Who Were the WASP Women Pilots of WWII?

It’s an unfortunate truth that many of the details of war get lost in history and in time—sometimes out of default but sometimes out of purpose. It’s difficult to imagine the many lives that were lost then, lives that served willfully and dutifully their country the best that they could.

While it became naturally recognized that men served the country then by fighting off battles in the military, many women who wanted to serve equally were relegated to tasks that were less involved, more in the background type of ways. However, there was a time when the U.S. government actually solicited women to complete training that will eventually make them into Air Force pilots. Female pilots were rare and mostly unheard of then, and this was a necessary step that had to be taken by the government due to severe pilot shortages. 1000 women were solicited at the time. They trained and risked their lives, and they became known collectively as the Women Airforce Service Pilots or the WASPs.

No matter what these women did, they were never fully recognized by the government as equal military personnel. They were simply civilians that went above and beyond their call of duty. They never got military honors nor were they ever compensated with a military salary. One female pilot, Jacqueline Cochran, knew that there were a few female pilots out there that had enough experience to support the government and help with supply missions. She petitioned the Air Force to provide these women with the appropriate training to be able to help out the military. Nancy Harkness Love, another female pilot, also had a similar proposal.

Many opposed the idea of female pilots training to be part of the Air Force, but due to the obvious necessity, the government had to move forward with the program. Two organizations were formed to classify the trainees. Love was put in charge of the program that trained females to fly ferry planes, while Cochran was put in charge of the program that did whatever was asked of it by the military. These two organizations merged eventually to form the WASPs.

Out of 25,000 women that applied, only 1,900 women were accepted. Out of the number still, only 1,100 women completed their training successfully. They went through a rigorous 7-month program that prepared them for duty. Even the Air Force noted that there was no difference in the abilities of women to men when it came down to performance. When they were finished with training. The women were dispatched to work straight away at various bases nationwide. During the war, the WASP shuttled over 12,000 planes, escorted military personnel, operated test flights, and many more. During the 2 years that the WASP program was active, 38 women died from duty, yet none of them was given the military honors they deserved. The WASP program officially ended in 1944, yet no WASP ever saw or felt a single recognition from the U.S. government.

It wasn’t until 1977 when Senator Barry Goldwater finally granted these women pilots the military status they so long deserved. Out of all the WASPs that served, only a handful was able to enjoy the merits of that honor. In 2010, the WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their bravery and efforts during the war. It was an honor that was much deserved and was long overdue.

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