Women in Aviation Honor WASP on Memorial Day

WAI Director of Communications Kelly Murphy led the event at Arlington National Cemetery. Courtesy Women in Aviation

Women in Aviation International (WAI) furthered its mission to #HonortheWASP with a commemorative drive to recognize the Women Airforce Service Pilots on Memorial Day 2019, visiting grave sites and meeting with families.

WAI has a long history of supporting and honoring the WASP. WAI, the organization founded to promote and expand the interests of women in all sectors of the aviation industry, has featured veterans from the Women Airforce Service Pilots at its conferences, and inducted the WASP en masse into its Pioneer Hall of Fame in 1993.

As the WASP have gained the recognition they’ve deserved, WAI has continued to support their history. “The idea to ‘Honor The WASP’ was created by our longtime Aviation for Women writer Patricia Luebke last year,” says Director of Communications Kelly Murphy. “Using a database from Texas Women's University, we shared the Excel list with our chapter members in an effort to help them locate the WASP graves across the country in their local communities.”

Families of the WASP joined into the commemoration. Courtesy Women in Aviation

A WAI contingent led by the Capital Region Chapter spent the holiday in Arlington National Cemetery adorning graves and taking photos of each one so that the memory could be shared via social media, using the #HonortheWASP hashtag. “WAI publications and research intern Abigail Welch improved and updated the TWU database by adding Google Maps and [additional] information so that WAI members had more to access,” says Murphy.

It took the effort of many volunteers to locate each grave site, and to organize the flowers and other decorations used to show respect to each of the women who gave their all for their country. Of the 1,102 who served during World War II, 38 died in the course of duty. Though their mission was to free men for combat roles and not to enter the fight themselves, nevertheless, ferrying aircraft, towing targets, and training pilots were all hazardous enough to sometimes turn fatal.

Finding the WASP grave sites took a lot of research by the organization. Courtesy Women in Aviation

To illustrate this: One member visited the crash site of Cornelia Fort in Texas, and she posted a photo of a piece of the memorial there. Fort had been flying in formation from Long Beach to Love Field when the left wing of her BT-13 struck the first officer's landing gear. Her aircraft spiraled into a dive and, at age 24, she became the first female pilot in American history to die on active duty. The WAI Music City Chapter also visited her gravesite in Nashville, Tennessee.

Murphy adds that the commemoration will continue on each year, and take on a new dimension now that acknowledgement of the WASP's place in history has transpired. "With WAI member Erin Miller's recently published Final Flight Final Fight—it is her personal story of granting her grandmother's (WASP Elaine Danforth Harmon) final wish to be buried at Arlington with full military rights. Erin's success has opened the door for the WASP to get the deserving recognition of their military service."

Based in Maryland, Julie is an editor, aviation educator, and author. She holds an airline transport pilot certificate with Douglas DC-3 and CE510 (Citation Mustang) type ratings. She's a CFI/CFII since 1993, specializing in advanced aircraft and flight instructor development. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieinthesky.

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