Thirty-eight young women, all volunteers in an experimental Army Air Force WWII program called Women Aviation Air Force Pilots (WASP) were killed in the line of duty. The Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) organized separately in September 1942 were combined in August 1943, to create the WASP organization. The WASP program and its predecessors were designed to free up servicemen for combat by having female pilots take on on non-combat missions such as ferrying planes and towing target drones.
At the time, the women, who were already civilian pilots were sent to Army Air Corps bases to learn “the army’s way of flying.” Although there were several attempts to grant WASP program participants full military status, but each time it was defeated in congress abetted by civilian male pilots who lobbied against the bills, feeling that women pilots were a danger to they livelihoods. Congress issued an edict that the WASP program be closed in December of 1944, furthermore all records of the WASP were deemed classified and sealed for 35 years, so their contributions to the war effort buried.
In 1977, the records were unsealed after an Air Force press release erroneously stated the Air Force was training the first women to fly military aircraft for the U.S. The resulting flap allowed for the the granting of veteran status to WASPs, signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.
Of the 1,074 WASPs that completed the training program, 38 were killed in the line of duty. Now, 65 years later a U.S. Army Chaplain, Captain J.Clemens has embarked on a mission to properly memorialize these patriots who gave their lives in the defense of their country. “Operation Celestial Flight” is dedicated to and to ensuring that those WASPs who gave their lives are properly identified and honored. At his own expense, Clemens has had personalized bronze flag holders cast, family members and local veteran organizations contacted, and memorial services held or scheduled. A bronze commemorative medallion has been designed by WASP F. Shutsy Reynolds.