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WASPs in West Texas: The World War II Contribution of Women Pilots

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Donna Tumlin made the trip to Abilene during the week of the 75th anniversary of Normandy. She was looking for details with respect to her grandmother, Marion G. Mann, who served in the air force during World War II. Mann was a part of the famed Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), a group consisting of more than 1,700 certified women pilots who were selected from 25,000 applicants.

WASPs would ferry planes from place to place. They would also tow targets behind their planes as those in training for both ground and air gunners shot live ammunition. They tracked radar, tested engine repairs, and generally did the duties that would leave their male counterparts free to fly overseas missions. Avenger Field, just west of Abilene, Texas, was where each WASP did seven months of training, both basic and flight. It has the distinction of being the only all-female military flight-training base in American history. And for 14 years, a 1929 hangar on site has been home to the National WASP WWII Museum.

WASPs in West Texas: The World War II Contribution of Women Pilots

Photo: Wikimedia

Mann’s “wings,” in addition to her Avenger Field yearbook and a variety of photos, were discovered in a cedar chest after Tumlin’s mother passed away in 2007. On her visit to the museum, Tumlin learned that her grandmother was stationed at Army bases in Fairfax, Kansas, New Castle, Delaware, and Childress, Texas. Jacqueline Cochran, the first woman pilot to take a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean, was the Director of the WASPs, who were originally stationed at the Howard Hughes Municipal Airport in Houston. The program was moved to Avenger Field in 1943.

WASPs in West Texas: The World War II Contribution of Women Pilots

Photo: Joint Base Langley-Eustis

Their age group ranged from 18 to 35. All of them were determined to prove they could fly equally as well as their male counterparts. Despite the fact that each one was already a pilot, they were all required to pass additional testing and learn how to fly military planes. Still, their classification remained as civilians. 38 WASP pilots gave their lives for their country and had neither their coffins shipped home at the government’s expense, nor a military funeral. And for those who remained after the war ended, work as a pilot was hard to come by. They couldn’t even get hired on by commercial airlines. Their records were sealed in 1944 when the program was disbanded. It wouldn’t be until 1977 that women would again be permitted to fly military aircraft in the Air Force. That same year, the former WASPs were granted veteran status, and in 1984 they received their service medals. The awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal followed in 2010.

WASPs in West Texas: The World War II Contribution of Women Pilots
Photo: Wikimedia

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