November 17, 2008 - 11:30am
WASHINGTON - Call them the unsung heroes of World War II. They didn't see combat, but they did fly 60 million miles in 60,000 hours across the U.S.
The 1,074 women who were Women's Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs.
As licensed pilots, these women overcame discrimination and flew a number of missions in the 1940s. Congress disbanded the WASP program in 1944.
"The female pilots had to be licensed pilots before we were even allowed to go into the Women Airforce Service Pilots program," says WASP Deanie Parrish.
WTOP's Markette Smith talked with some of the pilots about their service to the nation. Watch the video.
"Girls were not treated the same as male pilots at that time, but we proved given the same training the male pilots were receiving, we could fly anything they flew on any mission they flew, except they would not let us go into combat," Parrish says.
The WASPs tested new aircraft and tested combat planes after repairs were made. They delivered planes, towed targets for antiaircraft gunnery practice, flew searchlight-tracking missions and simulated bombings. Some even taught men who were male cadets.
"It wasn't hard for me. I just did it," says WASP Millicent Peterson Young, 86. "People talked about me, but they had to talk about somebody."
The women pilots were not recognized for their efforts until 1977, but they inspired other generations.
"The WASPs are American legends," says Maj. Nicole Malachowski.
"They're American patriots and they're heroes and it's nothing short of inspiring. The fact is the WASPs provided me my motivation to keep moving forward, to go on and become a fighter pilot, so I owe every opportunity I've had in the Air Force to these ladies."
"Fly Girls of World War II" is a traveling exhibit now on display at the Women's Memorial.
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