On a recent evening at the South Regional Library, nearly 200 inquisitive guests were enthralled by an hour-long presentation which honored and acknowledged the contribution of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during WWII. Presenters, Shirley Kruse (95) and Bee Haydu (97), recounted stories from their service to our country, facing discrimination and prejudice due to their gender, and how they pursued their passion for flying at a time when most women didn’t even have a driver’s license.
“Thanks to Jackie Cochran, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Lt. General “Hap” Arnold, an experimental program was created to see if women could serve as pilots to relieve men for combat duty. 25,000 women applied. 1,830 were accepted into the rigorous Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) program. We went through the exact same training as the male pilots; 1,074 of us graduated,” explained Bee Haydu, WASP and author of Letters Home. “And sadly, 38 were killed in the line of duty while serving our country.”
“During our training we were paid $150 a month. We paid for our uniforms, room, and board. Oh, and six of us shared a room and 12 to a latrine. After graduation, we were paid $250 a month, however, not much was ever left after our expenses; but we didn’t care. We were flying! It was all about flying, and we did! We flew everything the military had to offer, from the smallest single engine planes to the largest. We flew them all,” exclaims Shirley Kruse.
“Our service records were sealed for over thirty years. We were not recognized for service during the war or acknowledged as veterans until November 23, 1977 when President Jimmy Carter signed a bill that recognized that WASP had flown on active duty for the U.S. armed forces during WWII. In 2009, Bee was present in the Oval Office when President Obama awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASPs for our service,” continued Shirley Kruse.
Though their time serving our country as pilots was brief, it was indeed groundbreaking and inspiring. At the end of the presentation, the entire crowd rose to their feet with a standing ovation thanking these two brave women and the other women who served with them.
“It’s an honor for the library to be bringing history to life and share these stories. We are dedicated to continue our education series with presentations like this,” remarks Denise McMahon, South Regional Library Branch Manager.
For more information about upcoming programs and events being offered at the South Regional Library go to: www.collierlibrary.org or call 239-252-7542.