During World War II, American women pilots were trained to fly non-combat missions so that men could fly fighter planes. U.S. officials gave the women permission to fly military aircraft as civilian pilots, but not in battle or over enemy lines.
Bernice Falk Haydu was one of those pilots. She is now 94 years old. She was recently recognized for her service. She received an honorary doctorate from the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in New York City.
She and the other women pilots volunteered to fly in what was a time of great crisis in the United States and around the world. Women who knew how to fly airplanes wanted to become active in the war effort.
In 1943, the U.S. government created a group it called WASP -- the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. Its members did not belong to the armed forces, so they did not get the pay, health care and other benefits that military pilots received. Twenty-five thousand women asked to become WASPs, but just 1,800 were accepted. Of that, 1,000 completed the training. Bee Haydu was one of them.
“Flying at night so that the beacons would have an opportunity to practice, to towing targets so that the anti-aircraft could shoot at the target with live bullets. And, I think that was one of the most dangerous jobs.”
Thirty-eight of the WASPs died during World War II. Bee Haydu says she knew the work was dangerous, but it was something she had to do.
“I wanted to do more for my country than what I was doing, just being a secretary in a war-related product. However, I wanted to do more. And, so, I felt a little more fulfilled when I was flying for the country.”
In 1977, the government ruled that the WASPs were military veterans. They could receive the same benefits as men who fought in the war.
In 2009, Bee Haydu went to the White House to see President Barack Obama sign a bill that awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to all the female fliers.
“I was one of three WASPs who was there who, who witnessed him sign it. I was impressed. He's a wonderful talker.”
Bee Haydu told students at Vaughn College that she had to use her own money to travel to a base in Texas and to pay for her military uniform. She says she and the other women were paid $250 a month.
She says in those days women did not fly big military planes.
“The significance is that we dared to cross the line and fly large military aircraft. So, you know, cause never before had bombers, pursuits -- all kinds of trainers -- been flown. We flew every aircraft manufactured for World War Two.”
Bee Haydu says she loved to fly and is honored to have helped her country.
She was married for 50 years.
To a pilot, of course.
I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.
VOA Correspondent Bernard Shusman reported this story from New York. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
mission – n. a flight by an aircraft or spacecraft to perform a specific task
honorary – adj. given as a sign of honor or achievement
doctorate – n. the highest degree that is given by a university
benefits – n. something extra (such as vacation time or health insurance) that is given by an employer to workers in addition to their regular pay
tow – v. to pull a vehicle or a plane behind another vehicle or plane, often with a rope or chain
fulfilled – adj. feeling happy and satisfied about life; feeling that your abilities and talents are being fully used
impressed – adj. the state of feeling admiration or interest
significance – n. the meaning of something
dare(d) – v. to have had enough courage or confidence to do something; to not have been too afraid to do something
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