Women Airforce Service Pilots

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Part Two The WASPs

Some of the more adventurous or daring women opted to become military aviators, or Women Airforce Service Pilots, more commonly known as WASPs. A female military aviation program was first proposed by Jacqueline Cochran, a female civilian pilot, who  “envisioned a women’s air corps that would handle almost any noncombat flying job, thereby releasing men for duty overseas” (“History of the WASP”). Cochran’s vision was shared by Nancy Harkness Love, another young female pilot. Cochran eventually started Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) in 1942, and almost simultaneously, Love started the Women Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), which recruited willing female civilian pilots with extensive flight experience (“History of the WASP”). The WFTD and the rival WAFS merged in 1943, under the guidance of Cochran and Love, to form the WASP program (“History of WASP”).  

These women underwent intensive training to ferry supplies, deliver planes, instruct male cadet pilots, simulate bombing runs, test new aircraft models and engines, and transport government officials (“Partners in Winning the War”). “Partners in Winning the War” states, “WASP pilots were permitted to wear uniforms, but they were civilian contract employees who had to pay for room and board at military facilities.” As civilians serving voluntarily, WASPs were not granted veteran status until 1977 (“Partners in Winning the War”). By the end of the war, more than 25,000 women had applied to be a WASP, and 1,830 actually served (“Partners in Winning the War”). Although the WASPs were not flying in combat zones, there were casualties. According to “Partners in Winning the War,” 38 women lost their lives serving as military aviators during World War II. As the end of the war neared, the WASP program was officially disbanded on December 20, 1944, according to the “WASP Timeline” on the National WASP World War II Museum website.  

 

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Part Three The Legacy

It was not until 2009, under President Barack Obama, that legislation was enacted to award WASPs the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian, for their efforts and years of service during World War II (“History of WASP”). A national ceremony was held in Washington DC to commemorate the women who served as WASPs, and a local ceremony was also held in Lincoln to specifically honor all of the Nebraskan women who served. Mary Ellen Williamson, a retired educator, former WASP, and Omaha local, attended the ceremony and accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of all her “sisters in the sky” (Hovey).

The sacrifices made by women in the sky, on the ground, and overseas during the Second World War helped the nation secure a victory abroad. Though many of the women who took unconventional jobs to help the