Saturday, September 26, 2009

Kalamazoo Gazette Editorial

Editorial: Women pilots'; World War II effort was huge

article By Kalamazoo Gazette staff

September 25, 2009, 8:26AM
This was written by the Kalamazoo Gazette Editorial Board.

There are about 300 surviving female military pilots who served our country during World War II.

Unfortunately, the accomplishments of these brave and patriotic grandmothers and great-grandmothers of today — three of whom have Kalamazoo connections — are either unknown or have been largely forgotten by today’s generation.

Accordingly, the Kalamazoo Gazette was delighted to devote a large amount of space this past Sunday to tell its readers about these very special people.

They served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) from August 1943 until December 1944. Theirs was a paramilitary organization. More than a thousand of them managed to get their wings.

Military men at first were cool to the notion of women aviators, even in non-combat roles. But that soon changed. Members of WASP flew about 60 million miles,
mostly to ferry war materials and personnel (1) all over the world (2). Thirty-eight of them were killed, some during training.

The WASP service enabled the release of many male pilots for possible combat duty. The female pilots did not engage in combat, but did serve as test pilots and flew aircraft during training exercises.

Included in the Gazette’s package were compelling stories of three surviving WASP members who are living in Kalamazoo. They are Dorothy Eppstein, 91; Doris Nathan, 92; and Suzanne D. Parish, 86. They are among about 300 surviving pilots. Mabel Rawlinson, also of Kalamazoo, was killed on Aug. 23, 1943, when the aircraft flown by the Western Michigan University graduate crashed during a
training exercise (3) at a military base in North Carolina. Rawlinson was 26.

Although WASP pilots performed essentially the same service as did many male pilots, it took a long time for them to be duly recognized. The group’s 1944 disbandment was, in fact, due in part over objections that women took non-combat jobs away from men. WASP records were sealed. The women returned to civilian life, and their service was largely forgotten.

It wasn’t until 1977 that Congress gave veterans status to WASP. Two years later, honorable discharges were approved.

At last, the women will receive the Congressional Gold Medal. The prestigious award, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is our country’s highest civilian honor. It has been presented only 140 times in the nation’s history. The first recipient was George Washington. Others included famous names such as Thomas Edison, Joe Louis, Walt Disney, the Wright Brothers, the Rev. Martin Luther King and the Tuskegee Airmen.

The medals will be given out in Washington at some point. The U.S. Mint will strike one gold medal for display at the Smithsonian Institution.
Surviving pilots or their families can purchase bronze replicas. (4)

Today, female pilots in the armed forces are commonplace and perform outstanding service. Their acceptance and success are due in large part to the initiative and outstanding achievements of their flying sisters of more than six decades ago.


1. ONLY FIFTEEN PERCENT of the WASP flying was to ferry aircraft. Many more miles were flown target towing, test flying, and EVERY other type mission flown in the US by male pilots-- in EVERY type plane in the Army Air Force Arsenal.

2. WASP DID NOT fly planes all over the world --only in the US and rarely across the Canadian border.

3. Mabel Rawlinson was killed in an accident--and it is accurate to say it was a training accident--but Mabel was not in training. She had graduated from Army Air Force flight training and was flying She an operational flight mission. The men on the ground were the ones being trained--as she towed targets behind her aircraft. Gunnery cadets at Camp Davis North Carolina would shoot at a sleeve target--using live ammunition. Very brave lady, indeed

4. Each WASP or representative of the family of a surviving WASP will be awarded a replica medal. Additional medals will be made available for sale to the public.