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Vi Cowden during her service with the WASPs in the 1940s. (Courtesy Jonna Hoppes)

We Represented All Women

During World War II, WASPs proved that an airplane couldn’t tell the difference between a male and female pilot.

“How did you know that?”

“Why, you’re so happy!”

On December 7, 1941, I sat listening to Artie Shaw’s music on the radio before church. An urgent announcement interrupted the program: the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I could not believe it. I thought after suffering through the Great War that the world had become a more civilized place.

“This isn’t going to happen again,” I told myself. “It’s just not right.”

On December 8, 1941, President Roosevelt and Congress declared war on Germany and Japan. I sent a wire to Washington, D.C.

“I have my pilot’s license and I am ready to serve.” Surely we needed planes to fly up and down our Pacific and Atlantic coasts, on the lookout for enemy submarines.

I didn’t hear back from Washington, so I made my way out to California to stay with my sister, who was expecting her first child.

That’s where I was when I received a call from Jacqueline Cochran. With the blessings of General Hap Arnold, Jackie formed a women’s flying organization for the purpose of training women, thus releasing male pilots for combat missions. The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) would ferry planes from the factories to points of debarkation for shipment overseas. Would I be interested?

Would I be interested in spending my waking hours flying without having to pay for the fuel? I had never heard of WASP before, but I didn’t need time to consider the answer.

“Where do I sign up?” I asked.

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