SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — There are millions of heroes born from the events of World War II. Although, some heroes were nearly forgotten — the women pilots who risked their lives for their nation.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program, formed in 1943, saw approximately 1,074 civilian women pilots joining in the action by performing various missions such as training, testing, and ferrying during World War II.
This program was spurred by the renowned reputations of two female pilots, an up-and-coming pilot named Nancy Harkness Love, and accomplished flight veteran Jackie Cochran. Both had lobbied for a program to allow female pilots to join the U.S. Army Air Forces, ferrying warplanes between factories and air bases.
With the combination of two female pilot programs and the country entering the imminent World War, the WASPs were established.
Fewer than 10 percent of women who applied to be a WASP were accepted, and the program saw many diverse backgrounds including college students, teachers, stenographers, and saleswomen, according to former WASP Adaline Blank.
Those female pilots who made the WASPs had no easy task, completing the same heavy training programs endured by all members of the military—often from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Despite their hard work and rigorous training, the WASPs were considered part of the civil service and were not given the same benefits or burial expenses, even for 38 women who died during service.
Over the war, the WASPs had logged more than 60 million miles in the air and had flown every type of aircraft in the army’s air forces. Their missions were highly dangerous and required top-level flight skills.
In 1944, as victory was approaching in Europe and more men joined the war, the WASPs were quietly disbanded.
“We were just deactivated and were sent home . . . Our records were sealed for 30 years,” remarks Nell Stevenson Bright, WASP pilot, and Utah resident later in life. “I guess we were the best-kept secret of World War II.”
By 1977, the military announced that those WASP pilots would finally get veteran status and receive the Congressional Gold Medals they deserved.