Friday, September 01, 2017

"BACKWARDS IN HIGH HEELS"

           F L Y I N G      F O R     T H E     A R M Y    A I R    F O R C E 
B A C K W A R D S      I N      H I G H      H E E L S”
By Nancy Allyson Parrish
Director, Wings Across America

 “Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did,
but backwards and in high heels.”   Faith Whittlesey
_______________     

Up until America was thrust into a raging World War on December 7 of 1941, American women were not expected to do anything particularly significant, important or courageous.  Before that date, women were only expected to raise, teach and take care of the men who would do the significant, important and courageous.  Women were expected to do the housework, the cleaning and the dishwashing.  Women were certainly not expected or encouraged to go above and beyond in anything, much less fly airplanes for their country. 

  World War II changed all expectations.  In fact, World War II forever changed the role of women in America, including military aviation.  Why?  With American combat pilots in very short supply after severe losses in North Africa, America desperately needed pilots—any kind of pilot!  Even a woman.

    All it took was one visionary, determined pilot named Jacqueline Cochran who, in 1939, had written to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and proposed the unconventional idea of ‘using women pilots’ in the non combat roles.  Add to Ms. Cochran one desperate and open minded General named Hap Arnold.  After she made several official proposals for a program to give women pilots the same training as the male pilots, the General finally gave her the opportunity to put her training program into effect.  That one decision eventually gave America the untapped resource so badly needed: courageous, patriotic young women pilots, committed to victory and willing to go where no woman had ever gone before: the cockpit of an American military aircraft.  

              We all were  patriotic, and we all wanted to serve our country in some way.  People just were beating the doors down signing up for service, men, and, of course a lot of women, too.  And we were pulling together in a way that I’ve never seen since then, and probably will never see again. 
 WASP Marion Hodgson, 43-W-5 
    With the Army Air Force’s promise of militarization, the first class of 29 raised their right hands, swore the oath and began Army Air Force flight training at the Municipal Airport in Houston on Nov. 16, 1942. Three months later the training program was moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas.  In just over two years, a total of 1074 trainees took the same 'oath' all military personnel take,  completed seven months of AAF flight training, graduated and, together with 28 WAFS (Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Service) became WASP, Women Airforce Service Pilots, the first women in history to fly America's military aircraft. 
            We worked like dogs in dirty, greasy coveralls.  We had to break down an engine, we had some tough ground school classes, but oh, the flying was so wonderful. 
               WASP Doris Tanner, 44-W-4
From the first day of training to the day the WASP hung up their Army parachutes for the last time, everything the women pilots did was scrutinized, measured and recorded.   Their health, weight, strength, skill, stamina, patience and perseverance were tested.  Every time a WASP stepped into a new kind of aircraft, or flew a new kind of mission, it was a groundbreaking experiment on behalf of all women pilots. As every WASP knew, if one WASP failed, the whole program would be at risk. 
              CO of Flight Operations, Camp Davis took a very dim view of women in the military and especially those flying airplanes. His welcoming words were, "Both you and these planes are expendable. Either accept that fact or pack up and go home."  2 WASP were killed at Camp Davis.   
              WASP Marion Hanrahan, 43-W-3

The WASP DID NOT FAIL.  In fact, they EXCEEDED beyond all expectations.  In two years, at 120 air bases across America, WASP flew over 60 million miles, in every type aircraft and on every type mission any male AAF pilot flew, except combat.  WASP attended Pursuit School and Officer Candidate School. They flew strafing, night tracking and smoke laying missions. They towed targets for air-to-air and ground-to-air gunnery practice, with gunnery recruits firing live ammunition. They ferried planes and transported cargo, personnel and parts of the atomic bomb.  They instructed, flew weather missions and test flew repaired aircraft.  WASP even flew aircraft that male pilots refused to fly, including the B-26 "Widow Maker" and the B-29 "Super Fortress," to prove to the male pilots they were safe to fly.
  
            When we landed at Dodge City, the sergeant that met us drove us by what he called, ‘the bone yard’—four B-26s had ‘cracked up’ within the previous month, killing the entire crews.  And he said, ‘If you girls have any sense, you’ll turn right around and go back where you came from, because that thing is a killer.’  Well, of course, we didn’t do that.  And the Commanding Officer said, ‘if you stay, and if you pass, you will be the first women in the history of the Air Force to fly a bomber.’  So he left the room for us to talk it over.  And, of course, we all wanted to fly it.  
             WASP Sandy Thompson, 43-W-5
         They flew with an unwavering urgency and a passion for their mission: to free male pilots for combat.   WASP not only passed every test, they outscored their male counterparts.

               They had so many airplanes and so few pilots.  We were just as busy as we could be all the time.  Just every time they came in, they’d have another airplane for you.  My favorite?  The P-63. It was quite an airplane.  I just loved it.  I flew as many as I could, as far as I could, as fast as I could.  
              WASP Betty Fernandes, 43-W-3

         Thirty-eight WASP were killed flying for their country.  Because they were officially civilians, their bodies were sent home in cheap pine boxes, their burial at the expense of their family or classmates. These heroic pilots were denied any military benefits or honors – no gold star allowed in their parents' window, no American flag for their coffins.  
                       You either had a chance of doing it or go home. Those who wanted transfers went home!  We did what we were assigned to do...with no regrets!  
WASP Ruth Thomason Florey, 43-W-4
Three weeks before a 44-W-4 trainee was to graduate, her mother received an official telegram from the country her daughter so proudly served. It simply said: "Your daughter was killed this morning.  Where do you want us to ship the body?"  

     On Dec. 7, 1944, in a speech to the last graduating class of WASP, General Arnold said, “You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. I salute you…We of the Army Air Force are proud of you. We will never forget out debt to you." 

     With official orders ‘not to talk about their training or what they were doing,” the WASP stood helplessly by as  General Arnold's request to militarize the women pilots was defeated in the Congress.  On December 20, 1944, when victory seemed certain, the WASP were quietly and unceremoniously disbanded. There were no benefits and few ‘thank-yous’.  They hung up their parachutes and paid their way back home.  Their military records were sealed, stamped 'classified' and filed away in the government archives for 33 years.       Their military records were classified “confidential” and filed away in government archives, where they remained, unopened, for the next 33 years, unavailable to historians who wrote the official accounts of WWII. The AAF did forget -- and so did America.

    In November, 1977, under the leadership of General Arnold's son, Col. Bruce Arnold, USAF Ret., surviving WASP, and Senator Barry Goldwater, Congress narrowly voted to give WASP the Veteran status they had earned. WASP were not even invited to the bill signing. Their medals came in the mail. 

        March 10, 2010, the WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, highest civilian honor Congress can bestow-- for their trailblazing, honorable service to our country in World War II.  It was an important moment -- for our country to finally say 'THANK YOU' to the WASP.  It is also important we remember why they did what they did.  

 I think that’s important for young people today to realize that there were people before them that did things that were dangerous…but in order for this country to be free, that’s what it took.  And they did it without question.  
WASP Deanie Parrish, 44-W-4  

It has been over 72 years since the WASP blazed their trails across the skies of America, but their history remains inspirational.  Backwards in high heels?  Not exactly.  But, with a slight nod to the beautiful Ginger Rogers who danced the exact same steps as Fred Astaire, the WASP completed the same training, flew the same planes and the same missions.  They did everything their country asked and more.   They paid their way to serve their country, paid to bury their fallen comarades, and they paid their own way back home.  

They never expected anything—except to FLY for their country, and that they did, with honor, integrity, courage, sacrifice, commitment, faith and patriotism.   May their story continue to inspire us all!  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wingtip to Wingtip: Women in Aviation and the Pioneering WASP"

by Nancy Parrish
Reprinted from "100 Years of Aviation"


The romantic image of a daring young pilot in an open cockpit plane, wearing helmet, goggles and flowing white scarf, widened the eyes and the horizons of many a young boy and girl almost one hundred years ago.  All over the world, the news of the Wright brothers' success at Kitty Hawk echoed everywhere as an exciting hope for children with the courage to dream. They looked to the skies. They, too, wanted  to race the wind and reach for the stars, and they all believed that someday, they could fly. 

 Only the most courageous fulfilled those dreams and became pilots. Even fewer became pioneers, blazing giant trails across the sky,  becoming a part of aviation history.  Daring young pilots named Lindberg,  Mitchell and Doolittle became legend. Nonetheless, throughout the last one hundred years, there have also been pioneering women pilots - blazing their own trail, earning their rightful place by proving over and over again that they could fly wingtip to wingtip with any pilot, in any plane, anywhere!

Jacqueline Cochran
Harriett Quimby, Ruth Law, Katherine Stinson, Baroness Raymonde Je Laroche, Bessie Coleman, Amy Johnson, Amelia Earhart, Marina Raskova, and Jacqueline Cochran have all made legendary contributions to the last 100 years of flight. These pioneering pilots have been called 'Ladybirds', 'Petticoat Pilots' and even 'Flying Flappers', and yet, they all helped stretch boundaries, set records and succeeded beyond all expectations. They are pilots - not lady pilots - pilots, and they are pioneers.

During World War Two, with male pilots in short supply, a new generation of women pilots became pioneers as they blazed a different kind of trail, this time flying military aircraft for their countries.  Russian women pilots ('The Night Witches'), flew combat missions in the Russian air war. Under the command of Pauline Gower, women pilots from England, America, Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Poland and Chile ferried aircraft for the RAF as part of the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). However, in America, up until late 1942, all military pilots and civilian ferry pilots were exclusively and decidedly male.

Having women fly for the United States Army Air Forces in any capacity was definitely not a morale booster for the exclusive male military pilots 'club', nor was it an easy decision for the Commanding General of the AAF, Hap Arnold. In 1942, he encouraged Jacqueline Cochran to fly a bomber to England to help publicize Lend Lease and to learn about the women who were ferrying planes in England. Cochran had already formulated her own plan.

Jacqueline Cochran, who still holds more distance, altitude and speed records than any pilot, living or dead, male or female, was confident that, if given the same training as male aviation cadets, women pilots could serve in every flying capacity in every command in the Army Air Force - flying stateside missions that would relieve male pilots for combat duty.  General Arnold was not convinced.  "Frankly, I didn't know in 1941 whether a slip of a young girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in heavy weather."

Nevertheless, Cochran persisted,  and in September of 1942, the first group of trainees paid their way to Houston, Texas, to enter an experimental Army Air Force Flight Training Program. The successful program soon moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas where the women (all licensed pilots) received exactly the same training as the male  cadets, except the women received more cross country training and less   acrobatics.   Meanwhile, Nancy Love had recruited 27 licensed women pilots to fly for the Air Transport  Command as civilian ferry pilots. In mid 1943, the two group' merged and became WASP, Women Airforce Service Pilots, the first women in history to fly America's military  aircraft - truly aviation pioneers.
Trainees ready to FLY!

In all, 25,000 women applied for the training program, 1,830 were accepted and only 1,074 graduated. WASP were stationed at 120 AAF bases across the United States and, in less than two years, flew more than 60 million miles in every type of  aircraft and on every type of mission the AAF had (except combat).

Thirty-eight WASP were killed flying  for their country -  their bodies sent home in cheap pine boxes at the expense of their family or classmates.  These heroic pilots were denied any military benefits or honors - no gold star in their parents' window - not even so much as an American flag for their coffins. Even though they had completed the training, learned to march, to salute and were subject to all AAF rules and regulations, the WASP were never 'officially' made a part of the military.

In the early days of the training program, the fact that women were flying military aircraft was classified  'Top Secret'. "Tell 'em you're a baseball team or tell 'em you're  German prisoner of war," a 2nd Lt. told trainees. "Just don't tell 'em you're pilots." The women assumed  that the government didn't want the Axis powers to know how hard up America was - using women to fly their military planes. The WASP were, perhaps, the best kept secret of World War Two. WASP ferrying planes to different air fields across America had trouble getting landing instructions from tower operators.

WASP Deanie Parrish, strapping on her chute
"Lady, get off the air, I'm trying to talk to the pilot," said one frustrated operator. A quick reply came back from the WASP, "I am the pilot!"  Several WASP were 'detained at the front gates' by guards on AAF Bases who had never heard of them. One  WASP was even arrested for impersonating an officer.

When victory seemed certain and pilots were returning from combat,  the WASP were quietly and unceremoniously disbanded. On 7  December, 1944, in a speech to the last graduating class, General Arnold  said: "You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown you can fly  wingtip to wingtip with your brothers.... I salute you and all the WASP. We of the Army Air Force are proud of you. We will never forget our debt  to you." Thirteen days later, the WASP were disbanded. They hung up their parachutes and paid their own  way hack home. Their military records were sealed, stamped either 'classified' or 'secret' and filed away in the Government Archives for 33 years. Consequently, their records were not available to the historians who wrote historical accounts and textbooks of World War Two. The AAF did forget and so did America.

In November 1977, 33 years after the WASP were disbanded, Congress finally voted to give them the Veteran status they had earned.

However, the history of this pioneering group of women pilots is still not included in most textbooks and is still unknown to millions around the world. In the next 100 years, that will change.

WASP Stationed at Greenville AAB, MS
The exciting history of the WASP, who forever changed the role of women in military aviation, will 'come alive' through digital video and interactive modules on line and the WASP WWII Museum will be built at Avenger Field - on the grounds where the WASP trained.

However, the history and impact of the WASP is best measured, not in books or modules, but by the successes that ripple through the lives of those they have touched, from military to commercial pilots, from math teachers and scientists to politicians, from mothers and fathers to Astronaut Eileen Collins who proudly calls the WASP 'my heroes'.

Today, there are less  than 500 surviving WASP around the US and, although it has been almost 60 years since many of these women flew, their eyes sparkle and their spirits soar when they talk about flying.  A few still fly.

The honor, courage, integrity and sacrifice of the WASP, their positive commitment, patriotism and their belief that they can do anything, is universally contagious. Like a flaming torch, they pass on their secret to the next generation:

'Anything is possible!' If you dream it and you believe it, you can do it. Do your homework, dream your dreams, be true to yourself and someday, with hard work and persistence, you too can fly wingtip to wingtip with any pilot, in any plane, anywhere!

American military women pilots now fly wingtip to wingtip with their brothers over the skies of Afghanistan  and Iraq.  American women now fly in all branches of the United Stares military, including the Coast Guard.  These young pilots now know what the WASP have always known -  'anything is possible'. They also know that flying is not so much about the past as it is the future. It is about moving toward the next horizon, taking the next step, flying higher, farther, faster; and passing it on to the next generation. 

The pioneering WASP are an important  part of the last 100 years of aviation history.  With thanks to them, and those women who flew before them, it is pilots, not lady pilots; pioneers, not  lady pioneers - all flying wingtip to wingtip.

___________

Original article appeared in "ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF POWERED FLIGHT 1903 - 2003" Published by the Winchester Group w/ Foreword by H.R.H The Duke of Edinburgh

Thursday, May 15, 2008

WINGS Q&A

What is "Wings Across America"?

Wings Across America is an inspirational cutting-edge digital history project to capture, digitize and preserve the history of the first women in history to fly America's military aircraft—the WASP of World War II, and to use that history as the centerpiece of a 'virtual museum' that can educate, motivate and inspire generations to come.

I call this an INSPIRATIONAL digital history project because the story of the WASP is an inspirational one. These pioneering young women pilots paid their own way to serve their country, took up collections to bury many of their 38 fallen comrades and, when their services were no longer needed, paid their own way back home. They are my heroes. Their lives are about so much more than flying. They were selfless patriots…and their lives of courage, honor, patriotism, integrity, service, sacrifice, commitment and faith continue to inspire me every day. It is my belief that the stories and the values the WASP exemplified are contagious and can lift up others and motivate them beyond the ordinary—to live their lives so that they will help to make a difference in our world.

One part of the project is a digital video archive. Tell us more about that.

Since 1998, Wings Across America has been capturing the inspirational stories of the WASP—one by one—on digital video tape. To date, 115 WASP have been interviewed (most in their own homes) in 19 states by Chief Interviewer, WASP Deanie Parrish and myself—as videographer. These interviews, as well as all facets of this project, have been done by the two of us, as volunteers, 'on a wing and a prayer'.

Our Digital Video Archive now holds over 300 hours of priceless footage. Of course, this information will not be completely usable until we raise the funding to complete the back end—which includes transcribing the interviews, creating the individual pages of information, metadata coding and publishing.

Are there other components to the project?

The most important additional component is our companion website: "WASP ON THE WEB," which contains over 2,000 pages of resources, videos, audio, photos and records. I actually created this site, which won Yahoo 'Pick Of The Week'" and was reviewed in the New York Times, before I created Wings Across America. However, it is now an integral part of the Wings Across America project. Today, national educational sites, including PBS, Britannica and NASA, have all linked to the site as a valuable educational resource.


What inspired you to begin this work?


Growing up as an Air Force 'brat', my dad was my hero. When he passed away in 1993, it was too late to capture his WWII story. So, I started asking mom questions about her service as a WASP.

As a producer with PBS, I thought I might produce a documentary on the WASP…and then, I fell in love with the Internet. You have to remember this was in the early "DIAL UP" days—but I really saw a great potential in sharing information in a much bigger and more exciting way than just one documentary. So, I created a few web pages of mom's old WASP scrapbook.

What happened next was a miracle…because my little site was chosen as "YAHOO PICK OF THE WEEK." Instantly, my e-mails exploded with questions from all over the world, wanting to know more about the WASP! It was the answer to my prayers—and an affirmation of the direction I was about to travel...and have now been traveling for almost 9 years.

What has been most challenging and/or most satisfying about the work you're doing?

I've always been passionate about entertaining —about lifting people up-- and that’s what I continue to try to do online in new and unexpected ways. Capturing the imagination of someone who never heard of the WASP in a way that might make a difference in their lives is a challenge that I just love.

As an example, I was able to learn just enough Flash to create the "WASP PAPER DOLL" page—where you can drag elements of the WASP uniforms (parachute, wings, helmet, zoot suit, leather flying gear, dress uniform) onto the WASP dressed in her 1940's underwear. Paper Dolls is our most popular page.

Other accomplishments that have been both challenging and satisfying:

· Nominating the WASP of Texas and seeing them inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame in 2004.

· Founding and creating the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, Texas—(where over 1,000 WASP went thru training).

· Designing and installing the exhibits in that museum

· Planning and directing the first Memorial WASP Fly In, 2005—29 WASP put their handprints in cement.

Are any other Baylor alumnae involved?

Absolutely! A generous gift from Baylor alumni, Dale & Barby Williams, was responsible for our being able to get our project off the ground in 1998.

One of the first interviews was with WASP Ruth Helm, BA '39, the only WASP to have graduated from Baylor. With Dr. Reynolds help, Baylor Chamber of Commerce invited her to be the honored guest in the 1999 homecoming parade, which included the Wings Across America flyover in honor of the WASP. Leading that flyover, in a WWII AT-6, was another Baylor Alumni and Viet Nam Vet, Steve Dean.

I'm also proud to say that Baylor staff, faculty and students have been involved as well—from our Honorary Board Chair, Chancellor Herb Reynolds to Dr. Richard Scott in Development, Dr. Michael Korpi and Dr. Corey Carbonara in the Film and Digital Media Department and Dr. Nancy Upton in the Business School. We were even adopted by the Kappa Kappa Gammas, who sang and recorded the "Marching Songs of the WASP" in 1999.

In 2003, Baylor student Claire Kultgen nominated Wings Across America to be the Joint National Project--2004 by the AFROTC's Arnold Air Society and Silver Wings Detachments. This national recognition caught the attention of the Pentagon and the Air Force, giving Wings Across America an opportunity to share the little known WASP history with service men and women all over the world.

There are also seven Baylor Alumni listed on our website, who have volunteered as videographers.

Last, but not least, Associate Director Deanie Parrish, a 1976 Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Houston, was awarded an 'BAYLOR ALUMNI BY CHOICE' diploma in 2002.

WASP were in the Air Force. Did the other branches of the military also have women serving?

Actually, WASP were part of the ARMY AIR FORCE (this was before the Air Force became a separate service). As such, they raised their right hands and took the same oath, went thru the same training, followed the same rules, and received the same official orders from the same military commanders as the Army Air Force male pilots. However, General Hap Arnold did not have time to wait on Congress to militarize them in 1942, as he was desperate for pilots, so they were not considered military until 1977, when Congress finally granted them the veteran status they had earned. Seven years later, their medals came in the mail.

Tell us more about the exhibit currently at the Mayborn Museum.

"FLYGIRLS of WWII" is a wonderful opportunity to share a little of what we have been doing with our Baylor family and the community, in a tangible way. From President Lincoln's quote: " Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure" to Astronaut Eileen Collins: "The WASP were and still are my role models, " I hope we have created an inspirational exhibit—full of WASP history—full of American history—and an exhibit that honors these pioneering women pilots and plants a few seeds with our visitors.

What other plans--or dreams--do have for the project?

I'd like to invite the President & First Lady to stop by the Mayborn to see our exhibit. I really think they would be blown away by the Mayborn—and by Flygirls. Then, request a Presidential Order that creates a National WASP WWII Memorial in Washington, DC. and awards EVERY WASP the Presidential Medal of Freedom. To me, it is just the right thing to do.

Immediate plans include fundraising—so that 'Wings Across America's Flygirls of WWII" can travel to museums across Texas and so that we can continue traveling to interview WASP who are still waiting to tell their stories.

Ultimately, completing the design for The Wings Across America Virtual Museum and making the Digital Archive public is my goal. We are praying that the "Flygirls of WWII" will shine a light on our efforts, as it showcases what the WASP history can do, because raising the funds for an online vision is tough. Nevertheless, there are so many more exciting things we can create using our content.

Are you sorry you asked?

The Air Force Museum, Smithsonian Air & Space and the Air Force Academy Library have all expressed interest in a “Wings Across America WASP Kiosk.” Sharing our content with these world-class institutions is a wonderfully creative way to ‘fling our green and gold afar,’ and is another very realistic goal.

Bottom line, I’ve been utterly inspired with the message of the WASP: You can do anything if it’s the right thing to do and you put your mind to it. I know, without a doubt, that with God’s help, its true.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Above and Beyond With Flying Colors

The following post is a reprint of an article written for the USAF 60th Anniversary publication: USAF FOUNDING CENTENNIAL & 60TH ANNIVERSARY 1907 - 1947 - 2007

Preface by President George W. Bush
Forward by Michael W. Wynne
Introduction by General T. Michael Moseley.


ABOVE AND BEYOND
WITH FLYING COLORS:
WOMEN AIRFORCE SERVICE PILOTS
By Nancy Allyson Parrish

"If a fighting war should (ever again) eventuate, I would… willingly lay aside my manifold civilian obligations…and if necessary, in the lowest rank, crawl across the country on my hands and knees to be of aid to my country."
Jacqueline Cochran, 1954
Over a decade before Jacqueline Cochran spoke those words, she fought against stereotypes, red tape, apathy and public opinion to prove that, if women pilots were given the same training as male aviation cadets, they would be equally capable of flying military aircraft for their country. As the exemplary flying records of 1,102 WWII Women Airforce Service Pilots prove, she was right.

During the 1930’s, Jacqueline Cochran became one of the world's foremost women pilots and visionaries. In September of 1939, realizing the importance of air power, Ms. Cochran wrote First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt about her vision of training women pilots so they could release male pilots for combat, should the need arise. That same month, Hitler invaded Poland.

As America's allies struggled against the German Blitzkrieg, women pilots joined the fight. In Russia, "Night Witches" flew combat missions, and in England, led by Pauline Gower, women from England, Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Poland and Chile ferried aircraft for the RAF as part of the ATA (British Air Transport Auxiliary). In America, Ms. Cochran persisted in her quest for a military flying training program for American women, meeting with General Hap Arnold, Commanding General of the Army Air Force in 1941. 

America had not yet entered the war. General Arnold suggested that she fly a lend-lease bomber to England to publicize the need for pilots overseas. While in England she had an opportunity to study the ATA and formulate her own plan. Ms. Cochran's plan included military flight training, organization and regulations for women pilots to serve as part of the Army Air Forces. She was confident that, with training, women pilots could serve in every stateside flying capacity in every command in the Army Air Force. As she later wrote, "I insisted that if women were to be used … it should be on an organized basis. Otherwise, I was afraid the female effort would be a flash in the pan."

Returning from England, she met again with General Arnold. He was still not convinced: "Frankly, I didn't know in 1941 whether a slip of a girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in heavy weather." So, with the General's blessing, Ms. Cochran recruited 25 outstanding American women pilots for the ATA and took them to England. General Arnold did promise that, when the time was right, he would send for her to put her plan into effect. After Pearl Harbor and heavy losses in North Africa, General Arnold, in desperate need of pilots, asked her to return to America to implement her training program.

On September 15, 1942, the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), headed by Director Jacqueline Cochran, was officially approved, and two months later, the first group of women pilot trainees paid their own way to Houston, Texas to enter Army Air Force flight training. As they raised their right hands and took the Oath "To serve, protect and defend …so help me God," they were assured that they would eventually be militarized. However, because there was a severe shortage of combat pilots, General Arnold wanted to 'get them in the air' and worry about Congressional militarization later.

Due to lack of facilities in Houston, the program was soon moved to Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, where the women pilots received the same training as the male cadets, with the exception of more cross country flying and less aerobatics. During the nearly seven months of flight training, with AAF officers and personnel in command, trainees lived by military rules and, after graduating, reported to military commanders at Army air fields and bases across America.
 
In September, 1942 Nancy Harkness Love, an outstanding woman pilot, recruited 27 licensed women pilots to fly as civilian ferry pilots (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Service) for the Air Transport Command. In 1943, General Arnold ordered the WFTD and WAFS to merge and named them Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Jacqueline Cochran was named Director of Women Pilots and Nancy Love continued to head the ferrying operations.

Before the WASP program was terminated, 25,000 women had applied, 1,830 were accepted, but only 1,074 graduated. From the first day of training to the day the WASP hung up their Army parachutes for the last time, everything the women pilots did was scrutinized, measured and recorded. Their health, weight, strength, skill, stamina, patience and perseverance were tested. Every time a WASP stepped into a new kind of aircraft, it was a groundbreaking experiment on behalf of all women pilots. As every WASP knew, if one WASP failed, the whole program would be at risk.

They did not fail. In fact, they EXCEEDED beyond all expectations. In two years, at 120 air bases across America, WASP flew over 60 million miles, in every type aircraft and on every type mission any male AAF pilot flew, except combat. WASP attended Pursuit School and Officer Candidate School. They flew strafing, night tracking and smoke laying missions. They towed targets for air-to-air and ground-to-air gunnery practice, with gunnery recruits firing live ammunition. They ferried planes and transported cargo, personnel and parts of the atomic bomb. They instructed, flew weather missions and test flew repaired aircraft. WASP even flew aircraft that male pilots refused to fly, including the B-26 "Widow Maker" and the B-29 "Super Fortress," to prove to the male pilots they were safe to fly. They flew with an unwavering urgency and a passion for their mission: to free male pilots for combat. WASP not only passed every test, they outscored their male counterparts.

Thirty-eight WASP were killed flying for their country. Because they were officially civilians, their bodies were sent home in cheap pine boxes, their burial at the expense of their family or classmates. These heroic pilots were denied any military benefits or honors – no gold star allowed in their parents' window, no American flag for their coffins. Three weeks before a 44-W-4 trainee was to graduate, her mother received an official telegram from the country her daughter so proudly served. It simply said: "Your daughter was killed this morning. Where do you want us to ship the body?"

When victory seemed certain, the WASP were quietly and unceremoniously disbanded, without any benefits, honors and few thanks. On 7 December 1944, in a speech to the last graduating class, General Arnold said,

"
If ever there was any doubt in anyone's mind that women can become skillful pilots, the WASP have dispelled that doubt…You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. …I salute you and all the WASP. We of the Army Air Force are proud of you. We will never forget our debt to you."

Thirteen days later, the WASP were disbanded. They hung up their parachutes and paid their way back home. Their military records were classified “confidential” and filed away in government archives, where they remained, unopened, for the next 33 years, unavailable to historians who wrote the official accounts of WWII. The AAF did forget -- and so did America.

In November, 1977, under the leadership of General Arnold's son, Col. Bruce Arnold, USAF Ret., surviving WASP, and Senator Barry Goldwater, Congress narrowly voted to give WASP the Veteran status they had earned. WASP were not even invited to the bill signing. Their medals came in the mail.

2007 marks the 65th Anniversary of the WASP, the first women in history to fly America’s military aircraft. Today, there are fewer than 400 surviving WASP. However, their legacy lives on in the skies over Afghanistan and Iraq, as American women pilots serve their country, flying wingtip to wingtip with their brothers, and it reaches out to inspire those who fly into the darkness of space: "The WASP were and still are my role models." (Astronaut Eileen Collins)

On December 7, 1944 General Barton K. Yount, Commanding General, Army Air Forces Training Command said:
“We shall not forget the accomplishments of our women fliers and their contributions to the fulfillment of our mission. They have demonstrated a courage which is sustained, not by the fevers of combat, but the steady heartbeat of faith—a faith in the rightness of our cause, and a faith in the importance of their work to the men who do go into combat."
Jacqueline Cochran knew, without a doubt, that if women were given a chance, they would fly wingtip to wingtip with their brothers. Because of her vision and determination, the pioneering women of the WASP were given an unprecedented opportunity. They did not disappoint. They served their country with honor, with courage, with integrity, with faith and with patriotism. The WASP passed every test, flying

ABOVE AND BEYOND WITH FLYING COLORS,
RED, WHITE AND *SANTIAGO BLUE!

*Santiago blue is the color of the WASP uniform, designed for the WASP by Bergdorf Goodman (New York) and approved by Gen. Hap Arnold and Gen. George C. Marshall. Today, it is called Air Force blue!

article: p. 67, 68, 69

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Memorial Day Prayer, 2006

Dear WASP,


I stood in Hangar One at Avenger Field and watched the West Texas sunset. I imagine it is just what you saw so many years ago. I also imagine you too must have felt something special every time you saw it. It is, after all, quite an extraordinary site!

With your permission, on this Memorial Day, I send no news, no fireworks and no 21 gun salute--only a prayer.

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Nancy’s Memorial Day Prayer…2006

Gracious Heavenly Father,

Thank you for this day of remembering. Bless every soul who has gone before who sacrificed everything so that we might be free, and bless all of those who continue to serve.

Thank you most especially for the brave young women pilots who took to the skies over 60 years ago, flying for their country without question or expectation of reward. Thank you for watching over them as they flew during some of the darkest days our country has ever known. Thank you for their honorable service, their fearless determination and their unquestioning patriotism, which has inspired us all to dream dreams we could never have imagined.

Continue to watch over these wonderful women, and surround them with your love. May their laudable history and their exemplary lives continue to inspire generations to come, and may we never forget.

In Jesus name…


amen

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