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Honoring the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II

For Women’s History Month, the Center for Minority Veterans (CMV) and Center for Women Veterans (CWV) join forces to commemorate women Veteran Congressional Gold Medal recipients: the trailblazing Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). These courageous women broke barriers and proved that women were just as capable as men at serving as skilled military pilots. Highlighting the WASP’s incredible contributions sheds light on women’s often overlooked achievements in military history.

During a time when women were prohibited from serving in combat roles, the WASP program provided a rare opportunity for women to fly military aircraft and support the war effort in non-combat roles. These women, who came from diverse backgrounds, exhibited an unwavering commitment to serve their country and to prove themselves as capable pilots; none of these women had ever flown an aircraft before their service.

Trailblazers like Nancy Harkness Love, who established the Women Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), and Jacqueline Cochran, who created the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), were essential to the WASP’s formation. The WASP program was formed in 1943 when the WAFS and WFTD programs merged, with over 25,000 women applying for the opportunity. Of those applicants, only 1,074 were accepted into the program, undergoing the same training as their male counterparts. Once they completed their training, the women were stationed at various bases across the country where they piloted military aircraft, from fighters to bombers to transport planes; they flew them all!

The significance of the WASP’s contributions cannot be overstated. They took on a wide range of critical duties that were essential to the war effort. They ferried planes from factories to air bases, tested new aircraft, and towed targets for live ammunition practice. They even played a role in training male pilots and served as test pilots for the military. Throughout their service, the WASP faced discrimination and prejudice, yet they persistently demonstrated their exceptional skills and dedication as pilots, making a substantial impact that could not be denied.

Of the 1,074 WASPs, 38 lost their lives, and despite their sacrifices, the WASP program was disbanded in 1944 with little recognition. It took 33 years of advocacy and lobbying by the women who served as WASPs and their supporters to earn their Veteran status. In 1977, President Carter signed a bill granting the WASPs their earned Veteran status, ensuring they received the respect and benefits they had been denied for far too long. These courageous women paved the way for future generations of female pilots and proved that women could excel in aviation just as well as men.

Another major victory was in March of 2010 when the WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. During the ceremony, Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski, the first female pilot in the Air Force’s Air Demonstration Squadron, said, “Today is the day when the WASPs will make history once again if you spend any time at all talking to these wonderful women, you’ll notice how humble and gracious and selfless they all are. Their motives for wanting to fly airplanes all those years ago weren’t for fame or glory or recognition. They had a passion to take their gifts and use them to help defend not only America but the entire free world from tyranny. And they let no one get in their way.” Those are true women Veteran trailblazers who fought with passion, dedication, and unwavering strength during a time when they were not equals.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month this year, let us honor the trailblazing women of the WASP and, like them, who, through their bravery and determination, left a permanent mark on the history of women in the military. Their legacy serves as an inspiration for all women. Thank you to the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II for their invaluable contributions and unwavering dedication to serving their country.

Happy Women’s History Month.

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