Without the Expectation of Thanks

They flew planes during World War II but weren't considered "real" military pilots. No flags draped their coffins when they died on duty. And when their service ended, they had to pay their own bus fare home. The Associated Press
On March 10, 2010, two hundred female aviators, known as WASPS (Women Airforce Service Pilots) were presented the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress, at a ceremony in Washington. Most of the women on hand, were in their late 80s and early 90s.

As young female pilots during World War II, they volunteered for non-combat duty so male pilots could be used for combat missions. They ferried planes across the country, from factories to military airfields, towed targets for gunnery practice, and instructed airmen. Thirty-eight WASPS were killed in service to their country. Its estimated that approximately three hundred of the original 1,102, are alive today.

Deanie Parrish, WASP pilot and spokeswoman for the group of two hundred in attendance for the ceremony, explained that the women had volunteered, "without the expectation of recognition or glory . . . and we did it without compromising the values we were taught as we grew up - honor, integrity, patriotism, service, faith and commitment . . . We did it because our country needed us."

Using female civilian pilots to ferry military aircraft, was an experimental program. In exchange for the opportunity to serve their country, the WASPs were expected to pay their own way for everything. Only licensed pilots with thirty-five hours of logged flight time, were welcome to apply. Because the WASPs had civil service status, the bodies of the thirty-eight women that perished while in service, were sent home at their families' expense. They did not receive any military honors.

What most impresses me, after watching and listening to the surviving WASPs interviewed this week, is their humility and strength of character. Each, without exception, emphasized that she never expected any sort of formal recognition. "We were never, ever, in it for the glory," stated Dawn Seymour.

Another, Millie Dalrymple, said, "I don't feel that we did anything more exceptional (than the average woman). It's just that we could fly."

By all accounts, the WASPs loved what they did and they were grateful for the opportunity to do it. They saw a job that needed to be done, and they were ready and able to volunteer.

I don't mean to cast aspersions on today's culture, but when did you last hear of somebody behaving that selflessly, and without the expectation of recognition? I know, we were a nation at war and people react differently when threatened, but come on? Imagine, the nerve of these women, flying gunnery targets while servicemen in training, shot at them!

When the war ended, a review was held to determine whether the WASPs should be incorporated into the USAAF. Such a move, would have provided opportunities for military careers for female pilots. The idea was rejected.

For thirty-five years, all documentation of the WASP program was sealed and classified. As far as history books were concerned, the WASPs and their contribution to the war effort, never existed.

Then, in 1975, the USAF erroneously publicized that they were going to start a "first-ever" program for female pilots. The error in historical fact was recognized and for two years WASP advocates quietly lobbied for the documents to be unsealed. The effort paid off. In 1977, the surviving WASPs were granted full military status for their wartime service, making them eligible for veterans' benefits.

During an interview this week in Washington, one of the aviators was asked if she felt the WASPs had been discriminated against. She replied by saying, "That's just the way things were."

No whining here!

1 comment:

  1. Wow what amazing women! I must have missed this story. I love that they believed they were just doing their duty to their country despite the risks and lack of payback. It irks me to no end when I hear about the men and woman in the military today complaining about what they are expected to do. Can we say voluntary?