Veterans

June 8, 2012

Reserve members participate in WASP reunion

By Maj. Jessica Martin
926th Group public affairs, Nellis AFB, Nev.

SWEETWATER, Texas — (Left) WASP trainee Bernice “Bee” Falk Haydu preparing to fly a Stearman aircraft in 1944 at Avenger Field. (Right) Haydu pictured with her Stearman at the WASP reunion May 26. Upon graduation from the WASP training program, Haydu was stationed at Pecos Army Air Field, Texas, where she flew the AT-17 and UC-78.

SWEETWATER, Texas — Personnel from the 926th Group witnessed a piece of history during the Women Airforce Service Pilot reunion here May 26-27.

The Reservists from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., joined volunteers from across the country to escort 21 female WWII pilots during the weekend’s festivities.

“I knew about the reunions, but I didn’t know we could participate and have one-on-one time with the WASPs,” said Maj. Misty Sorensen, 926th GP process manager. “This opportunity provided us with unparalleled access to get to know them and to hear their stories.”

Several of the WASPs flew into town in biplanes, landing at Avenger Field where they had trained as service pilots 70 years before.

Upon arriving at the airfield the WASPs and their escorts participated in a parade and then had a chance to walk through the hangar’s museum, looking through mementos of their experience. The event concluded in a dinner honoring the WASPs, with a special sunset ceremony recognizing the 38 women who died during training.

“These women blazed the path for us and made it possible for women to serve in all of the different career fields that we work in today,” said Sorensen. “It was truly humbling to be a part of the celebration of their service.”

The WASP program trained some of the first American women to fly military aircraft as an experiment to augment flying operations during the war. By fulfilling a variety of stateside missions, the WASPs freed more male pilots to fly in combat.

The decision to train American women to fly military aircraft originated in the early 1940s, at a time when other nations were already using females in combat. The call for applicants with a private pilot license and 75 hours of flying time went out through the media, and 25,000 women responded. From that group, 1,830 were accepted into the program.

“After college I was ready to get out and have adventures,” said Nell Bright, 90, of graduating class 43-7. “All of us loved flying and we knew that our country was at a crucial point in time. We were really proud of ourselves when those wings rested over our hearts — we knew we were preparing to relieve the men going into combat.”

Each class underwent primary, basic and advanced training. From there, they were sent to specialized training, with some attending Officer Training School.

Bright and 20 of her classmates went through B-25 school at Mather Field, Calif. “Twenty Tuskegee Airmen were also there, and at first they weren’t let into the officers’ mess. When they were finally let in, they were segregated to one end of the mess, so we decided to sit with them; we got to be very good friends.”

At the conclusion of the war the WASP program was disbanded and the women returned home. Three decades later President Jimmy Carter signed into law the declaration of their veteran status.

(Information collected from www.wingsacrossamerica.us and www.waspmuseum.org.)




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