Celebrate Veterans Day by attending a speaker program about the original “fly girls.” On Monday, November 11, at 1:30 p.m. at the Church of the Nazarene, 55 Rojo Drive in VOC, Natalie J. Stewart-Smith will present “The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) of World War II.” At this program, Stewart-Smith will share the stories of brave women fliers who had to fight for the right to be called veterans.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was a civilian women pilots’ organization attached to the United States Army Air Forces to fly military aircraft during World War II. More than 1,000 women, serving as WASPs during World War II, flew over 60 million miles. Their main duty was to ferry planes from factories to embarkation points. These women pilots flew 80 percent of all ferrying missions, delivering over 12,000 aircraft of 78 different types. As a result of their efforts, 900 male pilots were freed for combat duty. In addition to ferrying planes, WASPs performed engineer test flying of repaired aircraft and did towing for live-target gunnery training. By the spring of 1944, every P-51 Mustang flown in combat had already been flown by a WASP.
Thirty-eight WASPs died serving their country during World War II: eleven died during training and twenty-seven were killed on active-duty missions. WASPs were considered civilians, so they were not entitled to military benefits. The U.S. military did not transport bodies of deceased WASPs home or pay for their funerals, and they were not entitled to traditional military honors, such as draping the U.S. flag over the coffin.
The WASP program formally ended on December 20, 1944, eight months before the end of World War II. For many years Jacqueline Cochran, the first female aviator to break the sound barrier in 1953, and others lobbied for the WASPs to be recognized as veterans.
Finally, on November 23, 1977, more than 30 years after the WASP program started, President Jimmy Carter signed a law to give WASPs veteran status. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed a bill to award the WASPs Congressional Gold Medals, one of the highest civilian honors awarded by the United States Congress.
Natalie J. Stewart-Smith, a speaker for Arizona Humanities, has been an educator for over 25 years and has taught at the elementary, high school, and college levels. As a former Army officer and historian, she is interested in women’s contributions to the military, particularly those of women who served as military aviators.
The program, generously funded by Arizona Humanities and Friends of the Sedona Public Library, is free and open to the public. For more information about this program or other programs at Sedona Public Library, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, please stop by or call the Library at 928-282-7714. You may also access the Library’s website at www.sedonalibrary.org to view the events calendar or to make an online donation.
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Village News appears monthly in The Villager and is also presented on Sedona Biz.
By Cheryl Yeatts
Cheryl Yeatts is Manager of Sedona Public Library in the Village.