You’ve come a long way, baby!

Ken Beaton

Ken Beaton

Oh no, it’s the Christmas season! I have a suggestion. Instead of the usual “shop ‘til you drop” experience, consider making a contribution to a worthy cause — preserving the history of female pilots during World War II.

Did you know 1,084 WASP, Women Airforce Service Pilots, received the same training as male pilots in the USAAF? They ferried fighters, medium bombers and heavy bombers from factories to their assigned air base. Yes, some WASP flew B-17 and B-24, heavy bombers.

Avenger Field is located in Sweetwater, Texas, along Route 20 about 25 miles west of Abilene, Texas. The Tower and Memorial Plaza projects planned for Avenger Field will preserve their history while honoring the WASP’s service during the war.

“During the war, did any American women die serving their country?” Raise your hand if your answer is “None.” Most people aren’t aware two WASP lives were lost while training and 36 additional lives were lost while ferrying planes during the war. WASP had no GI benefits. When one of the “girls” died in a crash, a collection was taken from her fellow pilots to pay for a WASP to escort the remains of the deceased to her hometown for burial. No flag was provided for her coffin, folded or presented to her family.

How many of you are for equal rights? How does it make you feel to know every WASP received half the pay of a male pilot, not $.81 for every dollar? Did you know it took 33 years, until 1977, for Senator Barry Goldwater’s sponsored legislation to recognize their service and for them to receive their GI Bill of Rights? It took until 2002, 57 years, for a WASP to finally have won the right to be laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with military honors.

Colonel Paul Tibbets was the commander of 509th Composite Group. He flew the B-29 that dropped the first A-bomb on Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945. The B-29 had problems with the engines overheating. Male air cadets didn’t want to fly the B-29 because several had crashed. Colonel Tibbets selected and trained two WASP to fly the B-29. Each WASP flew, landed and taxied a B-29 before a group of air cadets on the tarmac. When they saw a WASP in each cockpit, the air cadets were embarrassed. “Well, I guess if a girl can fly a B-29, it is safe enough for me to fly.” Colonel Tibbets had complete confidence in those WASP to embarrass the air cadets to fly the B-29.

What was it like to be a WASP? They had the same flight training and standards as the male pilots. There were only male flight instructors. WASP had to “walk a fine line” between their flight instructor wanting to date her and being “washed out” because she didn’t accept his advances.

Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran was a record setting pilot in the 1930s. She became the commander of the WASP training and their flight assignments. USAAF General “Hap” Arnold volunteered to attend each WASP graduation ceremony to pin pilot wings on each WASP. When Jackie noticed General Arnold pinning the wings lower than regulation, which would appear he was ‘copping a feel,’ Jackie immediately took over to pin the wings properly!

Of the 1,074 WASP, 90 are alive today. The WASP earned their wings and persevered to earn their benefits. Today’s female pilots in the USAF and commercial airlines stand on the shoulders of yesterday’s Women Airforce Service Pilots.

You can honor all these courageous women who flew a wide variety of planes 60 million miles. Make the decision to join me. Write WASP on your donation check and send it to National WASP WW II Museum, P.O. Box 96679, Washington, D.C., 20077-7690. Honor and preserve their history. Future generations need to learn about the women who earned the opportunities taken for granted today.

Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.


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