The Energizer

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Women Air Force Service Pilots WWII Finally Get Into History!

by Eileen McDargh, Chief Energy Officer - Saturday, March 06, 2010
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Nearly 70 years have passed since America fought in World War II. In those critical days over a thousand courageous women pilots took to the skies in military aircraft for the United States Army Air Forces to relieve desperately needed male pilots for combat duty. 

From their training base in Sweetwater, TX, the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) transported planes, served as test pilots, and towed targets for gunnery practice with live ammunition. They flew over 60 million miles of domestic wartime duty. These women pilots paid their own way to enter training, took up a collection to help pay for the expenses of burial when one of their peers was killed, and, when they were disbanded in 1944, they had to pay their own way back home. 

But the worst insult came when women were not allowed back in the cockpits of military planes again until the late 1970s. It appeared their wonderful experiment in contribution and aviation had been a failure. The WASP was never militarized, and those who served as a WASP were considered civil service employees.

There was considerable opposition to the WASP program in the press and in Congress. General Henry "Hap" Arnold, US Army Air Force commander, first supported the program, then disbanded it. The WASP was deactivated December 20, 1944, having flown about 60 million miles in operations.

Thirty-eight WASP were killed, including some during training. Records of WASP were classified and sealed, so historians minimized or ignored the women pilots. In 1977, the same year the Air Force graduated its first post-WASP women pilots, Congress granted veteran status to those who had served as a WASP, and in 1979 issued official honorable discharges. 

On March 9, 2010, in the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington DC, these amazing women will receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Of the original 1,076 women who earned their silver wings, less than one-third are alive. My mother Mary R. Burchard, age 94, is one of them. Sadly, she is too fragile to fly from California to our nation's capital but my sister and brother and I will represent her.

A nation has finally learned to say thank you. There are many lessons in the story of these great pilots.

Number one:
You must follow your heart no matter what. Every one of these women had a sense of adventure, a passion for flying, and a love of country.

Number two: Never take no for an answer.  Jacqueline Cochrane, founder of the WASP, met roadblock after roadblock until she found a sponsor in General Hap Arnold.

Number three:
It always makes a difference, even if you don't see it for years.  Today, women pilots in both the military and civilian lines of work sit at the feet of these women who flew in World War II and say thank you. In fact, it is the work of the first female Thunderbird, LT.Col Nicole Malachowski, USAF who helped move the proposal through Congress so that the WASP can now be given their due reward. 

When I think of women like astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, Colonel Eileen Collins USAF, first woman commander of the space, and jet pilot Major Nicole Malachowski, it is clear that the WASP of WWII did have a lasting impact and now certainly cam be written into history.

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Eileen McDargh Keynote Speaker Blog Author

About Eileen!

Since beginning her consulting and training practice in 1980, Eileen has become noted for her ability to speak the truth with clarity, wisdom, humor and compassion. Long-standing clients and repeat engagements attest to her commitment to make a difference in minds, hearts and spirits of organizations and individuals. She draws upon practical business know-how, life's experiences and years of consulting to major national and international organizations that have ranged from global pharmaceuticals to the US Armed Forces, from health care associations to religious institutions. Executive Excellence magazine selected her as one of the top 100 thought leaders in leadership and among the top ten consultant providers of leadership development.

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