Ticket Replay: Finally, female World War II pilots get their due
During the holiday season, as in years past, The Ticket is republishing some of our favorite items from the previous political year. This story was originally published on March 8, 2010
The ceremony takes places on Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Surrounded by statues of some of the nation's most treasured icons, nearly 200 women who served as military pilots during World War II as part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program will be on hand to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.
Recruited to fill a manpower shortage among male fliers, 25,000 women applied. Nearly 1,100 completed training. This little-known band of female pilots -- the first women in history trained to fly U.S. military aircraft -- did everything the men did except participate in combat. They flew trailers so male soldiers could take practice shots at the targets they pulled along. They flew bombardiers so male pilots could practice dropping bombs. They flew test planes, delivered supplies and piloted every plane the Air Force had in its arsenal. By war's end, 38 had been killed -- their bodies returned home and buried at their families' expense.
In 1977, Congress finally granted them veteran status. This week, they finally get their due in Washington.
Sitting in the audience at the congressional ceremony will be 92-year-old Carol Brinton Selfridge. In an interview with the Ticket last week that she conducted on Skype, Selfridge reminisced about her adventures -- about the difficulty of finding a uniform to fit her 6-foot-tall frame, about soloing in a rare snowstorm at the base in Sweetwater, Texas, about the granddaughter who was so inspired by her story that she too became a pilot, now Lt. Col. Christy Kayser-Cook.
Asked for her advice to young women, she said, "Do what you want, and there's nothing you can't do if you put your mind to it. I did, and it all worked out beautifully."
Nine months before the war ended, the WASP program was disbanded. The female fliers were told to come home at their own expense and not to talk about their achievements.
Now, they are not only sharing their memories but their photos as well. Thanks to Selfridge's daughter Sharon Kayser, the Ticket is proud to present a sampling of family photos, below.
-- Johanna Neuman
Photos: At top, Carol Brinton Selfridge in 1944 at Victorville Air Force base, where, according to daughter Sharon Kayser, she flew bombardier cadets over the desert for bombing practice. "Many of the women needed to carry pillows out to the planes to sit up high enough," said Sharon. "She never had to worry about that."
Below, from top, Selfridge stands with two of the Women Airforce Service pilots with whom she roomed in the barracks.
Selfridge in uniform and her daughters Linda, left, and Sharon.
The pilot in flying gear.
Selfridge in more recent times.
And Selfridge with her granddaughter Lt. Col. Christy Kayser-Cook at Scott Air Force Base on Aug. 31, 2005, on the occasion of Kayser-Cook's promotion to lieutenant colonel. All photos courtesy of Sharon Kayser.