Friday, May 15, 2009

To the Best Women Pilots in the World

  1. I can hear her downstairs, dialing the cell phone, introducing herself to whoever answers and then asking the all-important single question: "Do you know who the WASP were?" Every time, I strain to hear what might be happening on the other end of the phone, but all I hear is silence.

I've been fascinated, listening to my mother, the WASP, make friends and teach history--because that is exactly what she has been doing. Every conversation is much the same--and every young person she talks to (she says they all sound very young) answers her "Do you know who the WASP were" question the same way, first a pause, then a "No Mam, I don't." On Friday, she called ELEVEN Representatives offices. How many "No Mam's" did she get? ELEVEN!

That is a shame. The young men and women who volunteer as interns in the offices of the Representatives in Washington, D.C. are very bright, educated and responsible people. However, on this one subject, they were not taught. Why? Accomplishments of the WASP are NOT included in the history text books of our nation. You can read about the WAACS, the WAVES, the SPARS and even Rosie the Riviteer, but not the WASP. Why? Because, after they were disbanded on Dec. 20, 1944, their records were sealed --and archived until 1977. Historians who wrote the text books didn't know about the WASP and didn't have access to any of their records.

In 1944, General Hap Arnold laid a plaque in the wishing well at Avenger Field. The inscription was to be an inspiration to all the women who went through the Army Air Force pilot training program: "TO THE BEST WOMEN PILOTS IN THE WORLD." Nine months later, the General stood on the reviewing stand at the last graduation of WASP and said: "You have shown you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. We of the Army Air Force are proud of you. We will never forget our debt to you."

It is not too late. Our Representatives can help our nation keep Hap Arnold's promise. It is not about a medal. It is about doing the right thing. It is about standing up and saying "Thank you for your service." -- "Thank you -- what you did mattered to America."

I, for one, am standing up. I am determined to help my country's representatives do the right thing. WASP are not asking. WE ARE. We are, because it is the right thing to do.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Campaign for the Gold: HR 2014


A Battle Plan for the final Co-sponsors for HR 2014--the HOUSE version of the bill to award the WASP a Congressional Gold Medal.

First, THANK YOU, those of you who emailed, called, visited, tweeted and wrote your Senators, and THANK YOU to the SENATORS who have signed on as Co-Sponsors. The count is now 72--with very little time left for any Senator to CO-Sponsor the bill. What a shame for those Senators whose names are NOT on the bill--because the Co-Sponsors will be 'on the record' for generations to come-- the Congressional Record.

FIVE STATES are MISSING IN ACTION--with NO Senator on board: Alabama, Kentucky, Hawaii, South Carolina and Wyoming. HOW COULD THEY NOT co-sponsor a bill that honors these American patriots. Every one of these states were represented by a WASP in WWII. I urge you all to make a connection and let these Senators know how important this is. EVERY STATE should have a co-sponsoring Senator, just as EVERY STATE had a WASP.

However, we are grateful for the support we have!
WE will COUNT our many BLESSINGS and MARCH ON.


This time, it will be PERSONAL. WHY? Because this time, you can't just email every Representative. They only read emails from their VOTERS. UNLESS you live IN THEIR DISTRICT, you will have a hard time getting through.

Hence the BOOTS ON THE GROUND --all about making a connection--whether in person at a local office of your US Representative, or a hand written note, or a POST CARD out to EVERY Representative. EVERYTHING is on the table. Our 'HOT LIST' of Representatives is now available online--with a complete database of Reps. by last name, address, link to their web page, phone number, twitter account, and lastly noted, committee members of the 3 really important committees for HR 2014: HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS , VETERANS'


BEGIN with your OWN Representative. If they are not a co-sponsor, zero in. If they are, work in your state first. Then move to the COMMITTEE MEMBERS. Find your target Representatives and make the connection. USING THE DATA BASE ONLINE:
  1. CALL -- Still a good plan-- phone numbers are listed next to their names.
  2. DOWNLOAD the FLYER and write a personal note --MAIL or DROP IT BY their LOCAL offices. Find address on their websites, which are linked by clicking their names.
  3. DOWNLOAD one of the POSTCARDS online and MAIL it directly to their DC office. I have it on VERY GOOD authority--POSTCARDS ARE A GREAT WAY TO GET YOUR POINT ACROSS--and they don't have to be checked thru security like envelops are. Download one of our postcards or send one of your own!
  4. TWITTER -- not only the Reps who have Twitter accounts, but any state organizations you might find that can help you reach out in a bigger way.
We are most grateful for all the organizations and individuals who are lobbying on behalf of this bill. KEEP IT UP, TURN IT UP, FULL THROTTLE, FIRE IN ALL DIRECTIONS because we are almost there. For the WASP, for their service to our country, for their fallen sisters, for those who are no longer here...we owe them so much.


AOPA Honors the WASP

Honoring WWII women pilots

Rosa Lea with P-51Rosa Lea with P-51.

It was an unconventional job for women at the time. But for Rosa Lea Fullwood Meek Dickerson, flying was a way of life. She began flying in her early teens at her father’s flight school in McAllen, Texas, and helped out with the flight school operations, doing work in the office and even gassing up airplanes when needed. By her early twenties, she had made history as part of the first group of women to fly military aircraft for the United States, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

When their country went to war, the WASP reported for duty. More than three decades before women in the United States were allowed to attend military pilot training with full military status, they climbed into cockpits of the nation’s military aircraft to serve their country as pilots during World War II.

Dickerson was one of the 1,102 women who served as WASP, flying every sort of aircraft in the United States to release male pilots for combat duty overseas. The women encountered skepticism from some of their fellow pilots, but they proved themselves with expert flying and paved the way for the integration of women pilots into the American armed services.

"Fly Girls of America"Their story has inspired pilots, astronauts, and legislators, and now all 17 female members of the Senate have cosponsored a bill to recognize these women for their service with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the nation's highest civilian award. Congressional legislation is required to make the medal, and two-thirds of each chamber must sign on as cosponsors. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) took the lead on the bill, S.614, which is approaching the 67 cosponsors required to be reported out of committee; companion bill H.R.2014 is gaining cosponsors in the House of Representatives. To track the progress of the bills and see who has signed on so far, see the blog on the subject.

The bill honors the WASP for flying fighter, bomber, transport, and training aircraft, calling the WASP story “a missing chapter in the history of the Air Force, the history of aviation, and the history of the United States.” The WASP flew more than 60 million miles for their country during the program’s short tenure, from its inception in 1942 to Dec. 20, 1944, when the WASP were quietly disbanded.

"Fly Girls of America"The United States entered World War II at a time when few Americans had even ridden in an airplane, let alone learned to fly combat missions. In the first few months, the nation faced a shortage of combat pilots. America’s premier woman pilot, Jacqueline Cochran, convinced Gen. Hap Arnold, Chief of Army Forces, that “women, if given the same training as men, would be equally capable of flying military aircraft and could then take over some of the stateside military flying jobs, thereby releasing hundreds of male pilots for combat duty,” the bill states.

Cochran recruited the best female pilots in America, accepting only women who had proven their resolve by accumulating significant flying time before they entered the program. More than 25,000 women applied for training, but only 1,830 were accepted and took the oath.

Rosa Lea Fullerwood - WASPRosa Lea Fullwood - WASP

“Most of the women really sacrificed to get enough flying in order to qualify to go into the WASP,” Dickerson said. Like many future WASP, Dickerson was invited to the program by Jacqueline Cochran and reported for duty in Sweetwater, Texas. She graduated from flight training in August 1943 and joined the Fifth Ferry Command in Dallas, Texas, transporting aircraft to points of embarkation such as Newark, N.J., and Long Beach, Calif.

The women flew all sorts of aircraft, including the B-17, C-45, C-47, P-39, P-40, P-47, and P-51. They risked their lives on difficult and risky assignments, and not all of them walked away. Thirty-eight women died during their service. The families received no benefits because the WASP were not considered military.

The WASP paid their own way home after their service and did not receive veteran’s status until Congress granted it 1977. For many of the WASP, the recognition was long overdue. But Dickerson said the opportunity to serve as a WASP was enough for her. The program gave her and the other WASP educational and military opportunities that American women wouldn’t have again for another 30 years.

After the two-year WASP “experiment,” women were not permitted to attend military pilot training in the U.S. armed forces again until the late 1970s. By then, the WASP were still a little-known part of the nation’s history; but they had proven that women could fly military aircraft when their country needed them. Their example laid the groundwork for “revolutionary reform in the integration of women pilots into the Armed Services,” the bill notes. In 1993, the WASP were cited during congressional hearings that eventually led to women being able to fly military fighter, bomber, and attack aircraft in combat.

Rosa Lea, now 87Rosa Lea, now 87.

Meanwhile, the WASP went on to have careers and families after their service. Many continued flying. Dickerson, who opened a flight school with her husband after the war, accumulated close to 5,000 hours of flying over the course of her long career. Now 87, she is among fewer than 300 WASP alive today. The bill under consideration would bestow the Congressional Gold Medal on those women and the families of those who have died.

“This bill is kind of the next step in this process of making sure America knows who our heroes are,” said Nancy Parrish, who has been promoting the recognition of the WASP for the last decade. “There’s a kind of a confidence that comes with meeting these women. …They are infectious in their love of their country, in their unselfish spirit of service.”

"Fly Girls of America"Parrish and her mother, WASP Deanie Parrish, have beencollecting interviews with all the remaining WASP through their organization Wings Across America. So far, they have documented the stories of 110 women and worked on the creation of the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, where a large portion of the WASP trained. Wings Across America also created the exhibit “Fly Girls of WWII” that went on display at Arlington National Cemetery’s Women In Military Service for America Memorial in November, and the organization has been promoting S.614.

Nancy is not the only proponent of S.614 who has been inspired by the example of the WASP. At the opening of the exhibit, Air Force Maj. Nichole Malachowski, the first female pilot in the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds,” spoke about how the legacy of the WASP inspired her to pursue her dream of flying.

Malachowski, a White House Fellow, worked with Wings Across America to take the idea of the bill to Hutchison, who had written about the WASP in her 2004 book, American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country. Hutchison introduced S.614 on the Senate floor on behalf of all 17 women senators March 17.

The bill echoes the sentiment of Arnold in a speech to the last graduating class of WASP: “You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. I salute you. …We of the Army Air Force are proud of you. We will never forget our debt to you.”

May 6, 2009