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javaz On November - 11 - 2009

cochran With war raging in Europe and knowing it was only a matter of time before America became involved, Jacqueline Cochran, the most famous female pilot next to Amelia Earhart, met with Eleanor Roosevelt and General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold, to discuss a program which would employ women pilots, to free the men in the United States for active duty overseas. She was refused.

Miss Cochran, along with twenty-five women pilots, then flew to England, volunteering to help with their ATA’s -Air Transport Auxiliary – being accepted, and having to sign eighteen-month contracts.

August 1943, two forces were unified – WAFS and WFTD – forming Women Airforce Service Pilots otherwise known as the WASPs under Cochran’s supervision.

At the time, the Army did not believe that women could fly, but were forced to offer training at an abandoned school in Houston, Texas. Over 25,000 women pilots volunteered for the flight training to learn to fly “the Army way”, and since the Army did not recognize the WASPs, the women were forced to pay their own way, buy their own makeshift uniforms, food and supplies.

Initially, the Army used civilian men to train the 1,830 women that had been accepted into the program, and the men believed that the women pilots weren’t qualified to fly, even though the women had more flying time than required for men in similar training.

The women were forced through grueling calisthenics and forced to endure ridicule and humiliation by their male supervisors. They learned to take orders and follow the regulations of the Army, without the Army perks.

Relief came when the WASP training center was moved to an actual army barracks at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. The facilities in Sweetwater were prepared for them; they even had official uniforms finally, and barracks on the airfield. The male instructors were real Army, and were complete opposites of the men from Houston.

The women worked together helping each other with different tasks and giving each other moral support. When one of them did washout after receiving the allotted seventy demerits, the women shared the grief of their failure.

They made each others beds, bouncing the coin on the tight fitting sheets, when one of them couldn’t quite get that part right. They polished each others shoes using old nylons; they helped with scrubbing floors and latrines. They worked together with the common goal of getting their wings, proving to the men that women could fly the Army way.

The Women Air Force Service Pilots were disbanded on December twentieth, 1944, to make room for the returning men who needed the hours of airtime to qualify for their military benefits. The women were not granted militarization, even though they were bound by the rules and regulations of the Army, with the exception they could resign, a right that very few took advantage of.

Out of thousands of applicants, only 1830 were accepted, 1074 graduated from the training classes and thirty-eight women died while serving their country, without the benefit of military honors. Collections were taken among the WASPs when one of their own died, since no life insurance policies were issued to them as was done with the men.

Congress would acknowledge the WASPs in 1977, admit they were indeed veterans, but official recognition would not occur till 1979. In 1984 each woman would be awarded the Victory Medal, and those who served more than a year would be awarded the American Theater Medal, all by mail.

In 1996, I had the honor of meeting several WASPs at an air show at Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona. The women were much older, but they still had that special something – the grit and determination required by so many of that generation in serving our country.

Categories: Featured, History, Society

Written by javaz

I am a retired aerospace engineer, happily married for over twenty-four years. My hobbies include blogging on PPOV, reading mystery/romance novels, playing guitar, learning the piano and writing. My husband and I love to travel in our camper/trailer, and have visited 45 states, besides having lived in France for 2 years and seeing most of Europe. "Today is the first day of the rest of your life? Well, that's true of every day but one - the day you die." American Beauty "All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure." Mark Twain "A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar." Mark Twain

27 Responses so far.

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  1. javaz says:

    YIKES!
    To get this back on track, I’d like to add that the WASPs flew ferries over the US air bases for target practice, whereby the army would shoot at their planes, and sadly two planes were shot down and the women killed in the crashes.

    Back then, they used to fly by sight when landing, and it was on a wing and prayer that they managed to land during fog or bad weather.

    They also ferried planes from base to base in the US and British pilots were here, since all their bases were destroyed by the Germans.

    Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona was built by the British, and to this day the barracks stand.

    In the opening of the WWII movie, Tora Tora, and the woman flying a kid above Hawaii, and she noticed the aircraft, that woman went on to become a WASP, and sadly she was killed over Texas from flyinng a target plane.

  2. AuntieChrist says:

    javaz,

    thank you for such an inspiring article (and it is inspiring.)
    After looking around at that site which shall not be mentioned, I needed that. To, again, read about the courage and diversity of the people who make this country so great is what makes me proud to be an American.

    It was difficult in that I was grabbed by both that feeling of pride in my country in what her citizens can accomplish, yet at the same time -- anxious as to whether it can be ever be done again. As I took in the entire article, I was encouraged more and more by the courage, tenacity, self-sacrificing, indomitable spirit of America: it’s people like them… they make America great!

    I hope with the most fervent of hopes that people will realize the sacrifices it took to make this country so great -- to get over the entire “I WANT MY SHARE!” mentality which means nothing but death for democracy -- and in the end, the planet.

    Auntie Christ

    • javaz says:

      Thank you!

      I would like to correct you, if I may, when you write about what “they” do and have done that makes our country great.

      All of us, as Americans, should be proud of what WE do when push comes to shove.

      Remember after 9/11, how we all joined together and sent money and how so many of the states we live, sent crews out to help.

      Remember after Katrina, how we rallied together again, and sent money, and the states we live in, sent help.

      No matter our political differences, when something bad happens, we forget the politics, and we rally as Americans to help our fellow man.

      We as Americans should be proud, because we always help one another when needed during crisis, and even help foreign lands -- the tsunami in Thailand or an earthquake in Italy or in India and even in Pakistan.

      Never lose faith in Americans, because we are good people, politics aside, and we always help however we can when help is needed.

      • AuntieChrist says:

        True… my bad.

        It’s just that I knew so many people of faith who were able (and still do) to excuse their behavior for supporting warhawks and not giving a damn about what is contained in the pages of their very own gospel’s.

        …these are people to whom it would be a sin to miss church on any given Sunday (“Forake not the assembly of yourselves as the habit of some is”)

        Yet they don’t think twice about war…

        I swear… I’m glad I escaped that lunacy -- though I’ve always been the rebel.

        Auntie Christ

  3. KQuark says:

    Great story javaz. My mother served in the Korean war even though most of the time she was in Japan. She worked as a clerk decrypting communications and thanks to her service I don’t have to worry about getting excellent care from the VA. She just turned 77 yesterday.

    • javaz says:

      Thank you for your kind words!

      My mother-in-law also served during WWII, but in the Navy.
      She never left the states, but worked on building torpedoes.

      I wrote this article in the hopes to remind people that even back during the day when women could not serve, they did serve.

      There are nurses that served, and serve in all wars, and we should never forget.

      As I’ve written before, I was fortunate enough to live in France for 2 years and there are innumerable war memorials over in Europe, and some in the native tongue alongside in English in honor of the men and women who have died.

      In France, right outside of Paris, is a memorial to the American women nurses that gave their lives for the cause.

      I could be wrong about this, but it seems there are many more memorials in Europe than here at home, but then again, Europe has had many more wars than we have.

  4. TheLateGrardini says:

    What a great story. thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  5. kesmarn says:

    javaz, learned something new this Veteran’s Day, thanks to you.
    Don’t you dare stop writing articles! The graphics thing will get straightened out.

    • javaz says:

      I’m a huge World War II history buff.

      And as I wrote below to Monk, I was able to interview several WASPs, and wrote down their stories, and they had many, and then did lots of research with my husband’s help to write a book.

      It was much fun, and while writing the book, we also rented or checked out of the library every single World War II movie, old and new, and played the old war songs and songs from that era.
      It was fun and I learned so much about that time.

      • KQuark says:

        Me too. War is a terrible terrible thing and even though it brings out the worst in our species, it also brings out the best. Most of all war sets out the geopolitical landscape for decades to come. When you do learn the history of WWII while millions sacrificed in the US compared to nations in Europe and Asia the US got the equivalent to a flesh wound. I think one of the reasons we are still so warlike is because we have not been devastated by war like other countries.

      • kesmarn says:

        What an amazing partnership you and your husband have. Makes for a happy life together, I’ll bet.

        I love history in general. My degree was in history, but then I got out into the big bad world and found out how hard it was to make a living. Especially when one is anything BUT gifted as a classroom speaker, as I am. Sadly, that’s not the case in health care. There’s all too much job security. Wish we could declare bankruptcy because of a paucity of sick people!

        • javaz says:

          I am a lucky woman, that’s for sure!

          My husband is the true history buff.
          He even reads textbooks!
          Even really old textbooks from the 1800’s that the library sells for a buck!
          His favorite era is the Civil War.

  6. nellie says:

    This reminds me so much of the Tuskegee Airmen. Certain jobs were reserved for a long time, excluding all kinds of people who would have been happy to take them. Thank goodness this practice is fading into the past. Desperate times give opportunities for people to prove themselves. And these women were examples of the competency of all women—for all to see.

    This is a great article, Javaz. Thanks for posting this bit of history on Veterans Day.

  7. javaz says:

    Oh sheesh, I give up on this image attachment thing! :(

    At least this time I managed to get the attachment at the top of the post, but can’t figure out why it is so big and how do you make it smaller?
    I clicked the “center” option and followed the directions for attaching the URL.
    I also went to the section at the bottom of the author’s page and scrolled down to the

    • FeloniousMonk says:

      Javaz, it was a very well written article. Another sad reminder of people who were more than ready to serve and sacrifice for their country but who “didn’t fit in” with the idea of who was of “the right stuff”. Very similar to the Tuskegee Airmen and the black tank crew members, whom George Patton didn’t feel “would or could fight”. He, too, was so wrong.

      World War II was an awakening for American women, and the end of the war brought about negative changes. Women who had learned self sufficiency and the idea that those “man things” could be done as well (or better) by a woman. But at the end of the war they were laid off and told to “return to their duties at home” in order to make room for returning servicemen. I understand the need for those men to have had jobs, but to just dismiss an entire workforce back to the “dungeons” was ridiculous. It took nearly 20 years for women to again return in force into the productivity centers in America. So sad.

      • javaz says:

        Thank you Monk!

        At the time when I was fortunate to meet the WASPs, I was an aspiring writer and I was able to interview them, and some actually invited me to their homes in the valley.
        Even though there have been a couple movies made about the WASPs, and one about Jackie Cochran, the women themselves were not satisfied and were looking to me to write their story, which I did.
        This is a partial excerpt from the book I wrote way back in 1995 that was never published, but the women appreciated my efforts!

        I loved meeting them all and they sure had the stories to tell!

    • nellie says:

      ok — you’re NOT an idiot.

      I adjusted the photo — I hope it’s not too small. If it is, I’ll reset to the original size. Just let me know.

      And you’d better keep posting these great articles, or the blogger fairy might stop sprinkling blogger golddust on this site!

      • javaz says:

        Thank you so much, Nellie!

        I wish so much that we could meet so that you or AdLib or KQuark or anyone could show my husband and myself what it is we are doing wrong!

        Thank you so much for the adjustment and it is perfect!

    • BigDogMom says:

      Keep posting, don’t stop!!!!

      I kinda like the big photo, she’s a good looking women and it makes a statement.

      Hang in there, AdLib will come to the resue!

  8. BigDogMom says:

    Your article sent shivers down my legs….it is sad that these women were not acknowledged as veterans until 1979.

    These brave women and other’s have paved the way for us women now, thank you for reminding me.

    “We’ve come a long way baby”!!!!


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