Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Amazing Women of World War II

I can get choked up easily about lots of things. I'm pretty much a sap, but few get as strong a reaction from me as patriotic events. The National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance are both good for blinking back a few tears. Whenever I see a soldier in fatigues, I get choked up. I was in an airport when several soldiers walked through and I had to bite my lip. I was thrilled to be able to add my applause when people spontaneously began to clap.

The most amazing patriotic event I have been part of was welcoming my cousin Nelson home from his second tour in Iraq a couple years ago. After waiting for several hours in the hangar at Quonset Point Naval Air Station, we finally got word that their plane was just a few minutes out. As we crowded near the open doors of the huge hangar, the big plane flew past and tipped its wings. What a sight! What a feeling. It was one of the most emotional moments I have ever experienced. As I sit here now my throat is full.

As the 97 soldiers walked off that plane through the phalanx of local politicians and dignitaries into the hangar, the cheers and applause of the several hundred waiting was deafening. It was a beautiful thing to watch and be part of.

In today's paper there was a report of 200 women who served as Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs who were in Washington recently to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress. This honor was in recognition of their service during World War II. Sixty-five years after the end of WW II we finally got around to saying Thanks to these women who flew planes but weren't considered to be real military pilots.

During World War II, a select group of young women pilots volunteered to become the WASPs, the first women in history to fly American military aircraft. From some research I learned that the WASP pilots each already had a pilot's license. Of the more than 25,000 women who applied for WASP service, 1,078 earned their wings and became the first women to fly American military aircraft. That there were that many licensed female pilots in this country at that time stunned me.

Although not trained for combat, their instruction was essentially the same as that for aviation cadets. The drop-out rate was comparable to the men being trained as pilots, too. They received no gunnery training and very little formation flying and acrobatics, but went through the maneuvers necessary to be able to recover from any position. From 1942 to 1943, they flew sixty million miles of non-combat military missions.

Last year, a bill was passed to award a Congressional Gold Medal to these women. Of the women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. Now mostly in their late 80's and early 90's, two hundred of them were honored last Wednesday in a ceremony on Capitol Hill.


Here is a paragraph from today's article:

As a military band played "The Star-Spangled Banner," one of the women who had been sitting in a wheelchair stood up and saluted through the entire song as a relative gently supported her back.

As I read this, I all but burst into tears. And it took this country 65 years to not only honor but to acknowledge these women. When they died during duty, they were not given military honors, no flags draped their coffins. In fact, when some died, fellow female aviators often helped pay their funeral expenses. When the unit was disbanded in 1944, the women had to pay their own bus fare home from Texas. They received none of the financial or educational benefits given to veterans back then either. They weren't considered to be members of the military.

As a teenager I remember the photos and the stories of how the Vietnam veterans were greeted when they came home. I realized then, and we all know now, how disgraceful this country acted at that time. I wish there was some way we could make that up to them, too.

The last of today's article quoted Dorothy Eppstein, 92, of Kalmazoo, Michigan, "It was fun coming into a strange airport and having the mechanics say, 'Where's the pilot?' "

Fun, indeed. Thanks, ladies, you blazed a trail for many of us.

23 comments:

DONNA said...

Bravo Sandy!!!!

Elle said...

FANTASTIC post, Sandy! It's amazing to me that these women had to go through the hardships they did, while technically serving their country. Unfair doesn't began to describe the way they were treated, and yet they do not seem to be bitter. Instead, they are full of pride and felt honored to have the opportunity they did. Amazing.

Wanda said...

Cindy, at the blog below posted a video of a beaitiful song sang by school children; thanking the soldiers, it will make you cry for sure!

http://lettersfrommidlife.blogspot.com/2010/03/thank-you-soldiers.html

New England Girl said...

I am in the same boat as you. Anything to do with our military members - past or present - and their service and sacrifice, as well as the National Anthem and Star Spangled Banner and I turn into a teary mess... and I am not ashamed of it AT ALL. I have given random soldiers in random airports hugs of gratitude, and while dating an Army man, I was grateful every day for his and his fellow soldiers' struggles and sacrifices.

If you get the opportunity, you should see the movie "Taking Chance." It is a tear-jerker for anyone, but as you're like me, I imagine it will be even more poignant. It's a beautiful message and journey. Also, a wonderful book, albeit difficult to read, is "Final Salute" by Jim Sheeler.

You are an inspiring woman and someone I admire... even more so after this post and little glimpse into your thoughts/patriotic feelings. Thank you for sharing. xoxox.

marit said...

nice to hear more about these ladies! they've seen so much in their lives. nice to know they are finally getting some national respect and recognition. great post.

Jane In The Jungle said...

Sixty five years later!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's digusting! I too remember Vietnam....I am so glad we learned from that lesson how to welcome our military home.....I still can't get over 65 yrs.....

LadyCat said...

They were amazing women. They did it for the love of their country and I'm glad they were finally recognized. Brave women, indeed.

Spot On Your Pants said...

Oh good. Someone else is crying over this one. Thanks for the tribute. SITS HELLO.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Right on: very fine post.

croneandbearit said...

I was so happy to see these women get the recognition they so richly deserve. I'm also a patriotic sap and cry at National Anthem and I don't think that's a bad thing at all. I'm a proud Air Force spouse (Devoted Spouse served our country for 26 years in the Air Force) and I'm also an Air Force brat - my dad was Air Force and was in the Berlin Airlift and WWII - so I'm pretty much a very pro-military gal!

mama-face said...

This is a wonderful post...I had no idea. The inequality of women is a huge thorn in my side...but that really isn't your point I know. I love that you have honored them this way.

And oh my...I lose it when I see military men coming home; especially if it is in person, at the airport, etc. I'm a military brat and my brother is a Marine so I think (I don't know this for sure) that I feel it even more.

Wonderful post. :)

Slamdunk said...

Great post and thanks for highlighting these soldiers inspirational stories.

midwesttomidlands said...

I know what you mean about choking up. My friend in Iowa wrote to me about how all the WWII vets were flown to DC to see their memorial this year. It was so touching reading about it.
They were all such heroes.

Louise | Carmine Superiore said...

I wonder what took them so long to decide these women had done a worthwhile job? Well, better late than never, I guess! Greetings from Italy via BPOTW.

LadyFi said...

Those trailblazers certainly made life a lot easier for us!

Anonymous said...
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Pam said...

The most amazing thing about this story is that these woman are not bitter in the least. They deserve an honor for that as well.

btw, looks like you and I have the same spammer visiting us (see the comment right before mine). Ugh!

Badass Geek said...

I'm glad to hear that they finally got the recognition they deserved. Thanks for sharing this great story!

Brenda said...

Beautiful article and tribute.

We spent the day yesterday at an Army museum, makes us really proud of our country.

Keely said...

That's crazy! And awesome. Crazy-awesome. Great post!

Robin said...

"When the unit was disbanded in 1944, the women had to pay their own bus fare home from Texas."

This to me says it all.

What incredible women they must have been, must be.

Thank you for sharing a piece of their story.

Thoughtfully blended hearts said...

Wonderful article, My Mom was a WAC during WWII and they were not treated well during those years. I love to see some honor being bestowed on American military women of the US.

bettyl said...

Thanks for this wonderful post. I would imagine there are thousands more who deserve more recognition than they ever got from us.

 

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