Friday, May 8, 2009

Honoring Women Pilots -- AOPA ONLINE

Honoring WWII women pilots

Rosa Lea with P-51Rosa Lea with P-51.

It was an unconventional job for women at the time. But for Rosa Lea Fullwood Meek Dickerson, flying was a way of life. She began flying in her early teens at her father’s flight school in McAllen, Texas, and helped out with the flight school operations, doing work in the office and even gassing up airplanes when needed. By her early twenties, she had made history as part of the first group of women to fly military aircraft for the United States, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

When their country went to war, the WASP reported for duty. More than three decades before women in the United States were allowed to attend military pilot training with full military status, they climbed into cockpits of the nation’s military aircraft to serve their country as pilots during World War II.

Dickerson was one of the 1,102 women who served as WASP, flying every sort of aircraft in the United States to release male pilots for combat duty overseas. The women encountered skepticism from some of their fellow pilots, but they proved themselves with expert flying and paved the way for the integration of women pilots into the American armed services.

"Fly Girls of America"Their story has inspired pilots, astronauts, and legislators, and now all 17 female members of the Senate have cosponsored a bill to recognize these women for their service with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the nation's highest civilian award. Congressional legislation is required to make the medal, and two-thirds of each chamber must sign on as cosponsors. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) took the lead on the bill, S.614, which is approaching the 67 cosponsors required to be reported out of committee; companion bill H.R.2014 is gaining cosponsors in the House of Representatives. To track the progress of the bills and see who has signed on so far, see the blog on the subject.

The bill honors the WASP for flying fighter, bomber, transport, and training aircraft, calling the WASP story “a missing chapter in the history of the Air Force, the history of aviation, and the history of the United States.” The WASP flew more than 60 million miles for their country during the program’s short tenure, from its inception in 1942 to Dec. 20, 1944, when the WASP were quietly disbanded.

"Fly Girls of America"The United States entered World War II at a time when few Americans had even ridden in an airplane, let alone learned to fly combat missions. In the first few months, the nation faced a shortage of combat pilots. America’s premier woman pilot, Jacqueline Cochran, convinced Gen. Hap Arnold, Chief of Army Forces, that “women, if given the same training as men, would be equally capable of flying military aircraft and could then take over some of the stateside military flying jobs, thereby releasing hundreds of male pilots for combat duty,” the bill states.

Cochran recruited the best female pilots in America, accepting only women who had proven their resolve by accumulating significant flying time before they entered the program. More than 25,000 women applied for training, but only 1,830 were accepted and took the oath.

Rosa Lea Fullerwood - WASPRosa Lea Fullwood - WASP

“Most of the women really sacrificed to get enough flying in order to qualify to go into the WASP,” Dickerson said. Like many future WASP, Dickerson was invited to the program by Jacqueline Cochran and reported for duty in Sweetwater, Texas. She graduated from flight training in August 1943 and joined the Fifth Ferry Command in Dallas, Texas, transporting aircraft to points of embarkation such as Newark, N.J., and Long Beach, Calif.

The women flew all sorts of aircraft, including the B-17, C-45, C-47, P-39, P-40, P-47, and P-51. They risked their lives on difficult and risky assignments, and not all of them walked away. Thirty-eight women died during their service. The families received no benefits because the WASP were not considered military.

The WASP paid their own way home after their service and did not receive veteran’s status until Congress granted it 1977. For many of the WASP, the recognition was long overdue. But Dickerson said the opportunity to serve as a WASP was enough for her. The program gave her and the other WASP educational and military opportunities that American women wouldn’t have again for another 30 years.

After the two-year WASP “experiment,” women were not permitted to attend military pilot training in the U.S. armed forces again until the late 1970s. By then, the WASP were still a little-known part of the nation’s history; but they had proven that women could fly military aircraft when their country needed them. Their example laid the groundwork for “revolutionary reform in the integration of women pilots into the Armed Services,” the bill notes. In 1993, the WASP were cited during congressional hearings that eventually led to women being able to fly military fighter, bomber, and attack aircraft in combat.

Rosa Lea, now 87Rosa Lea, now 87.

Meanwhile, the WASP went on to have careers and families after their service. Many continued flying. Dickerson, who opened a flight school with her husband after the war, accumulated close to 5,000 hours of flying over the course of her long career. Now 87, she is among fewer than 300 WASP alive today. The bill under consideration would bestow the Congressional Gold Medal on those women and the families of those who have died.

“This bill is kind of the next step in this process of making sure America knows who our heroes are,” said Nancy Parrish, who has been promoting the recognition of the WASP for the last decade. “There’s a kind of a confidence that comes with meeting these women. …They are infectious in their love of their country, in their unselfish spirit of service.”

"Fly Girls of America"Parrish and her mother, WASP Deanie Parrish, have beencollecting interviews with all the remaining WASP through their organization Wings Across America. So far, they have documented the stories of 110 women and worked on the creation of the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, where a large portion of the WASP trained. Wings Across America also created the exhibit “Fly Girls of WWII” that went on display at Arlington National Cemetery’s Women In Military Service for America Memorial in November, and the organization has been promoting S.614.

Nancy is not the only proponent of S.614 who has been inspired by the example of the WASP. At the opening of the exhibit, Air Force Maj. Nichole Malachowski, the first female pilot in the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds,” spoke about how the legacy of the WASP inspired her to pursue her dream of flying.

Malachowski, a White House Fellow, worked with Wings Across America to take the idea of the bill to Hutchison, who had written about the WASP in her 2004 book, American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country. Hutchison introduced S.614 on the Senate floor on behalf of all 17 women senators March 17.

The bill echoes the sentiment of Arnold in a speech to the last graduating class of WASP: “You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. I salute you. …We of the Army Air Force are proud of you. We will never forget our debt to you.”

May 6, 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bills would give Congressional Gold Medal to Methuen woman

Story--Eagle Tribune, May 7m 2009

By J.J. Huggins

May 07, 2009 12:02 am

METHUEN — There's legislation in Congress that, if passed, will bestow the highest civilian honor on Methuen's Sara Payne Hayden. The 89-year-old city resident served in the 1940s as one of the 1,074 Women Airforce Service Pilots —

known as WASP — the first female pilots in the U.S. military.

photo: Sara Hayden at the Fly Girls of WWII Opening, Mayborn Museum, Baylor University, 2007

There are two bills in Congress — Senate Bill 614 and House Bill 2014 — that would give the Congressional Gold Medal to Hayden and the other 300 or so surviving WASP. The bills recognize the women for helping to fill a shortage of pilots during World War II, and for facing "overwhelming cultural and gender bias against women." "It was introduced less than two weeks ago and there are already 178 cosponsors," U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, said during a phone interview, referring to the House bill. "So I think it's on a very good path." Tsongas said she doesn't know when the legislation may be passed, but she said, "My guess is it will move along very smoothly."

In the meantime, local officials praised Hayden at Monday night's City Council meeting. City councilors and Mayor William Manzi issued a proclamation saying she is a "role model for all of Methuen." State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, gave Hayden a similar proclamation from the state House of Representatives. Campbell also is a veteran — she was a paratrooper, intelligence officer and captain in the Army. "On behalf of all the women that served in the military, we thank you for your leadership," she told Hayden.

City resident Kathleen Corey Rahme represented Tsongas' office and read a citation praising Hayden as "a

trailblazer and a role model for all."

Hayden test flew previously damaged planes to make sure they were safe to fly into combat. "All I can say here is, great balls of fire," said Campbell, referring to how dangerous the planes were.

Hayden said thanks for the kind words, but she didn't know how to act in the spotlight. "I don't know how to behave like a celebrity," she said.

Three WASP died within the last week, Hayden said during an interview. Rahme urged people to contact Tsongas' office in support of giving the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASP before it's too late for more pilots to bask in the glory.

"Time is of the essence," Rahme said.

The WASP were the first women in history to fly military bomber, transport, fighter and training aircraft. They are hailed as catalysts for the integration of female pilots into the armed services, according to the council's proclamation. The women flew 60 million miles and suffered the loss of 38 comrades during their duties, which included towing targets, air-to-air gunnery practice, ground-to-air anti-aircraft practice, ferrying, and transporting personnel and cargo — including parts of the atomic bomb. It was not until 1977 that the WASP received military status from Congress, the proclamation said.

"I know I'm history," Hayden joked, "wrinkles and all."

Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.

Thank you to the Eagle Tribune for this great article! Photos courtesy Wings Across America

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Marge Neyman Martin, WASP WWII from Oak Harbor, WA

Published: Saturday, May 2, 2009

Wartime pilot's service honored at long last

OAK HARBOR -- Marge Neyman Martin flew across the West during World War II, delivering aircraft parts and carrying classified military documents.

As a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, she was part of a wave of young women who took to the air to fly planes stateside while most male pilots were sent overseas on combat missions.

After her service, Martin returned to her job as a secretary.

Now, the 88-year-old former aviator could be in line for a Congressional Gold Medal.

Legislation designed to award the federal honor to Martin and other surviving WASPs throughout the country is before a Senate committee. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., are among the bill's sponsors.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," Martin said. "It gives a little recognition to the women who opened the doors back then."

The pioneering women aviators have received little acknowledgement for their wartime service. Of the 1,102 women who earned their wings as WASPs, about 300 are still alive. Twelve of those surviving pilots, including Martin, live in Washington state.

"These brave pilots have inspired decades of women service members who have followed in their footsteps," Murray said when the bill was introduced. "They took flight at a time when the idea of women aviators was thought not only improbable, but impossible. They risked their lives, but for too long their service has not been recognized."

Born in the early 1920s on Whidbey Island, Martin graduated from business school and was a secretary for Standard Oil Co. in Seattle when the United States entered World War II.

"It was a very patriotic time," Martin said. "We were all wondering what we could do to help the war effort."

When Martin read in a newspaper that the country had launched a program to train women to fly military aircraft in noncombat missions, she immediately requested a leave of absence from her job.

"Flying seemed like the thing to do to help because there was a shortage of male pilots at home," she said. "And it sounded terribly exciting."

Martin headed to Felts Field in Spokane to obtain her pilot's license. She bunked at the YWCA and in a few weeks had completed the required 35 hours of flight time. Back in Seattle, she took ground school courses and waited for the day she would be accepted into the WASP training program.

In January 1944, she arrived at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. As a native Northwesterner, Martin found the winter there harsh and the summer unbearably hot.

"Texas was terrible," she said. "But when you're young, you can manage those things."

The nine-month training program, with long days of studying and flying, was stressful physically and mentally. With the exception of combat and formation classes, the women got the same training their male counterparts received in two years of pilot preparation.

"You had to be the best you could be, because it was very competitive," Martin said. "I was always worried, wondering if I would make it or if I would wash out."

Of the 25,000 women who applied for the WASP program, only 2,000 were accepted for training and just half of those graduated and got flying assignments.

After getting her silver wings, Martin was sent to Douglas Army Airfield in Arizona. From there she flew many courier missions to California and up the West Coast.

The example set by the Women Airforce Service Pilots paved the way for the Pentagon to lift the ban on women attending military flight training in the 1970s, and eventually led to women becoming military pilots. Today, women fly every type of aircraft and mission, including fighter jets and the space shuttle.

When the war ended in 1945, the men began to return. The WASPs were told to go home, and they paid their own way to get there. The WASPs were never awarded full military status and were ineligible for officer status and veterans benefits.

The families of the 38 women who died in the line of duty were saddled with the costs of bringing home the bodies and arranging burials. It was not until 1977 that the WASPs were granted veteran status.

"I was heartbroken when we were deactivated," Martin said. "Everybody was."

She rejoined Standard Oil in San Francisco where she worked as the executive secretary in the aviation oils division. When her boss wanted to sell his private airplane, she flew it to demonstrate it for the buyers.

After marrying, Martin moved back to Whidbey Island to raise her family and occasionally flew with her husband, who also was a pilot.

When her four children were old enough, she returned to work at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. She retired in 1982 as secretary to the commanding officer at the base.

"It was a great job and my experience as a military pilot was a great help," Martin said. "People knew that I knew what I was talking about."

For many years Martin continued flying with her son, a Vietnam veteran. Now that arthritis keeps her behind a walker or in a wheelchair, she expects she's taken her last airplane ride.

Not even a public ceremony awarding her the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, D.C., would get the grandmother of four to fly.

"That doesn't mean I wouldn't be honored to get the medal," Martin said. "I just don't feel top drawer anymore. We worked hard."

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427;

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

WASP -- A PLEA for S.614

by Aleta Vinas
Special to AVweb

Most people dislike bills yet our Senators and Congress people deal with more bills on a daily basis than we ever want to think about. Granted, they’re not the same kind of bills and there is one bill right now in Washington that needs to be embraced and acted upon - NOW.

Simply stated, Bill S614 in the Senate and HR.2014 in Congress was introduced to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (‘WASP’).

S614 needs help, the public’s help; YOUR help. Is your Senator (and Congress person) on board? Find out at, if not, call, e-mail, twitter – respectfully, of course but let your Senators (and Congress people) know their constituents want support for this noble bill in recognition of the courageous WASP. May 8th is the target date to bring on board the rest of the required co-sponsors in the Senate. A simple phone call and you can make a difference.

The Bill was initiated by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and was co-sponsored by the fifteen other female members of the Senate prior to its introduction. “The Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II were trailblazers and true patriots. They risked their lives in service to our nation, but for too long their contribution to the war effort has been undervalued or under recognized,” Sen. Mikulski said.

The intent of the WASP was to free up the men for combat missions in World War II. Jacqueline Cochran pitched the idea to General Hap Arnold. Cochran knew the women, given the same training as men, would be capable of performing any flight mission needed. And perform they did, to the tune of 60 million miles flown, in every type of aircraft in the Army Air Forces inventory and in every type mission except combat. For two years, from November 1942 to December

1944, the WASP towed targets, instructed, ferried planes, transported cargo and personnel and much more.The WASP took the military oath and though promised military status, the women were never commissioned or given active duty status nor were they designated as Veterans until decades later. Even a plea to militarize the WASP by General Arnold to Congress was denied. Their two years of extraordinary service was unceremoniously swept into the government archive with a classified stamp.

Glory and medals are the last things on the minds of people who serve in the military but there is a time for praise when the feats are deserving. WASP Deanie Bishop Parrish a B-26 Air-to-Air tow target pilot has this to say "The WASP did not serve their country for recognition or awards. However, should Congress choose to honor us with the Congressional Gold Medal, I would humbly accept my medal on behalf of the children of America who have never heard of the WASP. This national recognition would challenge them to learn, not only about the WASP history, but also about the importance of the values the WASP epitomize: honor, patriotism, integrity, commitment, service, courage, and faith."

On November 23, 1977 the Congress finally gave the WASP part of the recognition denied to them previously. The legislation, spearheaded by then Senator Barry Goldwater and Colonel Bruce Arnold, provided procedures for former WASP to be granted Veteran status, but with limited benefits. In 1979 the first WASP were given their discharge certificates. Finally, four decades after World War II ended, the WASP received Victory Medals or American Theater Campaign Medals for those with one year of service.

These pioneering women paved the way for today’s female aviators and astronauts. The WASP’s success proved women were just as capable in a cockpit as their male counterparts. Major Nicole Malachowski submitted a draft bill of what was to become S614 to Senator Hutchison who, after some revisions, ran with it.

Major Malachowski gives her praise to the WASP “I am convinced every opportunity I’ve been afforded, from flying combat patrols in the skies over Iraq, to the honor of being a USAF Thunderbird, to representing the military as a Fellow, is because of these pioneering women. There couldn’t be a more principled use of time and effort than seeking the Congressional Gold Medal for my personal heroines, the courageous WASP of World War II.”

In their Bill, Senators Hutchison and Mikulski shared an excerpt from a speech given by General Arnold to the last graduating WASP class On December 7, 1944, “You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. I salute you . . . We of the Army Air Force are proud of you. We will never forget our debt to you.” Let us hope the General’s words ring true and with everyone’s help, they will.

Images courtesy Wings Across America

Sunday, May 3, 2009


We are almost there. 10 more Senate Co-sponsors to go before FRIDAY, May 8, which is the target date for all SENATE CO-SPONSORS to be signed on to S.614 to honor the Women Airforce Service Pilots with the Congressional GOLD Medal.

Please check the "NOT LIST" to see who is not yet a co-sponsor. If you haven't already, pick a few numbers and give their DC office a call--make a friend--and tell your story. WE ONLY HAVE a few DAYS to do this--and EVERY CALL is important. If you've called before, check the list--and call again. Now is the time to PRESS FORWARD and keep our eyes on the goal: 67 Senate Co-Sponsors by May 8th.

Thank you all so much!

God bless you all,