Late last week, Congress awarded the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) the Congressional Gold Medal, its highest civilian award. Better late than never. The latter part of WWII, 1943-44, 1074 women flew non-combat missions in support of the war. I’m embarrassed to admit that until they were honored, I had not heard of this group of heroines.
In order to be considered for the program, young women had to pay for their own flying lessons, which cost about $500 (a lot of money in those days) and to have 500 hours flight time (more than was required of the men). The WASPS flew about 60 million miles on a variety of missions including ferrying planes over to Europe, testing planes with overhauled designs, training fighter pilots, and even towing targets for target practice with soldiers shooting live ammunition at them. Paid less than male pilots, they had to cover the costs of their own food, lodging, and uniforms. 38 died in service but because they were officially civilians, their families (rather than the government) had to pay to get the bodies returned home. It wasn’t until 1979 that they were given veteran status.
It made me wonder how many other women heroes are still unknown. Checking around the internet, I found a variety of sources including Women’s History Museum-Cyber Exhibits and the Liz Library. It also got me thinking that many of my readers probably don’t know about the actress who holds the patent for “Frequency hopping” – a technology developed during WWII to guide torpedoes but later deployed in reconnaissance drones in Vietnam and is the basis of cell phone transmission. If you think you know (with OUT googling it or otherwise researching the answer), please let me know CLICK HERE. In the next blog, I’ll tell you who it was and what percent got it right.