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To Honor The WASPs


Today, one of the two highest awards in the country, the Congressional Gold Medal, is being given collectively to the surviving members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots. The WASPs were civilian pilots who served on the home front during WWII helping to train and support male combat pilots. It was an era when everyone wanted to serve, but some pilots could not go into combat because they were women. They could be shot at with live ammunition towing targets for USAF target practice, just not actual combat. Though Jacqueline Cochran, the founder of the program, agitated to have the WASP militarized, thus making them eligible for veterans' benefits, the Air Force did not do so, and the thirty-eight women killed in service did not receive military funerals or benefits. In 1977, Congress gave them veterans' benefits, and today, 2010, sixty-five years after they were disbanded, the WASPs are finally receiving full recognition.

I first heard about the WASP program not in a history class, but in high school through my Literature By Women course. We were allowed to select one book independent of the syllabus, and I chose Marge Piercy's Gone To Soldiers, a book that made a deep impression on me at the time and remains one of my favorite books to this day. It's a large, sprawling book that tells the stories of ten characters during WWII, most of whom are civilians or other noncombatants. There are Jewish refugees to the United States, a member of the French Resistance, a codebreaker for OSS, a war correspondent . . . and a woman who breaks free of her father's control to become a pilot in the WASP program, finally able to live her life as an adult woman because of her service.

I know exactly why I didn't learn about the WASPs in my history class -- it was a slow-moving class, and we barely got through the Depression when the school year ended. But I have absolutely no doubt that, had we not spent quite so much time on the Teapot Dome Scandal, we would have learned about WWII, and that we would have heard nothing at all about the WASPs. It took a class specifically on women's issues to teach me that.

I remember being very impressed by the story of Bernice, the fictional WASP in Gone To Soldiers. I loved how she went ahead and seized every opportunity that came her way, fighting as much for her own freedom as for her country. I was thrilled years later to see old documentary footage of the real WASPs and to know that they were real, that Marge Piercy hadn't just invented them, that these brave women actually did exist. And now I am overjoyed to see the last 300 WASPs, old women with enormous, beautiful smiles and the memories of truly dedicated service, receive the highest thanks the country can bestow.

Thank you, WASPs! To serve your country and your gender in one act is a deed that very few can hope to equal.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 12th, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC)
Some years ago there was this movie about partisan women in the Spanish civil war, which was a huge scandal because people still want to pretend that women cannot, would not hould not and did not fight in wars.

While I deeply respect women studies, and see the neccesity, I also think that a drastic switch of mind should be done at schools and just simply drill into children's heads that everything can be - and has been historically- done both by women and men, so the difference should no longer been attributed to gender, rather than continuing digging up examples to prove that "yes we can." LOLOL. We all know we do.

Mar. 12th, 2010 06:49 pm (UTC)
We discussed similar topics yesterday in our music pedagogy class -- to what extent should world music be integrated into a general music curriculum, and what we mean by "integration." It was a fascinating discussion, and we could easily have gone on for another hour or so.
Mar. 12th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC)
just in case, I'm nt at all disparaging women studies, rahter the contrary. I think that on the practicla side of thngs, more should be done to pick up the results and findings of such researches and clearly mainstreaming them into day to day life. That's when policy makers are failing, in my opinion.

You know, I'm a bit cranky because I'm bombarded with messages urging me to provide more examples of rural women entrepreneurship success stories for the umpteenth review of women in the underveloped world, and I really wished they did some practical application instead of going on compiling good practice reports that nobody who should will read...
Mar. 14th, 2010 05:45 am (UTC)
I saw a headline in the local paper about the WASPs, but other than verifying it wasn't about White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, I didn't read the whole thing. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I had heard of the Women Airforce Service Pilots before, quite possibly in Gone To Soldiers or maybe from my friend who idolizes Amelia Earhart, but I'm sorry to say they had slipped my mind.

I'm very glad to learn that they have gotten much deserved recognition at last. I'm also pleased to know that your read and enjoyed Gone To Soldiers. Sprawling is right but really absorbing, though I have to say what really stuck with me was the harrowing journeys of the supply ships/convoys across the Atlantic.

Marge Piercy supplied one of my all-time favorite quotations (though from an earlier novel):

Person must not do what person cannot do.
Mar. 16th, 2010 03:24 am (UTC)
Gone To Soldiers was the first of Marge Piercy's books that I read. I adored it as soon as I read it, and I continue to adore it today. City of Darkness, City of Light is almost as good, but not quite.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


by Illsaysheis

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