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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedWASP played important role in WWII aviation
By Barbara A. Schmitz
A WASP presentation was held in the Welcome Center. Photo by Mariano Rosales

Their main mission was to free up male pilots for combat duty.

As the first women trained to fly military aircraft, the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, ferried more than half of the airplanes delivered during World War II. They flew 60 million miles of operational flights from aircraft factories to military bases. They towed targets for live anti-artillery practices and simulated strafing missions. They flew almost every type of aircraft flown by the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.

About 1,074 WASP earned their wings, and 38 of them died serving their country. Four of the surviving 300-plus WASP talked about their experiences during a Friday presentation. (The last WASP presentation will be 10-10:45 a.m. today in the Welcome Center.)

The WASP said towing targets was one of their most fun, although sometimes dangerous, jobs.

“I did that,” said WASP Dot Swain Lewis. “I didn’t think it was so dangerous, but they were shooting at us. If they were good students, and we hoped they were, they aimed at the target 40-50 feet behind us. There was plenty of room if they made a mistake.”

“The B-17 carried the gunners, and they had tracers on the bullets,” WASP Dawn Seymour said. “So you could tell by the course of the bullet if they were getting too close to the plane.”

WASP Jan Goodrun tested the aircraft before the cadets flew them. “It helped to prove that women were equal to men,” she said.

The women said they had few troubles fitting in with the men.

“Overall, I had wonderful support,” said Seymour. “If some male pilots gave me trouble, I figured it was their problem and not mine. I had earned my wings.”

WASP Bernice “Bee” Haydu, too, said she had few troubles with the men. But she told a story of some other WASP who had issues with one male instructor.

“There was a group of WASP sent to a B-26 school to get checked out and they were met by the officer instructor. He said, ‘I’m not going to teach any damn women how to fly.’ But it was an order, so he had to. But we WASP got even with him, or at least one of us did. She married him.”

The WASP were disbanded on December 20, 1944, but it wasn’t until 1977 that they were finally recognized as veterans of WWII. They were again recognized earlier this year when they received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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