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Women make their mark in Air Force history

  • Published
  • By Airman Alexandria Bland
  • 36th Civil Engineer Squadron
By Airman
Alexandria Bland
36th Civil Engineer Squadron

During World War II, a group of young women became pioneers in the aviation industry by forming what was known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASP. 

Those women are now looked upon by many people as heroes and role models because they were the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft.
Because of the WASP services, several thousand of their male counterparts were freed for combat operations. 

Considered civil service employees, the women were not entitled to military benefits. On June 21, 1944, the United States House of Representatives proposed a bill to give the WASP military status. The bill was defeated after fellow civilian male pilots protested against it. 

WASP director Jacqueline Cochran and Gen. Hap Arnold hoped to militarize and commission the WASP, but by late 1944 the improving military situation and lower than expected attrition rates among male pilots reduced the need for female pilots, and the WASP organization was terminated on Dec. 20, 1944, with the last graduating class at Sweetwater. 

Therefore, on Dec. 20, 1944, General Arnold disbanded the WASP citing the high cost of war. The WASP records were classified and sealed for 35 years so their contributions were withheld from historians. 

In 1977, the WASP organized as a group to fight the "Battle of Congress" in Washington D.C. to get recognition as veterans of World War II. They had the support of the public and Senator Barry Goldwater. Eventually, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation #95-202, Section 401, the G.I. Bill Improvement Act of 1977, which granted the WASP the distinction of full military status for their service. 

In 1984, the WASP were awarded the Victory Medal and those who served for more than one year were also awarded American Theater Medal/American Campaign Medal for their World War II service. For the deceased WASP, the medals were accepted by their children on their behalf. 

The WASP had many accomplishments, even after disbanding, but the most important WASP legacy is their contribution as military pilots during World War II that ensured the continued freedom of America. The WASP should serve as inspiration to women everywhere. 

Editor's note: Airman Alexandria Bland is a member of the Special Observance Committee

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