Header with a photo of Mari K. Eder on the left, the text "Ret. Major Gen. Mari K. Eder. Author, Speaker, Consultant at Benson's ReView" in the middle. And two book covers (The Girls Who Stepped Out Of Line and The Girls Who Fought Crime) on the right.

I learned much about the Women’s Air Service Pilots (WASP) from reading about Ola Mildred Rexroat and her journey to become a pilot and serve in the WASP. Along the way, I have done some additional research on the WASP that has led me to other sources and of course, museums. 

I’ve visited, in person and virtually, a number of aviation museums and learned much about the European and Pacific air forces during WWII and the roles that women played in those organizations. They were assigned to support roles, from communications to photography, and medical roles.

But the pilots, men and women, they were the ones with a burning passion for flight, then and now. WASP pilots didn’t serve overseas. Their mission was to ferry planes from factories to air bases in the U.S. and to support combat pilot training.  Some pulled targets for ground and air gunners like Millie did.  WASP pilots flew every type of plane in the Army Air Corps inventory.

Her story led me first to the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, Texas. From the WASP Museum, I learned about WASP pilot education programs and their annual events. The displays of training aircraft are particularly impressive. This museum is located at the site where the WASP trained and lived during WWII.  Over 1,000 graduated from training here and went on to serve.

A black and white photo of Millie Rextroat in her WASP uniform.

Millie Rextroat in her WASP uniform

Texas Women’s University’s library has the official holdings for WASP history. There, I was able to access records here from WASP training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, including each class’s yearbooks.

Millie Rexroat was in class 44-W-7.  Check out their website for an interactive timeline of the WASP and much more on women in aviation.

A black and white photo of Millie Rextroat in her WASP uniform.

Millie and her classmates in WASP Class 44-W-7, marching around the Wishing Well. Photo courtesy of the WASP Archive, the TWU Libraries’ Woman’s Collection, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX.

I visited the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force just on the outskirts of Savannah, first because I knew that Navy WAVE Betty Bemis Robarts and her husband Ed, had been volunteers there for many years.

But this museum is a fitting tribute, built and supported by the over 300,000 men who served with the 8th Air Force in WWII.  The museum boasts its own B-17 “The City of Savannah” and also provides insight into a number of fascinating topics, such as the routes used by downed pilots to escape from the Nazis, from France to Spain, and across the sea to England.

There were displays for each bomber group. I was able to learn more about Stephanie Czech Rader’s husband, Bill, as well as more about Ed Robarts’ service. The chapel on the grounds is especially worth a visit.

A black and white photo of Millie Rextroat in her WASP uniform.

A WASP flight jacket – photo taken at the WASP exhibit at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, Pooler, GA.

The air war in the Pacific is the focus of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum in Honolulu. This museum is alive with potential—tours of the tower, events held in massive hangars surrounded by vintage aircraft, STEM camps in the summer, and more. I haven’t been here – YET.  But I definitely will.

The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) was founded in Milwaukee, WI in 1953 by aviation enthusiasts. The Association keeps that passion alive today with loyal members in chapters across the U.S., all devoted to the idea and practice of flight, and representing all aspects of aviation, from various types of aircraft to maintenance and piloting. 

This organization is about celebrating flight, as demonstrated by their calendar of annual events. Their keynote adventure is the aviation week in Oshkosh, WI. Each year the largest annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts turns the local airport into the busiest airport in the world, for that one week only.

There is much more to explore. 

Recently I was privileged to meet members of the Maryland Chapter of the 99s. The ‘99s is an international organization of women pilots. 

Founded in 1929, the name comes from the number of charter members who started the organization. They provide a vast network of like-minded professional and private pilots with access to mentoring, fellowship, and flight scholarship opportunities. They are definitely keeping the dream alive.

There are numerous other museums with a focus on and flavor of the beauty of flight, from military museums to those that focus on space flight. These are just a few places and organizations that I’ve come in contact with during my mission to learn about the WASP.  But there is still more out there. 

Aviation. It is a calling, a passion and a lifelong adventure. 

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