Clipped Wings

Clipped Wings: The Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) of World War II

Molly Merryman
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    Clipped Wings
    Book Description:

    During World War II, all branches of the military had women's auxiliaries. Only the Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) program, however, was comprised entirely of women who flew dangerous missions more commonly associated with and desired by men. Within military hierarchies, the World War II pilot was projected as the most dashing and desirable of servicemen. "Flyboys" were the daring elite of the United States military. More than the WACs (Army), WAVES (Navy), SPARS (Coast Guard), or Women Marines, the WASPs directly challenged these assumptions of male supremacy in wartime culture. WASPs flew the fastest fighter planes and heaviest bombers; they test-piloted experimental models and worked in the development of weapons systems. Yet the WASPs were the only women's auxiliary within the armed services of World War II that was not militarized. In Clipped Wings, Molly Merryman draws upon military documents (many of which were declassified only in the 1980s), congressional records, and interviews with the women who served as WASPs during World War II, to trace the history of the over 1,000 pilots who served their country as the first women to fly military planes. She examines the social pressures which culminated in their disbandment in 1944 - even though a wartime need for their services still existed - and documents their struggles and eventual success, in 1977, to gain military status and receive veterans benefits.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5970-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    This book examines the accomplishments and struggles of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) of World War II—their service, their premature disbandment, and how they finally got some of the recognition they deserved. The events, perceptions, and opinions that culminated in the disbandment of the WASPs are contextualized within theories of feminist history and gender construction in order to reveal how cultural constructions of gender, specifically assumptions about the roles of women in war, impacted the fate of the 1,074 pilots who served their country as the first women to fly military planes.

    The purpose of this book is...

  7. 2 The Development of the Women Airforce Service Pilots: From Guarded Experiment to Valuable Support Role
    (pp. 6-29)

    The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) of World War II performed an essential role in the United States’ war effort. The nation’s first women pilots of military planes, WASPs flew every model in the Army Air Forces’ (AAF) arsenal, including multi-engine bombers, pursuit (fighter) planes, cargo planes, and even the first American military jet planes. “We did whatever we were asked to do to free men for combat—we were very short on combat pilots,” recalled WASP Thelma K. Miller.¹

    WASPs flew a variety of missions, including ferrying aircraft from factories to bases; towing targets for gunnery practice; test-piloting new...

  8. 3 Becoming Soldiers: Tracing WASP Expansion and Plans for Militarization
    (pp. 30-43)

    As the Women Airforce Service Pilots program expanded in 1943 and 1944, the Army Air Forces, realizing that the experimental use of women pilots was successful, began to examine how the newly defined program should be constituted. Several possibilities for the status of the women’s pilot program existed: civil service or civilian standing, incorporation under the Women’s Army (Auxiliary) Corps, or direct militarization as a division of the Army Air Forces.¹ Throughout the program’s existence, concerted efforts were made to militarize it as a division of the AAF, and numerous avenues for obtaining this goal were explored. One of these,...

  9. 4 From Praise to Rancor: Media Opinion Changes as Men Return from Battle
    (pp. 44-74)

    Perhaps the most important factor leading to the demise of the Women Airforce Service Pilots program was a negative media campaign precipitated in part by the return of combat pilots from overseas and the release of Army Air Forces cadets and pilot trainers into the “walking Army” for service in anticipated large-scale ground assaults against Japan’s military. The male civilian pilots organized a lobbying group and discovered in the WASPs a target against whom they could articulate claims of preferential treatment, thus deflecting attention away from their real intent of refusal to serve as combat soldiers, the role in which...

  10. 5 No Allies for the WASPs: Congress Responds to Male Public Interest Groups
    (pp. 75-101)

    The powerful lobby assembled by the male civilian pilots focused its attentions on Congress as well as the media. The pilots initiated a letterwriting campaign to Congress that was backed by powerful male aviation associations and veterans groups, and they began to lobby individual members of Congress. When the group learned that House Committee on Military Affairs had recommended passage of a bill to militarize Women Airforce Service Pilots, the lobby began to attack the WASPs and pushed for the introduction of its own bill, supporting the contentions that positions be found for male pilots and that they not be...

  11. All photographs
    (pp. None)
  12. 6 They’ll Be Home for Christmas: The WASP Program Disbands
    (pp. 102-130)

    Following the defeat of the House Resolution 4219 on June 22, 1944, the Army Air Forces was faced three choices regarding future actions for obtaining WASP militarization. First, it could push for passage of Senate Bill 1810, a WASP militarization bill that had been submitted to the Senate Military Affairs Committee and was awaiting debate. If the War Department encouraged its submission, and if it passed the Senate, then the issue could be resubmitted before the House, because the House had technically not voted against the bill but had, in a legislative maneuver, simply removed its enactment clause. Second, the...

  13. 7 On a Different Battlefield: The WASP Fight for Militarization after the War
    (pp. 131-156)

    The disbandment of the Women Airforce Service Pilots and the Allied victory in World War II did not end WASPs’ attempts to receive veterans’ status or other recognition for their wartime service. In 1945, former WASPs placed their hopes on the Senate WASP bill that had been introduced at the same time as the defeated House bill, but because of the great media opposition to the program, no senator would sponsor the bill. WASPs attempted to obtain sympathetic publicity about their plight, but theirs was not the story the media wanted to tell. As World War II ended, the focus...

  14. 8 Recognizing the Gendered Warrior: History and Theory Intersect with the Fate of the WASPs
    (pp. 157-181)

    The Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II were disbanded before the war’s end, and before the women who had served in the program received the militarization promised them, simply because the culture in which they existed was not prepared for women to succeed in roles that were associated with and desired by men. Events and situations surrounding the group’s disbandment in 1944 and the struggle of members to obtain militarization most clearly illuminate the consequences of the construction of the gendered warrior. The preceding chapters have noted the intersections between the WASPs and the multiple cultural forces that...

  15. 9 Coda
    (pp. 182-184)

    The story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots is far from being over. The majority of the more than eight hundred WASPs living today regularly attend the national biennial reunions and numerous regional reunions. The vitality of the national organization of WASP veterans is considerable. “It is probably the strongest support group I have other than my own family. We are a very cohesive group. We seem to generate our own energy once we get together for a few hours,” said Ethel Finley.¹

    Through the 1970s, the WASP organization focused on obtaining retroactive militarization. Now it campaigns on behalf of...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 185-208)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-226)
  18. Index
    (pp. 227-238)
  19. About the Author
    (pp. 239-244)