restricted access Ch.7: The Question of Militarization
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7 The Question of Militarization Militarizing the women pilots had been the plan from the beginning. The question was, how? And why militarize the women pilots? Because military status would give them military insurance, death benefits, hospitalization, and pensions. And continuity of their service would be ensured. Nancy Batson didn’t care one way or the other. As long as she could continue to fly those military airplanes, she was happy. On September 30, 1943, Congressman John Costello of California introduced a bill in Congress calling for the militarization of the WASP. The bill went to the House Committee on Military Affairs for study. Subsequently it was amended to include the appointment of female trainees at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, as aviation cadets and was reintroduced on February 17, 1944.1 General Arnold had overestimated the number of pilots he was going to need, which had been based on earlier British RAF losses. Surprisingly, pilot casualties on the battlefronts had been far fewer than anticipated. On January 15, 1944, the Civil Aeronautics Authority terminated its War Training Service program for training flying personnel and the Army Air Forces (AAF) began to cut back on its own pilot training program.2 Now, rather than a dearth of male pilots, there was a surplus. A year earlier , as Nancy Batson and her fellow WAFS were just beginning to stretch their wings and ferry airplanes—albeit single-engine trainers—the demand for more pilots was loud and insistent. The women were needed. Now, as a result of the cutbacks in pilot training, the WASP became increasingly aware that, suddenly, their presence was not looked on as the saving grace it had been. Paraphrased, what the Costello Bill said was: “For the duration of the war, women would be commissioned as flight officers or aviation students in accordance with existing regulations. No woman would be appointed to 64 • Chapter 7 a grade above colonel and there would be no more than one officer of that grade. Female flight cadets, upon successful completion of the prescribed course of training, would be commissioned as second lieutenants in the Army of the United States. All commissioned women would receive the same pay and allowances as male members of the Army and they would be entitled to the same rights, privileges, and benefits according to their rank, grade, and length of service.”3 The hearings began in March 1944. When the news of the WASP bill reached the streets through the nation’s newspapers, congressmen began to receive angry protests—from civilian flying instructors now out of jobs and threatened with the draft; from the American Legion and other veterans’ organizations ; and from mothers of boys who had been transferred from aviation cadet training to the infantry. Congress was far more interested in the plight of the male trainees and instructors who at this time were being released by the AAF than it was in a handful of women pilots. The anti-WASP forces made far more noise, and politicians pay attention to the squeaky wheel.4 In order to prepare the WASP for the militarization she expected to come about, Jacqueline Cochran had opted for officer training for her girls. Women pilots already on active duty were to attend Officer Training School (OTS) at Orlando, Florida. The course was four weeks and the women selected had to have been on active duty at least ninety days. A new class would begin every first and third Wednesday of the month, first with twenty-four students and later with fifty students. A total of 460 women pilots graduated from OTS before the school was closed to women in the fall of 1944. The first class reported April 19, 1944. It was made up of squadron leaders and the women pilots who had been on duty the longest and included many of the original WAFS—Nancy Love, Betty Gillies, Barbara Donahue, Del Scharr, B. J. Erickson, Delphine Bohn, Florene Miller, Bernice Batten, and Nancy Batson. Evelyn Sharp had been destined to attend as well. “We attended class six days a week. We studied military discipline, courtesy , and customs, and we also learned about the organization of the army and staff procedures. Like they said, we were learning how to be officers. A fun part was memorizing aircraft silhouettes. Every kid in America was doing the same thing by then. And we had to practice air–sea rescue and jungle survival, which meant catching, cooking, and eating a whole bunch...


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