From the County Chairman’s Desk

Walter D. (Wally) Wilkerson, Jr., MD

Montgomery County Republican Party

Women’s military service during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War was addressed in the April issue of DOCK LINE, but I was reminded of the World War II service of women when I received a letter from “Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)”. It began as follows: “Cornelia Fort, just 22 years old, had been a pilot for two years when she took off from Honolulu’s John Rogers Airport. She flew out to Pearl Harbor, which was supposed to have very little air traffic on a sleepy Sunday morning a few weeks before Christmas.”

After arriving near the harbor, she saw a plane heading toward her that caused her to change course. Suddenly, she noticed a “Rising Sun” red ball on each wing of the fast approaching plane and a formation of planes with similar markings. She flew away to land as the enemy plane fired on her. It was December 7, 1941. After landing in a rain of bullets which killed one of her friends, she sought shelter in a plane hanger. She survived. Two years later, the Military ran short of pilots. “When they turned to female pilots, who came to be known as WASP, Cornelia Fort was among the first the military reached out to. She was unbelievably excited to be able to serve her country, saying ‘I for one, am profoundly grateful that my one talent, my only knowledge, flying, happens to be of use to my country when it is needed’. This was a time when very few women even had a driver’s license.”

According to the letter, 25,000 women from every state of the nation applied, with 1,800 accepted. 1,100 of them successfully made it through the training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX. “Housewives, mothers, college students, secretaries, even actresses dropped everything to risk their lives serving their country in its time of need.” They were subjected to military discipline and associated conditions and were the only units that flew every type of aircraft, from bombers to fighters. Together, they flew millions of miles. In 1943, Cornelia joined with a number of male pilots on a flight from Tucson, Arizona to Dallas, Texas. During the flight, her plane’s wing was clipped by one of the planes in the formation. She lost control of her plane which crashed. Cornelia was the first female pilot in the country’s history to give her life for her country. During the war, thirty-seven more female pilots unfortunately lost their lives defending the nation.

At the end of the war in 1945, the WASP was disbanded. Some of the women pilots applied to be pilots in commercial airlines but were only offered jobs as stewardesses. The most insulting was the denial of Veteran’s benefits, including the GI Bill and membership in veteran organizations. Deceased members of WASP were even denied a flag to drape over their coffin and WASP Elaine Harmon was denied the placement of her ashes in Arlington National Cemetery Columbarium. In an attempt to right these wrongs, a movement is underway to expand the National WASP WW II Museum located at Avenger Field in Sweetwater where WASP members were trained.

These veterans need to have their deeds, stories and “legends enshrined”. Contributions may be sent to or

information requested from the National WASP WWII Museum, Avenger Field, Sweetwater, TX 79556 or at 325-235-0099. The website is www.waspmuseum.org.