When most people think of women during World War II, the image that comes to mind is Rosie the Riveter. What many don’t know is that there were women trained to fly military planes to free up men to fight overseas. These women were the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP.
The women were volunteers, and most of them were trained at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. Jacqueline Cochran was the woman who headed up this program. She wanted women to have a separate organization within the military. Cochran believed that if the WASP program was a success, then the women would be militarized.
The women flew almost every type of military plane. The issue here was that they were given planes that were in terrible condition because the best planes were kept for the men.
On top of this, the parachutes were not fitted to them, and they would just slip right out. 38 of these pilots died. Due to the fact that these women were technically civilians, the military did not pay for their bodies to be sent home or for their funerals.
Through all of this, women were not militarized until the 1970s, because the WASP program was canceled after only two years. President Barack Obama signed a bill that awarded WASP with the Congressional Gold medal, which is the highest honor a civilian can be given by Congress. Fewer than 300 of the 1,100 WASPs were alive to receive it.
Not only did these women receive this honor, but their story is being told. An example of this is the show “Decision Height” by Meredith Levy, which is being performed at SVSU from Oct. 4 to Oct. 8.
While our military has come a long way in regards to women, there is still more to do. In a study of women in the military, the percentage of women who experienced rape or were subject to a rape attempt was 33 percent, and the women who experienced sexual assault or harassment while on active duty was 84 percent.
These statistics are the extreme of the disrespect women receive when they decide to bear arms with men. Many women in the military report that, in a lot of cases, they are deemed incompetent compared to their male counterparts, and they have to work twice as hard to gain just a little bit of respect. These women live in fear of being labeled weak, but, even worse, they live in fear of being assaulted.
While Obama worked to give the WASPs the honor they deserve, our country has so much more work to do to give women in the military not only the respect they need, but the respect they deserve.