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A Brief History of the WASP
Script by Deanie and Nancy Parrish

Over 50 years ago, at a time when America was desperate for gasoline, money for war bonds and a few good men, something extraordinary happened.


l,830 young women pilots from all over the United States quit their jobs and left the safety of their homes and families to come to Texas. Some came by car, some by bus, others hitched or rode the train, a few even came by plane, but they all paid their own way and they all came to Texas because their country needed them. They came to Texas because they loved to fly.

It all began in l942, when there was a severe shortage of male pilots. Jacqueline Cochran, America's foremost woman pilot, convinced General Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, that she could bring together a corps of seasoned women pilots and train them the "Army Way," so they could replace the male pilots being sent overseas. When they heard the call, young women from all over America responded. But the requirements for acceptance of females was tougher than of men, so only 1,830 of the 25,000 women volunteers were eventually accepted. The first class of 29 young women began their training, under extremely adverse conditions, at the municipal airport in Houston, Texas. and flew dilapidated civilian aircraft that had been taken over by the Army, until military trainers were made available. Three months later, at Avenger Field near Sweetwater, Texas, the United States Army transformed a base that was being used to train male cadets into the only military flying school for women in the United States.

When each class of trainees arrived at Avenger Field, they were given no special treatment. They lived in barracks with 6 cots to a room, ate in a mess hall, followed a strict set of regulations, and marched. They marched everywhere. They marched to the barracks, they marched to the mess hall, they marched to their classes, and they marched to the flight line. Their training program was the same as the one male cadets were going through all over the country: ground school, flight school, cross-country flying, night flying, instrument flying, daily calisthenics, flying link trainers, and constantly marching --the Army way. At the end of each phase of flight training, they were given Army check rides by Army Air Force officers in good weather or bad weather, in dust storms, or with snow up to the propellers. Those who didn't pass washed out, packed their bags, and paid their way back home. Only l,074 of the original l,830 graduated. They were honored with a dress parade at a graduation ceremony where they received their official WASP wings.  Together with 28 WAFS, they became WOMEN AIRFORCE SERVICE PILOTS, the FIRST women in the history of America authorized to fly military aircraft.

Their Army orders directed them to report to air bases all over the United States to the Air Transport Command, Training Command, the lst, 2nd and 4th Air Force, the Proving Ground Command, the Weather Wing, the Air Technical Service Command, and the Troop Carrier Command. They lived in the officers' quarters and took their orders from Air Force commanders. They flew every type of aircraft the Air Force owned--trainers, fighters, bombers--they flew them in all kinds of weather and under all kinds of adverse conditions. They ferried personnel and hauled cargo, they delivered aircraft to points of embarkation, they test flew new planes, old planes, rebuilt planes, and some planes that male pilots refused to fly. They towed targets for ground-to-air anti-aircraft gunnery practice, and targets for air-to-air gunnery practice--always for gunnery trainees firing live ammunition. And they delivered many old war-weary airplanes to the junkyards and scrap heaps of America.

In less than 2 years they flew more than 60 million miles for their country. They flew every kind of mission the Air Force had (except combat), and 39 of them made the supreme sacrifice. They, too, went home, but with no help from the country they had given their lives for. Unlike the male pilots, WASP families or friends had to pay for their final trip home...

General Hap Arnold, the Commanding General of the Air Force was the keynote speaker at the graduating ceremonies for the last class of WASP on December 7, l944. General Arnold said,

"You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown that you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your bothers. If ever there was any doubt in anyone's mind that women can become skillful pilots, the WASP have dispelled that doubt. I want to stress how valuable I believe the whole WASP program has been for the country. . .We . . .know that you (they) can handle our latest fighters, our heaviest bombers; we. . . know that you (they) are capable of ferrying, target towing, flying training, test flying, and the countless other activities which you have proved you can do. So, on this last graduation day, I salute you and all WASP. We of the Army Air Force are proud of you, we will never forget our debt to you.

You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown that you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your bothers. If ever there was any doubt in anyone's mind that women can become skillful pilots, the WASP have dispelled that doubt. I want to stress how valuable I believe the whole WASP program has been for the country. . .We . . .know that you (they) can handle our latest fighters, our heaviest bombers; we. . . know that you (they) are capable of ferrying, target towing, flying training, test flying, and the countless other activities which you have proved you can do. So, on this last graduation day, I salute you and all WASP. We of the Army Air Force are proud of you, we will never forget our debt to you.

Eleven days later, on December 20, 1944, over the objections of General Arnold, the WASP were disbanded. At hundreds of air bases all over America, the WASP hung up their Army parachutes for the last time, packed their bags, and paid their way back home. There were no GI benefits, no fringe benefits, and no dress parades--just the satisfaction of knowing that they had done their duty and they had completed their mission. Despite General Arnold's pledge that the Air Force would never forget them, it did, and so did America.

For over 30 years the records from the bases where the WASP were stationed were locked away inside US archives and marked "Top Secret".  Their story has yet to be told...but there is hope.  There are still 665 surviving WASP.

 

Script, 1997 Wings Across America