By Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Hanson, Air Force Public Affairs Agency
I’m willing to bet that until recently, there were many people who had never heard of WASPs. And no, I’m not talking about White Anglo Saxon Protestants or the insect related to the bee, either.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots, or the WASPs, were civilian female pilots employed to fly military aircraft for the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. They flew fighters, bombers, cargo planes and training aircraft in the U.S. so the men could fight the battles overseas.
Well March 10, and fittingly during Women’s History Month, the WASP corps joined the ranks of other WWII heroes, the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Codetalkers in being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal which President Barack Obama signed into law July 1, 2009.
Some 60-plus years ago, 1,100 women aviators were selected from the 25,000 hopefuls to take to the sky in the much-needed support of the war effort. The more flying experience you had, the better your chances. These ladies were the original “Fly Girls.”
Within two years, the Nation began to stabilize and the women’s services were no longer needed. They were severed from service as if they had never existed.
Their hours upon hours of delivering all types of air frames, and test piloting planes fresh off the assembly were all for naught – they were given nothing but a thank you and even had to pay their own way home. While most of the women went back to raising families, many also continued their aviation careers. Their efforts went unnoticed for decades, when finally in 1977, President Jimmy Carter gave the WASPs veteran status.
There are less than 300 surviving WASPs today. So, I’m happy to see it wasn’t too late at least for the surviving women to be recognized for being a part of our living history. The WASPs paved the flying path for future women pilots to follow and proved that yes, women can fly, too.
Click here to read more about these inspiring women and their incredible stories.
Photo captions, upper left: Chief Master Sgt. Beth Sieloff (left) shares a light moment with Women Airforce Service Pilot member Virginia Wise (right) and Ms. Wise’s escort, Penny Hunt, before a wreath-laying and remembrance ceremony March 9, 2010, at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Erica J. Knight)
Photo caption, lower right: President Barack Obama signs S.614 in the Oval Office July 1 at the White House. The bill awards a Congressional Gold Medal to Women Airforce Service Pilots. The WASP program was established during World War II, and from 1942 to 1943, more than 1,000 women joined, flying 60 million miles of noncombat military missions. Of the women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. (Official White House photo/Pete Souza)