Veteran Of The Week:
Elizabeth L. Remba Gardner, of Rockford, Illinois, Class 43-W-6 WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot) at the controls of a Martin B-26 ‘Marauder’ medium bomber. Harlingen Army Air Field, Texas. 1943 (Aged 22)
Short Biography in Her Words:
“My name is Elizabeth L. Gardner, or for short, Libby Gardner. I am a pilot for the Women Aircraft Service Planes. a.k.a. WASP, which is considered a civil service.
Before the war, I was a housewife and a mother who stayed home to take care of my family. I was called to duty when the war started to learn how to test planes, instruct pilots, tow targets used for anti-aircraft artillery practice, and assemble planes. I was grateful for the opportunity because it made my childhood dreams of flying and fascinations with planes a reality. I work 7 days out of the week and some of those days happen to be better than others.
When I first started learning, I was eager and nervous and also had two days of training under Lieutenant Col. Paul Tibbets who later commanded the B-29 that dropped the first atom bomb on Hiroshima. The training consisted of three phases; primary, basic, and advanced. On the days that we have check rides, a lot of pressure can be put on us women, and we feel that we must make a name for ourselves in this industry. I had a check ride the other day, and I must say that things did not go so well for me that day. The man testing me was very quiet and sarcastic and did not give me much information or say a lot to let me know how I was doing. I would make mistakes as turning to far out or using too much rudder on the turns; I did my best to relax, but his sarcastic remarks did not make it easy and different items in my performance were still sloppy including my stalls. The only good thing that came from that test was my landing; it was possible that he would give me credit for that, but instead he stepped out of the airplane without saying a word about whether or not I passed. I held back my tears.
The opportunity to serve in WWII was wonderful, and I love doing this every day. It was an opportunity I never expected which gave me an amazing life experience. It has it’s hardships like everything else in life, but the opportunity to serve my country by doing flying aircraft is unimaginable and is a wonderful privilege.” (c.1943)
Elizabeth “Libby” Gardner 1921 – 2011 – died aged 90
Did You Know: Of the more than 1,100 women who volunteered and flew every fighter, bomber, transport and trainer aircraft in the inventory 72 years ago, only about 300 were still alive when the survivors of the first female military pilots received the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the US Capitol of Washington on March the 11th 2010.
Remember Those Who Served
The Greatest Generations Foundation
WASP – Women Pilots of World War II
Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)
In the United States, women pilots were trained to fly non-combat missions in order to free male pilots for combat missions. They ferried planes from the manufacturing plants to military bases, and ended up doing much more — including flying new aircraft such as the B-29, to prove to male pilots that these were not as difficult to fly as the men thought!
Well before World War II became imminent, women had made their mark as pilots. Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran, Nancy Harkness Love, Bessie Coleman and Harriet Quimby were only a few of the women record-holders in aviation.
In 1939, women were allowed to be part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program, a program designed to train college students to fly, with an eye to national defense. But women were limited by quota to one woman for every ten men in the program.
Jackie Cochran and Nancy Harkness Love separately proposed the use by the military of women. Cochran lobbied Eleanor Roosevelt, writing a 1940 letter urging that a women’s division of the Air Force be established especially to ferry planes from manufacturing plants to military bases.
With no such American program supporting the Allies in their war effort, Cochran and 25 other American women pilots joined the British Air Transportation Auxiliary. Shortly after, Nancy Harkness Love was successful in getting the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) established, and a few women were hired. Jackie Cochran returned to establish the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD).
On August 5, 1943, these two efforts — WAFS and WFTD — merged to become the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), with Cochran as director. More than 25,000 women applied — with requirements including a pilot’s license and many hours experience. The first class graduated on December 17, 1943. The women had to pay their own way to the training program in Texas. A total of 1830 were accepted into training and 1074 women graduated from WASP training during its existence, plus 28 WAFS. The women were trained “the Army way” and their graduation rate was similar to that for male military pilots.
The WASP was never militarized, and those who served as WASP were considered civil service employees. There was considerable opposition to the WASP program in the press and in Congress. General Henry “Hap” Arnold, US Army Air Force commander, first supported the program, then disbanded it. The WASP was deactivated December 20, 1944, having flown about 60 million miles in operations. Thirty-eight WASP were killed, including some during training.
Records of WASP were classified and sealed, so historians minimized or ignored the women pilots. In 1977 — the same year the Air Force graduated its first post-WASP women pilots — Congress granted veteran status to those who had served as WASP, and in 1979 issued official honorable discharges.
Wings Across America is a project to tape memories of WASP.
Note: WASP is the correct use even in the plural for the program. WASPs is incorrect, because the “P” stands for “Pilots” so it’s already plural.