Recognition at Last
By 1944 the WASPs had firmly established themselves as well-trained pilots able to fly most, if not all, models of planes used in the combat overseas. There was no reason, we felt, not to continue in the air industry doing what we loved. So it came as a crushing blow when General Hap Arnold sent a letter thanking us for our service and stating how proud he was. The war was still going on in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, including preparations for invading Europe through Normandy, France. Of course, we couldn’t know that at the time. So why were we being dismissed?
High praise came from several military leaders for the work we had done, but this did not negate the disappointment felt by most of the WASPs. We wanted to continue to fly, to do what still needed to be done in aiding the troops, and to continue to prove ourselves as well-trained pilots. However, we were not part of the military establishment. We had filled a necessary role which was no longer needed. Now it was pretty much “thank you and good-by.”
We looked at ourselves and decided there was a place for our abilities in the air industry. Our training and performance had given us a confidence in meeting challenges we never would have developed had we not faced the hardships and the intense preparations over the past few years. We had shown the world what we were capable of. While many of us became flight instructors, design engineers, commercial pilots, and teachers, others sought positions outside of the airline industry, contributing to the fields of medicine, law, creative arts, and theater.
Nancy Love married, added motherhood to her life, and continued to fly her own plane. Jackie Cochran developed and ran a cosmetic business while still competing in flight races, setting new records.
Then in 1964, Senator Barry Goldwater, Republican candidate for President at the time, and a pilot in World War II helped seal official recognition of the WASPs as a true military organization. He, along with others, sponsored a bill which passed and now gave every former WASP all the military benefits they deserved. But it was only with the persistence and the many voices of the women and the men who supported them that the bill passed. President Jimmy Carter signed it into law on November 23, 1977. The crowning moment came in 2010 when President Barak Obama signed into law that the Congressional Medal of Honor be awarded to the WASPs. WASP Deanie Parrish from Waco, Texas accepted the medal in the name of every WASP. An individual copy of the medal was given to each woman with the original medal now on display in the Smithsonian Museum.
[Author’s note] My role in this story is strictly fictional since I was only six years old when Jackie and Nancy founded their organizations. My reference for the information is drawn from Amy Nathan’s book, Yankee Doodle Gals, a short but compact history of the WASP organization. For more information, go to www.wingsacrossamerica.us/wasp.]
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