May 21, 1979
The U.S Air Force (USAF), in a key victory for a group of American women who had flown planes in support of their country during World War II, officially recognized the active military status of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during that global conflict and issued honorable discharges to those aviators. These USAF actions made surviving WASP members eligible for such long-denied benefits as access to veterans hospitals, homes loans from the government, and burial in military cemeteries. It also provided formal acknowledgment of the important role these women had played in the war effort.
“Rosie the Riveter and her colleagues got their share of glory during World War II,” reported the Associated Press. “But a band of fliers had to wait 34 years for official recognition.”
One of those fliers who had pushed for official recognition was Margaret “Maggie” Gee (1923-2013). She had been among the veteran WASP members who, during a reunion in 1972, agreed on the need to change the official status of their wartime service. Gee and others lobbied hard over the next several years for that change in status. After the USAF provided recognition of their active military status, Gee and hundreds of fellow veteran WASP members celebrated by wearing their old uniforms and marching together in a parade at their one-time training camp at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas.
The California-born Gee had been one of only two Chinese-Americans to serve as WASP fliers. Hazel Ying Lee, the other Chinese-American woman to join the group, became one of the 38 WASP members who died in the line of duty during the war.
Gee, throughout the remainder of her long life, drew strength and inspiration from her time as a WASP pilot. “I learned from the flying experience that if there’s something you really want to do, pursue it,” she asserted. “I wouldn’t listen to others that say you can’t do it. I would consider it a bigger challenge.”
For more information on Maggie Gee, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maggie_Gee_(pilot).