Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) were a group of women who did great service for the United States and its Allies during WWII. After the men had left for war, there was a great hole left and these women trained to fill that hole. Over the course of the years, over 1800 were accepted into the training program and about 1100 graduated, going on to serve on various bases around the US.
The WASPs ferried aircraft around the country, served a tow-target gunnery pilots, some as test pilots, and in various other capacities. They flew military planes though they were only recognized as civilian pilots. Over all, they flew over 60 million miles in 78 types of aircraft. These aircraft went from the smallest trainers to the fastest fighters and the heaviest bombers of the time. 38 WASPs gave their lives during this time.
In 1977, the women pilots were finally recognizes as WWII veterans. In 2010, their contribution to the war was recognized with a Congressional God Medal.
Sweetwater, TX, and Avenger Field is home to the WASP WWII Museum. In a 1929 hanger set on a hill, there is a small collection of interesting displays highlighting and honoring these women and all that they did for the war. The museum admission is free but they won’t say no to your donation. We also purchased a book titled “We Were WASPS” by Winifred Wood with drawings by Dorothy Swain, both WASPs.
We found the example of the barracks very interesting – one of the girls kept commenting on the cots they slept on. We saw examples of the types of transmitters and other communication boxes. We viewed a memorial to the women who lost their lives during the WASP program. We read about Jacqueline Cochran, who began the WASP program (interesting story and background!). We were able to view a film about the program with footage from Avenger Field. The girls sat in one of the trainers, or simulators, that were used and there were handprints from some of the WASPS along with their biographies. We were able to see pictures of many, if not all, of the graduating classes and textbooks that they used.
It did not take more than an hour to dawdle our way through the museum but we did enjoy it quite a bit. I had been wanting to stop since we pass it every time we make a trek to New Mexico. I am glad we were able to make the stop this time and enjoy this bit of history.