CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) – More than 1,000 members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPS, served in World War II.
To avoid taking male pilots out of combat, the women helped ferry planes between factories and ports, along with conducting training missions.
Dr. Michael Lynch, a research historian at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, has studied their contribution.
“One of those missions was to fly target planes that would drag a target behind them, and air-to-air gunners would learn how to shoot down airplanes by shooting at these target drones,” Lynch said.
With that came a certain element of danger. WASPs often flew badly damaged aircraft to “plane graveyards,” and training missions came with a risk.
“There were 38 of them killed,” Lynch said.
But their bravery was more than physical.
“It was a hard emotional, mental barrier for a lot of people to cross, to think of women doing this sort of thing,” Lynch said.
There were even questions about whether women should fly during their “monthly medical condition,” but historians say WASPs on average flew faster and more efficiently than the men.
“The women who were selected were the very best of the best,” Lynch said.
The WASPs didn’t get paid as much as the men, and now they may not get the same honors. The military says they can’t be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Technically, the WASPs were part of a civil service organization. There were plans to militarize, but it never happened. Arlington says that means they were not considered active duty.
Even though the future of the WASPs’ final resting place is uncertain, researchers say how they’ll go down in history is clear – and not just because of the war.
“They also blazed the trail for women who came later,” Lynch said. “We now have combat pilots in the services and they can look back to those WASPs as their forebearers.”