Today more than 60,000 women serve in the United States Air Force. A select group of women pilots paved the way more than 65 years ago: the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). During World War II, they became the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft. The Veterans History Project (VHP) in the Library of Congress American Folklife Center recognizes these extraordinary women with a new presentation at www.loc.gov/vets/ titled "The WASP: First in Flight." Nine candid, first-person accounts from the VHP collection tell of the remarkable service of these extraordinary women.
"The Veterans History Project is honored to share these stories of heroic women who played a pivotal role in World War II," said Veterans History Project Director Bob Patrick. "Civil servants during the war, they have since been rightfully recognized as veterans. Their crucial duties helped secure victory for our nation."
Margaret Ray Ringenberg and Virginia Shannon Malany Meloney are two of the veterans featured. Raised an Indiana farm girl, Ringenberg dreamed of flying, but until WWII her gender prevented her. Once war erupted, she was trained to fly by the Civil Air Patrol and ferried military planes up and down the East Coast. She kept flying after the war, pulling off her first around-the-world flight at the age of 72. Meloney got what she calls a "crash course in aviation" on a college date with a young pilot. She ferried planes out of Sweetwater, Texas, where she watched a fellow WASP die in a plane crash. She escaped a close call herself when she climbed to escape an ice storm only nearly to black out from lack of oxygen.
Though they logged more than 60 million miles between 1942 and 1944 ferrying planes, towing targets, and testing and training aircraft, the WASPs were nearly forgotten for more than 30 years. In 1977, Congress passed legislation to belatedly give the WASP veteran status. In 2009, surviving WASP veterans were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. More information can be found at www.wingsacrossamerica.us/wasp/.
Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000 as a national documentation program of the American Folklife Center (www.loc.gov/folklife/) to record, preserve and make accessible the first-hand remembrances of American wartime veterans from World War I through the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. More than 70,000 individual stories comprise the collection to date. The project relies on volunteers to record veterans’ remembrances using guidelines accessible at www.loc.gov/vets/. Volunteer interviewers may request information at firstname.lastname@example.org or the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848. Subscribe to VHP’s RSS on the VHP home page.