By Penny Rafferty Hamilton
Wings over the Rockies Air & Space Museum hosted a special 2012 Spreading Wings Gala evening to honor the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) on Friday, December 21. Colorado WASP members honored were: Annabelle Craft Moss, Betty Jo Reed, Josephine Kater Robinson, Lucile Doll Wise, Millicent Peterson Young, along with additional WASP invited to participate. (Proud WASP, Betty Jo Reed. Photo at right by Melissa Berg)
In addition to a dinner and awards program, a large silent auction was held to benefit museum exhibits and educational outreach programs such as the current Fly Girls of WWII Exhibit organized by WASP Deanie Parrish and her daughter, Nancy.
Deanie flew the B-26 Marauder towing targets for gunnery training. This outstanding exhibit shares the inspirational stories of WASP history through photographs, artifacts, and video. This traveling exhibit will be on display through March, 2013 at the Wings over the Rockies Air & Space museum located on the former Lowry Air Force base in Denver. However, until December 31, girls 17 and under are invited to the museum to see this display free of charge. To learn more visit www.wingsmuseum.org
Recently 92 year old WASP, Lucile Wise, recaptured the legacy of Fifinella with a special flight from Centennial airport in a 1942 Stearman bi-plane. Fifinella was a female gremlin designed by Walt Disney himself. The women pilots adopted her image as their official mascot which often appeared on their flight jackets and even some nose art for a few bombers. (WWII WASP, Betty Greene. B&W Photo courtesy of MAF)
According to a recent Denver Post newspaper article, Lucile Wise was again a very important volunteer in the fight in Washington, D.C. to finally get the recognition for WASP service which they rightfully earned with their WWII sacrifices and service. “We got very annoyed,” said Wise when WASPs realized they had been totally forgotten by history. “We got organized.”
Despite strong opposition from many military groups at that time, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and even President Jimmy Carter and his Veterans Administration, an egregious wrong was made right when in 1977 Congress passed the bill which gave WASPs the military status and veteran’s benefits they had been promised in World War II.
Well, “better late than never,” is often said. In 2010, the WASPs received the Congressional Gold Medal. Each of the over 1,900 WASPs who were accepted into the training program has an interesting back story. One is Betty Greene. In their book, Betty Greene: Wings to Serve, Janet and Geoff Benge share the incredible story of this remarkable woman.
When she arrived at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas in March 1943, she was required to pay for her own uniform, as were all the WASPs. With her parents help, Betty had scraped together the $100 needed to buy her flight cap, goggles, jacket and even her own parachute. Unlike the men, the WASP had to pay the Army for their own room and board of $1.65 each day which was automatically deducted from the $150 the gals were paid monthly. (Walt Disney’s Fifinella shown at right)
If a WASP was killed during the grueling training, the government did not pay to have her remains transported home for her funeral, the other WASPs helped pay for that, too. But, Betty Greene always had the dream of being a flying missionary to remote villages worldwide.
So, when the WASPs were unceremoniously disbanded, she became one of the founders of Christian Airmen’s Missionary Fellowship which is now called Mission Aviation Fellowship. She became their first pilot and the first woman to fly over the Andes. Today more than 600 Christian and relief organizations rely on the aviation resources provided by MAF. Learn more at www.maf.org
As part of Tom Brokaw’s ‘The Greatest Generation,’ WASP joined the effort not for fame and glory but because it was the right thing to do to win the war for America. They were asked and they made great contributions. Several web sites share the stories of these brave women pilots of World War II. www.wasp-wwii.org www.flygirls.org www.wingsacrossamerica.org