AFTER THE WAR
By: Captain Nancy Aldrich
This is the last of a series of article on this blog. If you have not read the articles on Nancy Harkness Love, Jacqueline Cochran, and the WASP, please read them before reading this article.
A lot happened during the war that goes unnoticed by the general public. I am writing particularly about the women pilots. Nancy Harkness Love was the first woman to be checked out in a P-51. She was proficient in 14 different types of military aircraft. She was the first woman in U. S. Military history to fly the B-25, which she flew from sea to shining sea in record time. She was one of the first two women to check out in a B-17. Over 50% of the ferrying of high-speed pursuit aircraft in the continental United States was carried out by the WASP under her leadership. She was a remarkable woman who dedicated those war years to supporting the country in the best way she could. Her personal contributions should be recognized and applauded.
After the war, Nancy and her husband Robert Love had the unique distinction of being decorated simultaneously. He received the Distinguished Service Medal, and she was awarded the Air Medal for her “operational leadership in the successful training and assignment of over 300 qualified women fliers in the flying of advanced military aircraft.” In 1948, when the United States Air Force was created, she was awarded the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserves.
Nancy was never interested in public acclaim. Her main interest was in serving. She did what she did because she loved flying and wanted to make a contribution. At the end of the war, her priorities turned domestic. She continued to do everything she could to gain military recognition for the women who served under her in the WASP. She also continued to be a leader in the aviation industry while she raised three daughters.
On October 22, 1976, at age 62, when she succumbed to cancer she left behind a box that she had kept for more than 30 years. The box contained a handwritten list of women pilots she had compiled in 1940. She had photographs and clippings of each of the women who had died while under her command. Her love for her women pilots was strong throughout her life, and their love and respect for her is indisputable. Nancy died 3 years before the WASP received the military recognition in 1979, that she had wanted. She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1997, and in the National Aviation Hall of Fame, in Dayton, Ohio, in 2005. She was a remarkable woman, and a hero in every respect of the word.
Jacqueline Cochran was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, in 1945, for her support of the war. She never tired of flying and continued setting records and making history. At the end of the way she was hired by a magazine to report on worldwide post-war events. As a journalist, she was able to witness General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s surrender in the Philippines. She was the first non-Japanese woman allowed to enter Japan after the war. She also attended the Nuremberg Trials. In 1948, she joined the Air Force Reserves and eventually received the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
After the war she began flying the new jet aircraft. In 1953, flying a Canadair F-86 Sabre fighter plane, she became the first woman to fly faster than the speed of sound, at an average speed of 652.337 mph. Then, in 1964, she flew at Mach 2, more than twice the speed of sound. She was the first woman to land and take off from an aircraft carrier, the first woman to make an “instrument” landing, and the only woman to ever be President of the Federation Aeronautique International (1958 – 1961). She was the first pilot to fly over 20,000 ft with an oxygen mask. Throughout her career she set more than 200 altitude and speed records. She holds more speed and distance records than any pilot, living or dead.
In 1965, she was invested in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame; in 1971, she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame; in 1985, the International Astronomical Union assigned the name Cochran to a large crater on Venus; In 1993, she was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America; In 1996, the United States Post Office honored her with a fifty cent postage stamp, with the words, “Jacqueline Cochran Pioneer Pilot”; in 1999, she was designated a Women’s History Month Honoree by the National Women’s History Project; and in 2006 she was inducted into the Lancaster, California Aerospace Walk of Honor.
Cochran died at her home in Indio, California on August 9, 1980. The Thermal Airport, which she used frequently during her career, was renamed the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport.
While her aviation exploits were important, she was also an excellent business woman. Her cosmetics enterprise proved a lucrative one. In 1951, the Boston Chamber of Commerce voted her one of the 25 outstanding business women in America, and in 1953 and 1954, the Associated Press named her “Woman of the Year in Business.”
The WASP (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots), which were founded and lead by Nancy Love and Jackie Cochran fought for military recognition for over 30 years. Both Nancy and Jackie tried to gain military status throughout the life of the WASP and after. On June 21, 1944, the House bill to give the WASP military status was narrowly defeated. On June 5, 1944, the House Committee on the Civil Service (the Ramspeck Committee) had reported that the WASP were unnecessary and unjustifiably expensive. Cochran had delivered an ultimatum to either commission the women or disband the program. At the time, the Air Corp had an excess of male pilots and pilot candidates, and as a result, General Arnold ordered that the WASP be disbanded by December 20, 1944. On December 7, 1944, Arnold said in a speech at Avenger Field, in Sweetwater, Texas, “The WASP has completed its mission. Their job had been successful. But as is usual in war, the cost has been heavy. Thirty-eight WASP have died while helping their country move toward the moment of final victory. The Air Forces will long remember their service and their final sacrifice.”
At the end of the program there were 915 women pilots on duty; 620 assigned to the Training Command; 141 to the Air Transport command; 133 to the numbered air forces in the continental United States; 11 to the Weather Wing; 9 to the technical commands, and one to the Troop Carrier Command.
All records of the WASP were classified and sealed for 35 years, so their contributions were not available to historians. In 1975, under the leadership of Col. Bruce Arnold, the sone of General “Hap” Arnold, the WASP fought the “Battle of Congress.” They organized as a group and tried to gain public support for official recognition. In 1977, the records were finally unsealed after an Air Force press release erroneously stated the Air Force was training the first women to fly military aircraft.
This time, with the help of Senator Barry Goldwater, himself a ferry pilot, the WASP lobbied Congress. President Jimmy Carter signed legislation #95-202, Section 401, The G. I. Bill Improvement Act of 1977, which granted the WASP full military status for their service. In 1984, each WASP was awarded the World War II Victory Medal. Those who had served more than one year were also awarded the American TheaterRibbon/American Campaign Medal.
On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama and the United States Congress awarded the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal.Three of the roughly 300 surviving WASP were present to witness the event. President Obama said, “The Women Airforce Service Pilots courageously answered their country’s call in a time of need while blazing a trail for the brave women who have given and continue to give so much in service to this nation since. Every American should be grateful for their service, and I am honored to sign this bill to finally give them some of the hard-earned recognition they deserve.”
The WASP are a great part of our history, but a part not many people know about. They are my heros, and I appreciate what they were able to accomplish under very difficult circumstances. They proved that women are equal to any task, given the same training and opportunities as men. Their dedication and service should be widely recognized as opening doors, and inspiring generations of women. I am happy to be able to give them a little of the honor they deserve.
“There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword, the other is by debt.” John Adams, 1826
Nancy Welz Aldrich
Available for speaking engagements