War heroes who flew under the radar

Women Airforce Service Pilots
WWII heroes who flew under the radar for far too long


“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 with every weapon possible. Women pilots, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used.”
Eleanor Roosevelt, September 1, 1942


These four female pilots leaving their ship at the four engine school at Lockbourne are members of a group of WASPS who have been trained to ferry the B-17 Flying Fortresses. (U.S. Air Force photo)


The WASPs take flight
During World War II, a shortage of qualified male pilots led to the formation of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), a group of civilian women pilots who played a vital role in transporting planes from factories to military bases and testing refurbished planes (flying almost every kind of military aircraft) from 1942 to 1944. Despite their war time service, these courageous women did not receive military benefits and it would be many years before they would be recognized with military status.

Unique women who gave their lives for our country
On December 7, 1941, Cornelia Fort noted in her logbook, “Flight interrupted by Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor,” after encountering a Japanese fighter while giving a flying lesson over Honolulu. Two years later (in March of 1943) she would become the first WASP to die during active service when another pilot’s landing gear clipped the wing of the trainer aircraft she was flying sending her plane into a nosedive. Mabel Rawlinson, a Reverend’s daughter from Kalamazoo, Michigan was killed a few months later when the engine of her plane gave out during a night training flight and a faulty latch in the front cockpit prevented her from ejecting.

The battle for military status
By the end of WWII, 38 WASPs had died for their country. Their families did not receive military benefits or a gold star in recognition of their daughters’ service. By the time a bill to militarize the WASPs was presented to Congress in 1944, the war was ending, and the bill was defeated. After two successful years, the WASP program shut down in December, 1944.

Long awaited recognition 
It wasn’t until the mid-1970s, when the navy announced that women would be allowed to fly military planes for the first time in history, that the surviving WASPs banded together to demand military recognition. They finally earned their veteran’s status from Congress in 1977.

Indebted to all of the men and women who lost their lives for our country
This Memorial Day, we share the story of WASPs but are thankful to all of the men and women who have given their lives to protect our freedom.


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Sources:
“My Mother, the Bomber Pilot,” Air & Space Magazine, August 2010, www.AirSpaceMag.com
“The Female Pilots We Betrayed,” The New York Times, February 20, 2016
“A Pearl Harbor Disappearance May Finally have Been Solved,” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2016, www.Smithsonian.com
“Female WWII Pilots: The Original Fly Girls,” NPR Morning Edition, March 9, 2010
38 Women Airforce Service Pilots Killed in Service, www.wwii-women-pilots.org
Top photo features ferry pilot Florene Watson, WAF, warming up her P-51. Courtesy: USAF, WikimediaCommons