The Clara Barton Museum Blog

Women Airforce Service Pilots: Women’s History Wednesday

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This Veteran’s Day and Women’s History Wednesday, we’re honoring a group of veterans few people know about: Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs).

Classic Extra Cropped

WASPs flew for the United States military during World War II. As you probably know, during the war there was a shortage of everything, including pilots. Women were recruited to fly airplanes between bases for the army, tow targets for target practice, and teach classes; freeing up the male pilots to fight overseas. The selection and training process was intense. 25,000 women applied; only 1,074 were accepted. These women came from all walks of life: city, country, rich, poor, singled, married, white, Chinese American, Mexican American, and Native American. They all had a pilot’s license and, like Clara Barton, wanted to serve.

Ruth Dailey on top of the P38While many of these women wanted to fly combat missions, to the US Army it was out of the question. In fact, many people across the country didn’t believe women could fly a military airplane at all. The Army used this to their advantage. The male pilots were resistant to learning to fly the newest … and most complicated plane yet: the B29. The solution: have the WASPs show them how it was done. When the male pilots saw two women flying the B29, they stopped complaining and got to work.

Though they only served stateside, the WASPs mission and war work was neither easy nor safe. 38 WASPs were killed, 11 in training and 27 on active duty. These women were not recognized as veterans. The 38 WASPs who were killed were sent home at their family’s expense and the army would not allow the flag to be placed on their coffin.

President Obama and the WASPs

In 1944, as the war drew to a close, the WASP program was disbanded. Their records were sealed and classified. For decades, few knew how they had served and what they had done. In 1977, the Air Force began training what many were believed to be the first women to fly US military aircraft. But of course, that wasn’t so. The WASPs’ records were unsealed and the women finally received full military status. They were official veterans at last. The WASPs went on to receive the World War II Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Today, we thank them for their bravery, service, and perseverance; as we honor all veterans.

To learn more about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs):








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