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When the United States entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was an unprecedented need for military pilots to support the war effort. With many male civilian pilots joining the Army Air Forces, the military was still in desperate need of more aviators. This opened the door for women pilots to step up and play a vital role. The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program gave women the opportunity to serve their country as military pilots for the first time in history.
It took courage and determination for these pioneering women to volunteer for such dangerous duty during wartime. The WASP pilots flew almost every type of military aircraft, transporting planes from factories to airfields and towing targets for live anti-aircraft training. Their service freed up male pilots for combat roles overseas. WASP pilots faced skepticism and discrimination for defying gender norms, but they were committed to serving with honor and distinction.
For trailblazers like Jane Doyle and Faye Wolfe, joining the WASP was a chance to prove women were just as capable as men in supporting the war effort. Doyle recalls her determination to "show the Army Air Forces that women could fly airplanes as well as men could." She vividly remembers arriving at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas for training: "I was finally going to get to fly these beautiful airplanes, and I was going to get to fly a lot!"
The women of the WASP program were true trailblazers, breaking down gender barriers in the military and aviation at a pivotal time in history. Their service demonstrated that women could perform vital flight duties just as capably as men, paving the way for future generations of female military pilots.
Donning uniforms and marching alongside male cadets, WASP training pushed the boundaries of what society considered appropriate activities for young ladies. Jane Doyle recalls the exhilaration of her first solo flight during training, remembering "It was the biggest thrill I'd ever had in my life." For many WASPs, flying military aircraft was a childhood dream come true.
Yet the WASPs faced extensive skepticism and discrimination at every turn. Male instructors often doubted their abilities, while mechanics resisted taking commands from female pilots. Faye Wolfe remembers constantly working to prove herself: "Because we were women, we had to do better than the men in order to show that we deserved to be there."
Once qualified, the WASPs displayed incredible skill and courage flying every type of military aircraft. Transporting planes across the country and towing targets for live anti-aircraft practice were dangerous jobs, but the WASPs performed their duties with excellence. For Doyle, flying massive B-17 bombers was intensely challenging. She recalls with pride the day she successfully landed a B-17 by herself for the first time.
By demonstrating their capabilities, the WASPs disproved claims that women were too fragile or unstable to pilot aircraft. Colonel Paul Tibbets, who commanded the WASP program, stated: "I didn"t believe women could fly airplanes. [The WASPs] changed my mind." Even General Henry "Hap" Arnold admitted: "Now in 1944, it is on the record that women can fly as well as men."
Over 1,000 courageous women served, logging over 60 million miles flown during the war. Thirty-eight WASPs lost their lives in the line of duty. After the war, WASP records were classified and sealed, obscuring their pioneering contributions. They fought for decades before finally being granted veteran status in 1977.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots hold a unique place in history as the first women to fly military aircraft for the United States. Their entrance into the ranks of military pilots during World War II was trailblazing and courageous. Over 25,000 American women applied for WASP service, but only 1,830 were accepted into the program. For those selected, it was a chance to prove their abilities and serve their country when it needed them most.
WASP training was strenuous, designed to weed out all but the most competent pilots. Jane Doyle describes arriving at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas for a militarized version of flight school: "From the moment we arrived, we were treated just like the male cadets. We marched, we flew, we studied. It was tough." Trainees flew morning, noon and night, daily. Instructors tested their skills in every type of aircraft, seeking the most versatile and talented pilots.
Faye Wolfe recalls the thrill of passing her final check ride in the AT-6 Texan, a demanding single-engine plane. "When the examiner told me I had graduated at last, I was so proud. I had proven I could fly these warplanes as well as any man." For Doyle, graduation was bittersweet: "Saying goodbye to the friends I"d trained with for seven months was difficult. But I was eager to report for duty and start flying for real."
Once deployed, the WASPs flew for the Ferrying Division or the Training Command. Ferrying pilots transported new aircraft across the country, while those in the Training Command towed targets for live anti-aircraft practice. WASPs flew over 60 million miles moving planes between factories and military bases, freeing up male combat pilots for service overseas. According to Doyle, "Ferrying was the best job. We delivered everything from small liaison planes to four-engine bombers. The cross-country trips were long but fun."
Meanwhile, target towing was hazardous duty, with WASPs dragged through the air at the end of a banner while soldiers fired live ammunition from the ground. But Wolfe insisted, "It had to be done to prepare the boys for combat. I was glad I could serve my country in this way." Despite the danger, target towing was essential to provide realistic training.
Once they received their hard-earned silver wings, the WASPs were eager to take flight in service of their nation. Stationed at air bases across the country, they finally had the chance to put their extensive training into practice. Doyle remembers arriving at Long Beach Army Airfield in California: "I was so excited to start flying as an official WASP pilot. We were treated just like the male officers, given uniforms, barracks, mess hall privileges."
WASPs spread their wings daily, flying critical missions transporting aircraft, towing targets, and testing planes post-repair. They flew almost every type of military aircraft, including massive B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-29 Superfortresses. For Doyle, flying the B-17 for the first time was a monumental challenge. She recounts: "With four engines, endless switches and controls, keeping the bomber straight and level was intense work! When I landed that baby by myself for the first time, I was incredibly proud."
Meanwhile, target towing required extensive skill to manage the banner and maintain steady control despite live anti-aircraft fire. As Wolfe remembers, "It was a dangerous job, but we couldn't let the men go into combat without realistic target practice." Towing missions meant flying in wide circles or figure eights, giving gunners moving targets to aim for. Despite the risk, the job had to be done.
WASPs also served as test pilots, wringing out aircraft after mechanical repairs and maintenance. This required extensive diligence to identify any issues before planes were sent back into active duty. According to Doyle, "We inspected those planes from prop to rudder, inside and out. Our mechanics couldn"t afford to miss anything that might cause problems later." Being the final safety check before aircraft returned to flight status carried immense responsibility.
No matter the mission, the WASPs made history each time they climbed into the cockpit. They continually proved wrong the notion that women lacked the intelligence, physical ability and emotional temperament to pilot complex warplanes. Colonel Paul Tibbets, who commanded the WASPs, stated: "I didn"t believe women could fly airplanes. [The WASPs] changed my mind." They cemented their legacy of courage and skill with every flight.
The WASP program has faded from public memory, but dedicated admirers are determined to revive its legacy. Doyle laments that for decades after the war, "no one knew about us, what we had contributed." She remembers arriving home expecting a warm welcome, only to be told dismissively: "Well, it"s time for you to get back into the kitchen." The WASP records were sealed, dismissing their groundbreaking service as an experiment.
Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures, did not learn about the WASPs until she was an adult. Fascinated by their obscurity, she dove into archives, scouring dusty boxes for WASP memorabilia. Shetterly insists: "These women have been systematically overlooked. I want to revive America"s memory of their contributions." She advocates designating WASP graves at Arlington Cemetery with proper headstones so current military members understand their heritage.
Meanwhile, members like Nancy Parrish establish scholarships, awards and museums to share the WASP story. Parrish"s father was a WASP trainer, so she grew up admiring their legacy. She laments: "Thirty-eight women died serving their country, but for decades, they didn't officially exist." Determined to share their history, Parrish founded Wings Across America, an organization dedicated to preserving the WASP narrative. Their website offers interviews, biographies and memorabilia from WASP veterans and families.
Parrish insists that passing the torch to younger generations is key: "If we're not willing to tell their story, who's going to tell it for us?" Thanks to her efforts, exhibits at the National Museum of the Air Force, the Smithsonian and elsewhere now highlight the WASPs. The Wings Across America scholarship has awarded over $100,000 to young women pursuing aviation careers.
Other WASPs like Millicent Young also prioritize outreach and education. Now in her late nineties, she shares her story extensively with Air Force trainees, school groups, and in the media. WASP history has even inspired young women"s books, like Fly Girls by award-winning author Patricia Preciado Martin. For Martin, the WASPs "opened the skies" for all female pilots since. She urges young readers: "Know these women. Let their daring inspire yours."
Meanwhile, Air Force leaders are working to integrate WASP history into training programs. In 2016, then-Secretary Deborah Lee James declared: "We will continue to work to remember, honor and recognize the service of the WASPs." She helped establish the "Remembering the WASP" exhibit at the Pentagon. The Air Force now widely utilizes WASP stories in lectures, magazines and manuals. According to one pilot, "knowing their heritage of excellence motivates young female trainees."
Advanced AI photo colorization is breathing new life into treasured black-and-white photos of the pioneering WASP pilots. While their sepia toned portraits capture a moment in time, vivid color adds missing depth and realism that transports viewers back through the decades. Seeing the striking hues of their uniforms, aircraft and surroundings helps us visualize these trailblazers as the courageous individuals they were.
For the family of Faye Wolfe, colorization allowed them to finally see the brilliant red of her hair, icy blue of her eyes, and rosy tone of her skin. Her son Brad reflects, "it's incredible to see Mom as she truly was, not just shades of grey." The technology filled in the missing pieces of her appearance for loved ones. Jane Doyle's grandchildren were amazed by the blue in her uniform, remarking that the photo "went from flat to jumping off the page." For them, color conveyed Doyle's personality and vibrance.
Beyond loved ones, colorization enables all of us to connect more deeply with WASP history. Archivists report that the public reacts more emotionally and attentively to colorized photos at exhibits. Curator Janet Bednarek explains that color provokes "a visceral response and sense of empathy" absent in black-and-white. We are transported into the scene, imagining ourselves among the WASPs.
Seeing the dark green of army aircraft and bright blue sky as Doyle flew missions contextualizes her service. The risk and adventure is palpable. Wolfe's faded olive drab flight suit and swooping red target banner help us visualize the demands of target towing. We are alongside them, witnessing firsthand the challenges they confronted.
The rich hues also capture their spirit and courage in technicolor. In color, the glint of pride and determination in Doyle's eyes as she stood by her bomber comes through. We can envision her grit as she fought to gain respect in a male-dominated field. The energy and enthusiasm of Wolfe's laughter as she joked with fellow WASPs resonates more fully. Color conveys the essence of who they were through every shade and tone.
Most impactfully, colorized photos convey the humanity and sacrifice of the 38 WASPs who died serving their country. Their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery is especially poignant with blue skies, green grass, and the red, white and blue of flags blowing in the wind. Each personalized headstone draws us to reflect on their service and untimely deaths. The vibrant color uncannily brings them to life one more time, underscoring the future they lost.
The WASP pilots were trailblazers who volunteered to serve their country when it needed them most, despite facing extensive discrimination and danger. Their courage paved the way for all female military pilots since. That's why honoring their service remains so important decades later.
For WASP veterans still living today, recognition is finally arriving, albeit late. In 2010, President Obama awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the 300 surviving WASPs, one of the nation's highest civilian honors. Doyle remembers the ceremony as a moving experience: "Receiving this honor and having our legacy recognized was so meaningful after being forgotten for so long."
Many WASPs note that proper military burials are especially significant. After their service was declassified in the 1970s, WASPs were finally permitted to have their ashes interred at Arlington National Cemetery with military honors. Doyle recalls her friend Elaine Harmon's burial, where six Air Force pilots served as pallbearers. "Those boys were so proud to honor Elaine. It was a very emotional day." For WASP veterans, these military funerals legitimize their service.
But honoring those who passed earlier is also a priority. Thanks to grassroots fundraising, a memorial honoring all WASPs now stands at Arlington. Dedicated in 2016, it features a statue of a pilot gazing skyward as jets fly over. Engraved granite lists the names of the 1,074 who served. Wolfe's daughterVISION reflects, "This memorial finally gave Mom and all the others a proper resting place."
Meanwhile, families advocate for adding "WASP" to the headstones of graves dating from before 1977 when they were granted veteran status. According to Nancy Parrish, having WASP acknowledged provides public recognition: "People will see that these women were pilots who served their nation. They existed." She successfully lobbied for WASP inscription on her mother"s marker.
Beyond tributes, preserving WASP history ensures their legacy guides future generations. Air Force pilot Jenna Bailey reflects on how WASP stories from mentors shaped her own path. She recalls one mentor: "She made sure I knew about the challenges faced by WASPs. I aspire to make them proud." Jenna leads new pilot orientations highlighting WASP history: "These stories inspire our trainees to excel, knowing they stand on the shoulders of those remarkable women."
Librarian Hannah Kimmey curated an exhibit on "Stories of Service and Sacrifice" highlighting minority and women who served, including the WASPs. She says presenting a diversity of experiences provides needed perspective: "Every story we preserve is a valuable part of our collective history." Kimmey strives to spotlight untold narratives that deepen understanding of the past.
For the families of WASPs, preserving precious memories of their pioneering service is deeply meaningful. These photos, letters, and artifacts capture a unique moment in history that defied convention. They provide an intimate window into the daily lives of WASPs that standard military accounts often overlook.
WASP veteran Millicent Young donates her logs, charts, uniforms and other memorabilia to museums, wanting current generations to understand that era. She reflects, "Every humdrum daily detail " what we ate, songs we sang, planes we flew " it"s all fascinating now." Her collection offers an unfiltered look at military life for women.
Meanwhile, Nancy Parrish curates photos, diaries, and oral histories from WASPs and their families. She comments, "These personal touches convey the diversity of personalities and motivations. WASPs weren"t icons, but real human beings." Her archives capture humor and camaraderie alongside courage.
For remaining WASPs, recording their stories is urgent. Alice Dempsey feels destined to share her experiences after losing her only child. "I want people to know who we were and what we did while there"s still time," she says. Her memoir details rigors of training, friendships forged, and challenges faced. She urges, "I hope my memories inspire young people to persevere through adversity."
Some families take a creative approach, like Jean Hascall Cole, who transformed her mother"s WASP diary into a one-woman stage play. She performs in her mother"s original uniform, bringing Elizabeth Hascall"s story to life. "Portraying Mom showed me how resilient she was," reflects Cole. Audiences are captivated, gaining new appreciation for WASPs" courage.
Lisa Stone"s provoked her 95 year-old grandmother to record WASP memories after seeing few women included in history books. She muses, "If I didn"t capture Granny"s stories, they"d be lost." Stone self-published these memoirs, sending copies to libraries and schools. Her grandmother is thrilled knowing her journey will educate future generations.
But some struggle to spark aging WASPs" memories before it"s too late. The daughter of WASP Virginia Gough says her mother claims to recall nothing. "It"s frustrating, but I treasure a few photos and her wings. That"s better than nothing." She urges families to start preserving histories sooner than later.
Some WASPs donated artifacts to museums before passing, like Dorothy Allen. Her son Boyden took her uniforms, logs and medals to the National WASP WWII museum after her death. He comments, "Mom made history " she deserved to have her story preserved." For him, the donation honored his mother"s wishes.
WASP collections provide meaningful educational opportunities. A New Mexico teacher incorporates Faye Wolfe"s uniform, goggles and scarf into history lessons. She notes, "Seeing real WASP artifacts up-close makes their story come alive for students." High schoolers are captivated examining items and hearing Wolfe"s experiences first-hand.
The more diverse stories preserved, the deeper public understanding of WASPs becomes. Collections that include African American pilot vistas like Maggie Gee and Hispanic pilot Delia Alvarez portray a fuller picture. Gee"s niece marvels, "Aunt Maggie kept everything from her WASP days. I"m donating it all so her legacy endures." She wants Maggie's perseverance despite discrimination remembered.