Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Women's History: The Original Fly Girls

"Female WWII Pilots: The Original Fly Girls."

Susan Stamberg of National Public Radio's Morning Edition read an excellent piece on the brave women who flew planes for the United States during World War II. The group of female pilots was called the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP. While women were not allowed to serve in combat roles, 38 of these pilots lost their lives in the service of their country.

NPR highlights the tragic death of 26-year-old Mabel Rawlinson, who lost her life in a training accident. Because she was not technically a member of the military, the government was not required to pay for her burial costs. Also, the American flag was not supposed to be draped across her coffin. (Mabel's fellow WASPs pitched in to provide an honorable burial service and her family draped their lost one with the flag anyway.) These stories were common during this period.

At the start of the WASP program in 1942 the commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Henry "Hap" Arnold, stated that he was unsure "whether a slip of a girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in heavy weather." Such was the competence and bravery of this group of women that Arnold declared two years later that "it is on the record that women can fly as well as men."

The pilots weren't granted military status until the 1970s. Tomorrow, 65 years after their service, the WASP will receive the highest civilian honor given by the United States Congress. Last July, President Obama signed a bill awarding the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal. The ceremony will take place on Capitol Hill.

Related on Carmichael Blog:
Photo credit: Helen Abell, a student of the Springfield Aviation Company and later a member of the WASP. Photo uploaded by the Lincoln Library, Springfield, Illinois as part of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Digital Collections and Content (DCC).

No comments: