blazing a trail for the brave women who have given and continue to give so much in service to this nation since. Every American should be grateful for their service, and I am honored to sign this bill to finally give them some of the hard-earned recognition they deserve." To the left in this picture is Bernice (Bee) Haydu, who I was fortunate enough to have met in the Air Race Classic, and to the far right, Nicole Malachowski, the first female Thunderbirds pilot and Girls With Wings role model.
Planning for the ceremony is still in the beginning stages. As information becomes available, it will be posted here.
The National WASP WWII Museum seeks to educate and inspire all generations with the story of the WASP: Women Airforce Service Pilots – the first women to fly American’s military aircraft – women who forever changed the role of women in aviation!
The museum is conveniently located just minutes off Interstate 20 at 210 Loop 170 in Sweetwater, Texas. Pilots flying over Sweetwater can land at Avenger Field – the Sweetwater Airport (SWW). The museum is a short distance away. For assistance with directions or in setting up special tours, call 325.235.0099.