Monday, March 10, 2008

Yankee Doodle Gals

We are Yankee Doodle Pilots
Yankee Doodle, do or die!
Real life nieces of our Uncle Sam
Born with a yearning to fly
Keep in step to all our classes
March to flight line with our pals
Yankee Doodle came to Texas
Just to fly the PTs!
We are those Yankee Doodle Gals.

Although it's been nearly 63 years since the end of World War II, this enormous war continues to fascinate and intrigue us; witness the popularity of Ken Burns's The War (if you missed its original airing on PBS, you can check out one of our copies). Every year brings scores of new World War II books, be they Holocaust memoirs, battle accounts, or other aspects of life during World War II (memoirs and books about German life during World War II have recently been published).

Although American women have served in a variety of capacities since the Revolutionary War, women's military roles dramatically increased during World War II. Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of World War II is a fantastic book about the WASPS(Women Airforce Service Pilots)of World War II. Although there was initial resistance to an increased military role for women, the reality of World War II meant that an expansion of their roles was necessary. Of course, quite a few of the young men in uniform did not object to their presence ("emergency" landings near their training base were not uncommon; one remarkable day brought nearly 40 such landings).

Not only did the WASPS fly planes to military bases, but they also flew planes during practice target shootings, playing the role of enemy aircraft. All in all, 1, 102 women were WASPS during the war (350,000 women joined other women's branches of the armed forces).

They taught us how to fly
Now they send us home to cry
'Cause they don't want us anymore

On December 20, 1944, the WASP program ended. The WASPS were not considered full-fledged members of the military (38 WASPS died while in service; however, their families did not receive military benefits). Earlier that year, Congress considered a bill that would make the WASP program an official part of the Army (the Air Force was not in existence at this time; military pilots were under the wing of the Army). Unfortunately, a small but vocal group spread falsehoods and fear in the media about the WASPS, and the bill was defeated.

When the United States entered the Vietnam War, women once again served as pilots. Although the WASPS were pleased that women pilots were allowed to serve, they were unhappy with incorrect media reports that these women were the first women to fly military aircraft. Attitudes toward women in the military had changed, including among members of Congress; Senator Barry Goldwater (R-CA) co-sponsored a bill that recognized WASPS as giving true military service and being full veterans. Although a few veterans objected, President Carter signed the WASP bill into law, which recognized that the WASPS served on "active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States."

Yankee Doodle Gals is an inspiring and intriguing look at an adventurous, patriotic, and industrious group of women from different walks of life. Highly recommended!

If you're looking for a broad overview of American military women, check out Count on Us: American Women in the Military, also by Amy Nathan. Beginning with the Revolutionary War, Nathan explores the work and sacrifice of female military nurses, pilots, office workers, mechanics, and other ways in which women served their country.

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