north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
An overlooked and underappreciated military contribution to the American World War II effort was the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Approximately 25,000 women applied to join WASP. Among those, only 1,830 were accepted (7.3%). Not all made it through the program, however. From 1943 to 1944, 1,074 women (58.5% of accepted applicants) earned their wings. The WASP graduated with commercial pilot’s licenses and instrument ratings. They passed Army Air Force Regulations and had the equivalent of a college aeronautics degree. At Camp Davis, there were 52 WASP.

The WASP’s tasks were many. In all, they flew over 60 million miles. In doing so, they transported planes from factories and bases to other bases or points of embarkation. Furthermore, they were a major part of military training. From Camp Davis, for instance, the WASP towed targets so that soldiers could learn anti-aircraft gunnery techniques. In addition, they flew simulated strafing missions. They also transported necessary cargo.

Although WASPs did not see combat, their infrastructure and training support was often hazardous. In all, a total of 38 WASPs died performing military work. For most of the time, WASP flew outdated planes such as Douglas A-24 Banshees and Curtis A-25 Shrikes. Engine failures and maintenance problems were common. For instance, at Camp Davis, there were 14 accidents. One fatality was Mabel Rawlinson. While 700 feet above ground, her A-24 engine cut out. The plane plummeted to the ground near the base. Her fellow WASP heard her screams as she sat trapped in the blazing aircraft. After Mabel’s death, some pilots started leaving a cockpit window open. Such an action saved the life of pilot trainee Joyce Sherwood. A month later, Betty Taylor Wood was not so fortunate. During a training flight, her plane’s faulty engine caused a fatal crash.

Even without mechanical problems, the missions were dangerous. Above the firing ranges at Fort Fisher, Sears Point, Topsail Island, and Camp Davis, WASPs flew targets. Live ammunition was aimed at the towed targets. One hoped the land gunners had learned quickly and were accurate. Some WASPs from Camp Davis participated in a state-of-the-art and secretive program—testing remote-controlled aircraft. The use of drones was to make training, especially anti-aircraft gunnery, safer.

Former Camp Davis WASP pilots, Doretha Moorman and Dora Dougherty, were instrumental in training pilots to fly the new B-29 Superfortress bomber (the plane that eventually dropped the atomic bombs). Many pilots suffered injury or death learning to fly the plane that was double the size of the B-17. Few wanted to fly the B-29. At Eglin Air Force Base, Lt. Col. Paul W. Tibbetts instructed the two WASP how to fly the Superfortress. In time, the two pilots and the Superfortress “Ladybird” flew to other B-29 bases and instructed male pilots.
The WASP program lasted from July 1943 to December 1944; unfortunately, the WASP aviators never achieved military status during wartime. Such status had to wait until 1977, when Senator Barry Goldwater sponsored legislation that a “member of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots . . . shall be considered active duty for the purposes of all laws administered by the Veterans’ Administration.” The WASP paved the way for future female military aviators.

References:
A Handbook for Women Student Pilot Trainees, Army Air Forces, Director of Women Pilots, 1943.
Army Air Force Studies Number 55; Women Pilots with the AAF, 1941-1944. AAF Historical Office, Headquarters Army Air Forces, March 1948.
Ann Carl, A WASP Among Eagles: A Woman Military Test Pilot in World War II, 1999.
Jacqueline Cochran, Final Report on Women Pilot Program. February 1945.
Jean Hascall Cole, Women Pilots of World War II, 1995.
Committee on Civil Service House of Representatives Concerning Inquiries Made of Certain Proposals for the Expansion and Change in in Civil Service Status of the WASP. June 5, 1944.
Bernice Falk Haydu, Letters Home 1944-1945: Women Airforce Service Pilots, World War II, 2016.
House Resolution 3858 September 30, 1943 and House Resolution 4219 February 17, 1944
Public Law 95-202. Title IV—Women's Air Force Service Pilots. November 23, 1977.
Senate Bill 1810 February 7, 1944 and Senate Bill 614. March 17, 2009
Paul Tibbets, An Oral History. The Woman’s Collection, Texas Woman’s University, 2002.
Judith A Bellafaire, The Women's Army Corps: A Commemoration of World War II Service, Center for Military History Publication 72-15. 1990.
Deborah G. Douglas, “United States Women in Aviation 1940-1985,” Smithsonian Studies in Air and Space, No. 7, 1991
Andy Hailey, WASP Class 43-W-3: A Short History.      
Merryman, Molly. Clipped Wings: The Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots
(WASPs) of World War II, 1998.
David Stallman, Women in the Wild Blue: Target-Towing WASP at Camp Davis, 2006.
Marianne Verges, On Silver Wings: The Women Air force Service Pilots of World War II, 1942-
1944,1991.
Andy Hailey’s WASP Web Page. (https://www.wwii-women-pilots.org/joyce-secciani.html)
National WASP WWII Museum (https://waspmuseum.org)
USAAC/USAAF Accident report listing for North Carolina (http://www.accident-report.com/world/namerica/US/NC.html)
WASP Digital Archive at Texas Women’s University (https://twu.edu/library/womans-collection/collections/women-airforce-service-pilots)
Wings Across America (http://www.wingsacrossamerica.org)
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