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The Homefront, Then and Now

Women Pilots Gave Vital Service

Frances Green, Margaret (Peg) Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osbon leave their plane, "Pistol Packin' Mama," at the four-engine school at Lockbourne Army Air Force base in Ohio. They would later ferry B-17 Flying Fortresses to air bases or points of embarkation.
They volunteered. They flew over 60 million miles for their country. They picked up 12,650 aircraft as they came off the assembly line and delivered each one to the appropriate embarkation point or army airbase. They towed targets while airmen in training shot at the target with live ammunition. They simulated strafing missions. They transported cargo. Among them they flew at least 78 different types of aircraft, some of them experimental.

During their service, 38 of them died in accidents, 11 while training and 27 on active duty. Those 38 sets of parents had to pay to have their daughters’ bodies shipped home, without so much as a flag to cover their coffins.

Originally organized in two separate groups in September of 1942, American civilian women pilots who volunteered to help the war effort merged to become the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) on Aug. 5, 1943. The 1,074 who were accepted (out of 25,000 volunteers) headed to Avenger Field Sweetwater, Texas, for four months of military flight training.

They were trained to fly “the army way” and were subject to military discipline. They were not trained for combat, but learned how to recover from any flying position. After training, they were stationed at 120 airbases across the country, each one freeing an army pilot for combat.

After the war, WASP records were classified and sealed for 35 years. The women were not recognized as veterans and received no benefits, no recognition, except perhaps in their hometown newspaper. They took satisfaction in knowing they had helped with the vital war effort and settled into quiet civilian lives. That is, until 1977, when the Air Force put out a press release claiming it was training women to fly military aircraft for the first time.

"The WASP became a force to be reckoned with,” said Deannie Bishop Parish, now of Waco, who had been among the first of the volunteers “We wrote letters, made phone calls and lobbied Congress.” The records were unsealed, and later that year, President Jimmy Carter signed the G.I. Improvement Act, which granted the WASP Corps full military status.

Seven years later each WASP was awarded the World War II Victory Medal. Since 2002, they have been buried in Arlington National Cemetery. On July 1, 2009, approximately 300 surviving WASPs became eligible for the Congressional Gold Medal, which was awarded on May 10, 2010.

Still, WASPs must continue to battle for recognition. In December of 2015, the daughter of WASP Elaine Harmon, who had died at 95, was denied the right to bury her ashes in Arlington. The secretary of the army at that time reversed the policy allowing burial.

There is a petition with 36,647 signatures to again allow burial of WASP ashes in Arlington. I hope you will go to www.httpchange.org and add your name to those who believe the WASPs have earned that honor.

Web site www.wingsacrossamerica.us/wasp contains indexed photos of these enthusiastic, capable young women, as well as clippings and mementos of their years of service.

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