Stars Saw Action
Like Never Before
Gregory Boyington
The Country Faced A Major Strain
Everyone Got Involved
Going To War As A Female
The Idealistic Calling
Organized Labor
The Production Of War Materiel
Glenn Miller
Astronauts & Politicians
Real Hollywood Heroes
Remarkable Women
Sports Stars
James Stewart
The Stars And Stripes
Winged Victory
Women In The Army Air Forces
Women In Uniform
  A Little Help Finding Your Way Around
Contact Us
Parting Shots | Google Search
  Oneliners, Stories, etc.
Who We Are


Women In The Army Air Forces

Female Pilot of the Us Women's Air Force Service Posed with Her Leg Up on the Wing of an Airplane

Curiosity, patriotism, and even a hint of scandal lured the residents of Sweetwater, Texas, to the outskirts of town one April morning in 1943. The townspeople made a day of it, setting out picnic lunches near the military training base at Avenger Field and searching the sky for incoming aircraft. "Cars lined old Highway 80 for two miles in each direction from the Main Gate," recalled 17-year-old Hershel Whittington. The first sightings came in mid-afternoon, and then dozens of planes, open cockpit and single propeller, began passing over the rolling plains of tumbleweed and cactus beyond town on the way to the base. "Here comes one," someone shouted. 'And here's another!"

The planes belonged to members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), a band of roughly 1,000 women flyers that served as a homefront Army auxiliary during World War II. But their program might have come too soon for an Army establishment and a country that was still wary about women in the military. From the moment of its creation to its abrupt end two years later, the WASP program met with skepticism despite a stellar record of ferrying B-17s, B-29s, B-26s, and other airplanes. One Pentagon official described the program as "an experiment" to test women's abilities to withstand duress and handle the physical demands of the military.

The curious residents of Sweetwater may have had more in common with their high-profile visitors than either group realized. America's entry into war had brought sweeping cultural changes: women took on roles vacated by the men joining the military, leaving their kitchens to work on assembly lines and factory floors. Sweetwater experienced an influx of wartime newcomers, including the high-spirited women pilots, while the women found themselves pushing against the boundaries of society's frontiers.

Women Pilots

In 1941, the New York Herald Tribune published a letter from a woman who was tired of sitting at home worrying about the war. "If I were only a man, there would be a place for me," she wrote. Many women shared similar feelings of frustration, eager to play an active role in the conflict, but held back because by law and tradition. But as the war escalated, many countries found they could not afford to exclude half of their adult populations and doors began to open for women. They went to work in factories. Capital cities became overrun with female office workers. Nurses joined the front line troops. And many women were allowed to fly.

The Soviet Union, which already had a tradition of women in combat, was the first nation to use women pilots. After suffering huge battle casualties in 1941, the government ordered all women without children who were not already engaged in war work to join the military. There were three all-woman regiments: fighter, bomber, and night bomber. Other women flew with male regiments and pilot Valentina Grizodubova was even the commander of a 300-man, long-range bomber squadron. With the exception of Turkey's Sabiha Gokcen, the Soviet women were the only women who flew in combat. German pilots were often surprised suddenly to be circled by Russian planes and hear female voices shouting to each other. Lily Litvyak became an ace, downing 12 German planes until she was shot down in 1943. Twenty-three women were given the "Hero of the Soviet Union" medal. When Marina Raskova, who had helped organize the female pilots, was killed in combat in 1943, the government held its first state funeral of World War II, entombing her ashes in the wall of the Kremlin as a sign of gratitude for all Soviet women who flew.

Fascist ideology dictated that a women's role in society was as a mother and frowned upon women working in any capacity. A few German women did find ways to work, some in jobs such as ferrying and test pilots. Melitta Schiller was awarded the Iron Cross for conducting 1,500 test dives of new dive bombers. And Hitler favourite Hanna Reitsch, a record-breaking glider and test pilot before the war, flew every Luftwaffe plane and helicopter. Denied permission to organize a women's flight squadron, she organized a suicide squadron that would use V-1 rockets modified with seats to hold pilots to attack British industrial centres. The program was eventually dropped. In the final days of the war, she flew a Luftwaffe general through Soviet artillery fire and fighters to land on a road in central Berlin and meet with Hitler just days before he killed himself.

Although Canada and Australia did not allow women to fly military planes, Great Britain used women to ferry planes as part of the Air Transport Auxiliary. Organized by Pauline Gower, eight women began ferrying single-engine Tiger Moth trainers around England in 1940. Despite their unpopularity among the male pilots, the women proved themselves capable pilots. The variety of planes increased and more women joined the program--not only from England, but also from the Commonwealth nations and from Poland, Chile, and the United States. Ferrying planes in England was not without dangers, and pilots encountered barrage balloons, artillery, anti-aircraft batteries, Royal Air Force training flights, radio silence, and German planes. The women were expected to fly anything assigned to them, even if they had to consult the Ferry Pilots' Notes to learn the basic information on an aircraft before taking off. The ATA women survived all their obstacles admirably, with an accident rate equal to their male counterparts, earning the respect of their countrymen.

In the United States, with the support of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who called them a "weapon waiting to be used," record-breaking pilot Jacqueline Cochran tried to use her influence to form a woman's squadron, but seeing that it was hopeless, she took a group of women pilots to England to fly with the British ATA. During her absence, the U.S. Army organized the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps in 1941 (WAAC) (changed to the Women's Army Corps (WACs) when the group was militarized in 1943). The WACs were assigned to non-flying aviation positions such as Link trainer instructors, radio operators, mechanics, photo interpreters and parachute riggers. The Navy established the WAVES (Women Appointed for Volunteer Emergency Service) in 1942 to perform the same assignments as the WACs, as well as become control tower operators, a controversial decision since detractors worried that women could not handle the multiple tasks required. But the women excelled and the only problem was that the WAVES uniform skirt was too snug for climbing the ladders into the towers.

The U.S. Air Transport Command had been investigating, through pilot Nancy Love, using women to ferry planes from the factories to stateside military bases. Although U.S. Army Air Force Chief of Staff Henry "Hap" Arnold had promised Jacqueline Cochran and the White House that Cochran would have command of any women's unit, that was not to pass. Military politics led to the announcement on September 10, 1942 of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), under the command of Love. The first WAFS group arrived, after an intensive screening process, at New Castle Air Base in October. Although civilians, they began flying military planes in the contiguous United States.

As a peace offering to the angry Cochran, Arnold organized the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) to train pilots. The WFTD training school was at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where 1,074 women were taught to fly "the Army way" while living the military lifestyle with uniforms, drills, regulations, and morning reveille. Although never officially made members of the military, the women still behaved as if they had been.

In August 1943 the two women's groups were merged, under Cochran's command and renamed the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs). The WASPs accumulated an amazing record. They flew every airplane in the USAAF's inventory, including half of all pursuit planes delivered during the war. When male pilots were afraid to fly the new B-29 Superfortress because of mechanical difficulties experienced during testing, two WASPs took one, Ladybird, on a tour of air bases to show the men how safe the plane was. And the women's duties increased beyond ferrying. They towed targets for aerial gunnery practice, simulated strafing, served as flight instructors, and ran check flights for recently repaired aircraft. And Ann Baumgartner worked as a test pilot at Wright Field where she became the first woman to fly the YP-59 jet. Thirty-eight WASPs were killed performing their duties. In total, the female pilots logged 60 million miles flying their planes.

By the end of 1944 it was apparent the war in Europe would end soon. Male pilots, wanting to avoid being sent to the Pacific, lobbied hard for the duties the WASPs were performing. It was announced that on December 20, 1944, the WASPs would be deactivated. Cochran lobbied for a one-day militarization, which would at least give her women veteran status and access to GI Bill benefits, but she was denied.

Hap Arnold called the program a success, saying, "We will not again look upon a woman flying as an experiment." They had proved themselves, but there was still no place for them. The women were crestfallen. Some volunteered to work without pay. One unit received letters from an airline only to find offers for stewardess jobs. Like all women who had kept the home-front running during the war, when the men returned home, they were expected to return to their traditional roles as housewives. Many, like Nancy Love, did. Others held out hope for flying futures, but these hopes were dashed when the establishment of the independent U.S. Air Force in 1948 brought only non-flying positions for women. The WASPs slipped into obscurity. In 1977 the air force announced that "for the first time, the Air Force is allowing women to fly its airplanes." The WASPs found each other again, and with the help of former ferrying pilot Senator Barry Goldwater fought for, and in November 1977, received military recognition and veteran status. Their efforts were finally recognized. But although they could be interned at Arlington National Cemetery, WASPs did not begin to receive military honours until June 2002, when Irene Englund became the first WASP thus recognized.

Throughout World War II, women contributed to the war effort in many ways, earning the respect of society and laying the foundations for the women's movement. As a group of male Russian pilots said to their combat partners: "Even if we were to place at your feet all the flowers of the earth they would not be big enough tribute to your valour."

Just before the outbreak of World War II, Royal Air Force Commander Gerard D'Erlanger organized a pool of experienced male pilots who were not eligible for the RAF, and placed this organization, the Air Transport Auxiliary, at the disposal of the British government. In the winter of 1940, nine women pilots were accepted by the ATA.

At this time there were no accommodations for women at British bases and the women were restricted to ferrying Tiger Moths, small open cockpit planes. The ATA-girls gradually advanced to larger planes, although they were forbidden to ferry operational types until June 1941, when eight of them were allowed to ferry Hurricanes and Spitfires.

At the beginning of 1942, the ATA-girls were allowed to ferry Blenheim and Wellington twin-engine bombers and by the summer of 1943 the last restriction was removed from them and they were allowed to fly the heavy four-engine bombers. By July 1943, they were flying any one of the 120 different types ferried by the ATA. At the opening of October 1942, it appears that only 16 percent of the ATA total strength was female, but by the summer of 1943 this percentage rose to 25 percent. Ferrying planes short distances, the ATA-girls were able to pile up an impressive record of deliveries. According to Sir Stafford Cripps, they had delivered 100,000 airplanes by September 1942.

To generate publicity for the ATA in North America, Ms. Jackie Cochran ferried a Hudson Bomber to Britain beginning on June 17, 1941. Although she was not allowed to take off and land, she flew the aircraft for most of the flight. Ms. Cochran recruited all but six American women who flew for the ATA. Ms. Mary Nicholson, who served as an assistant to Ms. Cochran before joining the ATA, was the only American woman killed while serving as an ATA-girl. On May 22, 1943, while flying a Master 2 trainer, the propeller mechanism fails and the propeller breaks completely off the plane. The weather was overcast and she was killed when her plane crashed into a stone barn.

Some ATA-girls, including Ms. Myrtle Allen, Ms. Emily Chapin and Ms. Helen Richey, completed their contracts and returned to the United States to join the WASPs. One of the original WAFS, Ms. Aline Rhonie, joined the ATA after resigning from the WAFS program.

The Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, never numbering more than 28, was created in September 1942 within the Air Transport Command, under Mrs. Nancy Harkness Love's leadership. WAFS were recruited from among commercially licensed women pilots with at least 500 hours flying time and a 200-hp rating. (Women who joined the WAFS actually averaged about 1,100 hours of flying experience.) Their original mission was to ferry Army Air Force trainers and light aircraft from the factories, but later they were delivering fighters, bombers and transports as well.

The WAFS recruited only the most experienced women pilots and was never intended to be a large organization; however, a training program for women pilots, under Jacqueline Cochran's direction, was approved on Sept.15, 1942, as the 319th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment (Women) or more simply Women's Flying Training Detachment.

In August 1943, all women pilots flying for the Army Air Force were consolidated into the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program with Jacqueline Cochran as AAF Director for Women Pilots. Mrs. Nancy Harkness Love was named the WASP executive on the Air Transport Command Ferrying Division staff. More than 25,000 women applied for pilot training under the WASP program. Of these, 1,830 were accepted, 1,074 graduated and 900 remained at program's end, plus 16 former WAFS. WASP assignments after graduation were diverse -- as flight training instructors, glider tow pilots, towing targets for air-to-air and anti-aircraft gunnery practice, engineering test flying, ferrying aircraft and other duties.

The newly arrived trainees, outfitted in ill-fitting khaki jumpsuits they called zoot suits, seemed unusual indeed to the people of Sweetwater. "They were aloof, self- contained, self-assured, and self sufficient; at least so it seemed to me then," remembered Helen Kelly, a young girl when the WASP flyers came to town. She watched them in the women's dressing room at the town pool, where "they stripped and walked around naked, unashamed. We had never seen anyone do that. Every Sweetwater female changed in and out of her bathing suit barricaded behind the firmly locked door of a dressing booth." Even their speech seemed different. "They used words we didn't," Kelly recalled; "some long and fancy words, some short and pungent words. They even cursed openly, something which no proper lady in Sweetwater would do."

Blue Bonnet Hotel's Charles Roberson recalled how they poured in on the weekends to have their shoes shined. Most customers would give a small tip, or perhaps nothing at all; these women arrived with pocketfuls of change. Digging into their pant pockets they did not carry handbags - they paid him with whatever they pulled out, often a fistful of coins. He remembers looking forward to their weekend visits, not for their extravagance of spending but for the extravagance of their spirit.

That kind of spirit was something they shared with Jacqueline Cochran, the program's guiding light, and a household name in her own right. An accomplished racing pilot, she had earned a victory in 1938's cross-country Bendix flying competition. A striking blonde, Cochran also ran her own cosmetics firm and created such popular products as Wonda-matic mascara.

Born Bessie Lee Pittman in the Florida Panhandle, she had escaped poverty by moving to New York City, changing her name, and working in a Fifth Avenue hair salon. Through her well-heeled clients she met and later married Floyd Odium, a man of great wealth and quiet influence. Odium bought Cochran her first plane and encouraged her aspirations as a flyer and businesswoman.

Cochran wrote to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1939 about an idea she had for a corps of women Army reserve pilots. "Should there be a call to arms it is not my thought that women pilots will go and engage in combat, for I'm sure they won't," she wrote. "But every trained male pilot will be needed in active service. The 'lady birds' could do all sorts of help ful back of the lines work. Every woman pilot who can step into the cockpit of an ambulance plane or courier plane or a commercial or transport plane can release a male pilot for more important duty"

The U.S. War Department had already broached the idea of using women pilots as early as 1930. The Pentagon's reply: "utterly unfeasible." Women, as a memo explained, were "too high strung for wartime flying."

In 1936 a member of the 99s, a prominent women's aviation organization, suggested women should join the military as pilots, but was promptly rebuffed. In the summer of 1941, Cochran, armed with a letter that the First Lady had helped her extract from President Franklin Roosevelt, made the rounds of the Pentagon.

Henry "Hap" Arnold, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, turned down her plan, stating that the Army had an adequate number of pilots. He also questioned whether Cochran could assemble enough qualified fliers. And, he asked, what about finding proper facilities for training women? "The use of women pilots presents a difficult situation as to the housing and messing of personnel at Air Corps Stations," he wrote to her.

But with the number of male pilots dwindling further every month, Arnold reversed his position. At roughly the same E time, the head of the Army Air Transport Command, Col. William H. Turner, approved the plan of an accomplished flyer, Nancy Harkness Love, to assemble a group of highly experienced women pilots to ferry planes.

Cochran, in contrast, sought full military training for her women pilots. She began recruiting women who could compare favorably with the average cadet both in intellect and, as she put it, "coordination." For consideration, applicants could be no shorter than 5 feet 2'1/2 inches tall, no younger than 18 and a half years, and must have flown no fewer than 200 hours.

Cochran looked for "clean-cut, stable appearing girls." Conservative in many respects, Cochran wedded her views on female abilities with the conventional views of the period. "A woman, to accomplish all she can, must present herself at an absolute peak of attractiveness, just as she must keep herself in good health and her brain growing and alert," she told Ladies Home Journal in 1941. "Her beauty is not a frivolous irrelevancy but a touchstone to a full life."

Even in the chaotic atmosphere of wartime America, the recruitment process struck prospective WASP candidates as surprisingly informal. Cochran threw cocktail parties and receptions, sometimes making verbal offers after only short conversations. "How many of you would be willing to fly for your country?" she asked a gathering of women in Washington, D.C.

A month after that meeting, Jane Straughan was startled to receive a wire that instructed her to report immediately for duty. While more than qualified, she had not even filled out an application form.

Determined applicants found ways around the physical requirements. At 98 pounds, Caro Bayley was simply too small, but she pinned her father's fishing weights under her clothes to add weight. Her examiner passed her. Called "Little Gear" by her classmates, Bayley had trouble reaching the pedals but nonetheless became one of the best acrobatic pilots in the program with the aid of a small stack of pillows.

Some challenged the height requirement by hanging upside down by their heels to stretch themselves out, while others simply begged the examiners to pass them anyway.

The program got under way slowly at Howard Hughes Field in Houston in November of 1942. It was a haphazard start. The 319th Army Air Force Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) lacked classrooms, a cafeteria, and even the military planes to train in, instead relying on ordinary civilian carriers painted olive drab.

To eat or use the restrooms, the trainees had to walk to the Houston Municipal Airport a half mile away. Without set uniforms, they dressed in whatever they wanted cowboy boots, loafers, and saddle shoes. One pilot, Marion Florsheim, wore bedroom slippers with pompoms. The only WFTD-issued item was a hairnet required for flying, because the Washington brass worried that long hair would hinder flight training.

In April the training operation shifted to Avenger Field. By then Sweetwater's residents weren't the only ones who found the fliers unusual. Many of the women pilots themselves felt transformed, noting in diaries and letters that their friends and family might not recognize them because they had grown so rough-and-tumble.

Living together in barracks and following a rigorous regimen beginning with reveille at 6 a.m., followed by Morse code, Link (flight simulation) training, and flight training - did not allow time for primping. Gallows humor became a coping mechanism as well as a form of bonding between the pilots, who sometimes had to withstand slights from bullying instructors.

Winifred Wood described how her class grew more confident of its military bearing but felt deflated after performing as the honor guard for visiting generals Barton K. Yount and Barney Giles. After the inspection, Giles had turned to his wife and said, "Aren't they cute!"

The oddity of women in the military made good copy for the American press. In late April 1943 the Houston Post ran an Associated Press report on the WASP's move to Sweetwater, dubbing them the "Lipstick Squadron." Reporter Hugh Williamson described the pilots as "sun- bronzed, trim as the streamlined planes," but also quoted Cochran as saying that the program was hard work with little glamour.

Field supervisor Maj. L. E. Mc Connell told Williamson that "gentler treatment" was the only change required for the instruction of women students. As for fighting in actual combat, McConnell said they could learn gunnery and "take their place in the front if called upon to do it."

Cochran shared her worries with Williamson that combat would harden and brutalize the women, who still needed to be wives and mothers after the war. Nonetheless, if events called for it, women could fly combat missions. "When aroused, women make the nastiest fighters," she said.

The WASP pilots that graduated from Avenger fanned out to air bases throughout the United States, where they flew cargo, transported new airplanes from factories, and assumed other aviation roles. One elite group, formed from Cochran's best flyers, received an assignment to tow aerial targets at Camp Davis in South Carolina.

Cochran hoped the assignment would serve as a stepping stone to bigger responsibilities, perhaps even overseas. "[Cochran] told us the wonderful news that 25 of us were to be used as an experiment and trained on bigger equipment to see just what women can do," WASP Dora Jean Dougherty wrote in her diary. "Will fly almost everything including B-26s and sounds wonderful. She couldn't tell us everything. . . . None of us could sleep for [we] were too excited."

But at Camp Davis, it almost seemed as though the WASP themselves were the targets. The commanding officer of the 3rd Tow Target Squadron, Lovick Stephenson, made it clear that he did not support women in the military. Male pilots already assigned to tow-target duty felt threatened by the new arrivals. Some enlisted men even requested transfers.

Although correspondence plainly stated that the 25 women "would be given every opportunity to demonstrate their ability to replace a proportion of, or all, men tow target pilots," Stephenson instead gave them busy work administrative paperwork or tracking flights in light planes such as the L-5 Stinson liaison planes and Cubs. It was a big comedown.

In time, the women would fly the big planes they came to fly and win the respect they deserved, but ill will was palpable, as one story in Flying Magazine made clear. "Isabel Fenton of West Springfield, Mass. was flying a Vega Ventura about 6,000 feet over the dunes off Camp Davis the other day, hauling an airplane target for a battery to shoot at. In 20 rounds the 90's got the target and the target fell blazing into the sea. There were cries of Ah and Oh and Good Shooting from the gallery of press and radio representatives and officers. But as the Ventura wiggled its wings and swung off for its base, a grizzled colonel mumbled into his moustache, 'Hell, they missed the girl.'"

38-40-41 WASP Fatalities In WWII?

When Jacqueline Cochran released her summary of the WASP project, she mentioned 38 pilots had died in service - 11 during training and 27 after graduation and on various assignments. Most of the writing regarding the WASP since this report still maintains 38 as the number of casualties before deactivation. This is not a completely accurate statement, for at least three names have been excluded, from the select group of 38, on various museum plaques and in the official records. Was this an oversight because of time pressures, a technicality or an effort to make the final figures appear better than they actually were?

If the ladies erred anywhere it was on the side of caution, and caution had paid off in a low fatality rate - only 13 WASPs had lost their lives. However, it was the same day, On April 3, 1944, that WAFS Evelyn Sharp was a fatality in a P-38 crash-landing at New Cumberland Army Air Base, Pennsylvania. A fortnight later, Elizabeth Erickson (44-W-6) - sixth class in 1944 - and Mary Howson (44-W-4) were fatalities when their advanced trainers collided in the air five miles southeast of Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas.

Jacqueline Cochran's final report to General Arnold read: "More than 25,000 women applied for women pilot training. Eighteen hundred and thirty (1,830) were accepted. 30.7% were eliminated during training for flying deficiency and another 2.2 % for other reasons, with consequent lower elimination rate than among male cadet pilots. 8 % of those accepted resigned and 1,074 graduated, or 58.7 % of the total. Of the 1,074 who graduated, 900 remained at time of inactivation, or 83.6% of the graduates, to which should be added 16 of the original WAFS employed who were still with the program at time of inactivation. The women pilots, subsequent to graduation from the training program, flew approximately 60 million miles for the Army Air Forces: the fatalities were 38, or one to about 16,000 hours of flying. Both the accident rate and the fatality rate compared favorably with the rates for male pilots in similar work."

The account of the Omaha, Nebraska December 7, 1944 accident, in which three more WASPs were fatalities, Virginia Hope, Margaret Marian Isbill and Verna M. Turner, all from the 43-W-7 class. Byrd Howell Granger, 43-W-1, and WASP Historian, advised: "Turner was then a washed-out trainee, no longer part of the WFTD [Women's Flying Training Detachment]. Isbill and Hope had both resigned-no longer part of the WASP. The plane in which they crashed was a civilian contractor's plane, not an AC plane. On December 7th, General Arnold was correct statistically. One more WASP was lost thereafter." This was Mary Louise Webster (44-W-8) who crashed with two other male pilots December 9th, in a weather-related accident.

Resignations were understandable for many reasons - family responsibilities, other endeavors, personal reasons, airport environment (during training, noise around the clock), loss of a close friend, hazardous duty, such as target towing and the talk of militarization.

It is hard to reason why Verna Turner was still associated with the WASP as the 43-W-7 class had graduated November 13, 1943. No doubt she was a determined and dedicated person who did not want to lose contact with all her WASP cronies. Her "washed-out trainee" status may have been the result of a personality clash with either instructor or check pilot. Virginia Hope and Marian Isbill were numbered among the 1,074 WASP graduates, and a fatality is a fatality whether in a military or civilian aircraft; these girls were WWII casualties.

In Maryann Bucknum Brinley's Jackie Cochran book, a real misnomer was made referring to the wind-down of the WASP. "The end coming five days before Christmas took some of the sting out. Every girl got a ride home for the holiday." However, for a few of the WASP, their remains were being sent home to their families during the pre-Yule season.

On a more upbeat nature, 136 WASP served in the Armed Forces Reserve during WWII, Korea and/or Vietnam, predominantly in the USAF (including 1-RAF, 1-USA, 2-USMC and 4-USN). They served on a non-flying basis. A few others took overseas assignments with the State Department, Red Cross and various other organizations.

On March 8, 1979, it was announced that the service of the WASP had been determined by the Secretary of Defense to be active military service for the purpose of all laws administered by the Veterans Administration. On May 21, 1979, the first honorable discharge from the Air Force was issued to a WASP. Thus, recognition of WASP service was finally established after more than 34 years. - H. Glenn Buffington. From the Fall 1993 Journal, American Aviation Historical Society

Cochran did not let the summer's challenges slow her down. She offered the WASP another groundbreaking assignment a chance to fly the B-26 Marauder "Widowmaker," a twin-engine bomber so named for its proclivity for crashing during takeoff.

Soon afterward they began flying the country's newest, biggest bomber - the B-29 Superfortress, another plane with a reputation for being hard to handle. Cochran told General Arnold that her pilots had shown that the concerns about those planes were overstated. "The obvious conclusion was that if a woman could do it so could a man," Cochran said, with understated irony.

But things were changing for the WASP and for the world at large. By 1944 the war had turned in the Allies' favor. New, long-range fighters could now destroy German Luftwaffe planes on the ground, making the skies even safer for the Allies.

The United States required fewer combat pilots in the European theater, so the Army Air Force began shutting down both its War Training Service and its civilian flight training program. The civilian pilots reacted by charging women pilots with stealing their jobs. Columnist Drew Pearson launched a virulent campaign against the WASP program, writing that Jackie's glamour girls" were benefiting from "a racket."

Sen. Harry Truman, the head of a committee investigating war waste, asserted that the cost of training a WASP flyer was a hefty $22,000. It was a wildly inflated figure; a truer estimate for both female and male cadets was $12,000.

In February 1944 Rep. John Costello of California submitted a bill to confer Army Air Force commissions on all on-duty women pilots. It failed a House vote on June 19, with 188 voting against, 169 for, and 73 abstaining. It marked the beginning of the end for the WASP.

Congress did approve the necessary appropriation for another year, but Cochran decided to close down the program because full military status which had been given to the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and other branches of the military was not forthcoming.

At Avenger Field, the final WASP class learned that its training would be abbreviated. Trainee Peggy Daiger was dispirited by the resulting collapse of general field operations. "Those employed at Avenger Field were draft exempt; they hurried away in droves to find other draft-exempt jobs before the December deadline."

The changes became evident immediately. "Maintenance was sloppy; instructors became harried; food declined to the almost inedible. I remember one chill day's evening chow that consisted solely of warmed-over boiled potatoes, gummy macaroni, and milk that had been kept next to something less tasty in the refrigerator. One graduate WASP, on the field for only a day's business, carefully loaded her tray with this mess and then slammed the whole thing against the wall. We applauded mentally but nobody smiled."

More than 100 pilots stationed at bases across the country returned for the final graduation on December 4, 1944, a powerful sign of support for a class of graduates with no base assignments awaiting them, who would receive wings they could not wear in military flight. Cochran predicted that the women would return to more conventional paths: "Their careers will be marriage." And overnight, with the abrupt end of the WASP, that assessment seemed accurate.

At the official ceremony, Cochran stuck to a colorless script, thanking the generals and expressing pride in the program's accomplishments. But then Arnold gave the WASP a meaningful sendoff, saying, "Frankly I didn't know in 1941 whether a slip of a young girl could fly the controls of a B-17 in the heavy weather they would naturally encounter in operational flying."

The unusually expansive general concluded, "Well, now in 1944, more than two years since the WASP first started flying with the Air Forces we can come to only one conclusion: It is on the record that women can fly as well as men."

Arnold's summation was soon forgotten. The WASP pilots themselves were in a sense responsible, soft pedaling their experience and declining to speak about it when husbands and brothers recalled their supposedly more important wartime experiences. But the women kept in touch, and they eventually launched a campaign for full military recognition. In 1976 the U.S. Air Force announced that it would begin accepting women cadets into their corps, a decision hastened by the end of the draft.

Once again women had been invited into the military to counterbalance a shortage of men - but as the WASP alumnae knew, despite media reports, this would not mark the first time women had flown for the U.S. military. Motivated by the new developments, they began a campaign to receive the military status that they had been denied 30 years earlier. Congress finally passed such a bill in 1977 that President Jimmy Carter signed into law. But the law did not make many of the military benefits retroactive. Two years later the secretary of the Air Force announced a further step toward recognition. The members of the WASP program the women who had served in a service that wasn't ready to accept them - were now considered to be veterans.

Victoria Pope. Flight Of The WASP. American Heritage. Spring 2009.

top of page
back a page
Other Stars And Soon-to-be Stars Saw Action | Rallied Like Never Before | Gregory "Pappy" Boyington | The Country Faced A Major Strain Financially And Emotionally | The One That Everyone Got Involved In | Going To War As A Female Was Not Routine | The Idealistic Calling Of National Service | Organized Labor | The Production Of War Materiel | Glenn Miller | Astronauts, Presidents & Politicians | Real Hollywood Heroes | A Group Of Remarkable Women | Sports Stars | Brigadier General James Stewart | The Stars And Stripes | Winged Victory | Women In The Army Air Forces | Women In Uniform
  Take Me To:
The Military And Wars, From The Revolution To Nuclear Subs [Home]
Hillard E. Johnmeyer | 2nd Lt. Hillard Johnmeyer | Heath Elliot Johnmeyer | Land-based - The Army | Lineage Of The United States Air Force | Marine Corps | The Navy | Private Military Companies | Firearms Have Purchased Our Unique Way Of Life | Military Rank And Insignia | The Three Services | Support For The Troops And Their Families | Military Tribunals | United States Wars & Conflicts | French and Indian War | The American Revolution | The Indian Wars | War Of 1812 | The State Of Texas | The Mexican War | The Civil War | Spanish-American War | World War | Assault On South Korea | Move Over God - It's MacArthur | Americans Know Very Little About The Vietnam War | Lunar New Year Holiday Called Tet | Open Warfare Against North Vietnam | America's War on Terror | A Lengthy Campaign | An Abiding Characteristic Of Terrorism Smaller, Undeclared Wars | Weapons And Equipment | Why Men Fight?
Questions? Anything Not Work? Not Look Right? My Policy Is To Blame The Computer.
Oneliners, Stories, etc. | About The Military And Wars | Site Navigation | Parting Shots | Google Search
My Other Sites: Cruisin' - A Little Drag Racin', Nostalgia And My Favorite Rides | The Eerie Side Of Things | It's An Enigma | That"s Entertainment | Just For The Fun Of It | Gender Wars | Golf And Other Non-Contact Sports | JCS Group, Inc., A little business... A little fun... | John Wayne: American, The Movies And The Old West | Something About Everything Military | The Spell Of The West | Once Upon A Time | By The People, For The People | Something About Everything Racin' | Baseball and Other Contact Sports | The St. Louis Blues At The Arena | What? Strange? Peculiar? Maybe.