Sunday, October 23, 2011

Generations unite: Reservists serve alongside WWII WASPs

From the 442nd Fighter Wing: Generations unite: Reservists serve alongside WWII WASPs
Senior Master Sgt. Regina Brewer escorts Flora Bell Reese, World War II Woman Airforce Service Pilot, during the Midland Airshow in Odessa, Texas, Oct. 7, 2011. Brewer attended the event as a representative of the 442nd Human Resources Development Council, part of the 442nd Fighter Wing. The 442nd FW is an A-10 Thunderbolt II Air Force Reserve unit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Courtesy photo)

- WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- In October, two members of the 442nd Fighter Wing and 27 other Citizen Airmen from 10th Air Force, attended the Midland Airshow in Odessa, Texas. Unique to this airshow however, was the opportunity for the servicemembers to escort Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) from World War II.

With less than 300 WASPs remaining today, their heritage is quickly fading - something Senior Master Sgt. Regina Brewer, 442nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron support technician, said she doesn't want to see happen.

"These are amazing women," she said. "They've accomplished so much in their lives, and most people have never even heard about them. But they're the reason I'm in the Air Force today."

During World War II, the need for pilots was great - and while there were volunteers - many of them were disqualified based on their gender. These females knew they wanted to serve their country and knew they had the bravery and skills to do so as pilots.

"We paid our own way over there to the war," said Merriem Roby Anderson, WASP of class 44-4. "We flew the planes and fought in the war, and then one day they just told us to go home."

The women were given no military honors, medical privileges or G.I. benefits. Instead, many returned to a society that didn't accept their service to the country.

The WASPs had become the first women to fly American military aircraft. More than 1,000 women earned their wings during World War II.

Finally, in 1977 after 30 years, the WASPs were given veteran status.

In 2010, five members of the 442nd Fighter Wing traveled to the nation's capitol to pay respect to the women as they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Brewer began studying about the WASPs after she attended a Women in Aviation Conference a few years ago. She said she has always loved learning about history, and until the WIA conference, had never heard about the WASPs.

"I was never taught about these women - but it's because of them that I'm in the military today," she said. "Spending time with them is a humbling experience - one that everyone - men and women - could all learn so much from."

As a member of the 442nd Human Resources Development Council, Brewer has volunteered to become an instructor for Wright Flight - a program where servicemembers teach high school students about aviation.

"I would love to have a WASP come talk to the students about her experiences," Brewer said. "I don't know why this stuff isn't in history books, because the WASPs are a huge part of our history."

Brewer said the WASP she escorted to the Midland Airshow, Flora Belle Smith Reese of class 44-4, will be part of her family for the rest of her life.

"Everyone who attends these events and meets these women gets to know them so well and will probably have a connection with them for the rest of their lives."

Col. Gregory Eckfeld, 442nd Fighter Wing vice commander and president of 442nd HRDC, said there will be more opportunities like this for reservists in the future. For more information about HRDC, you may contact him at (660) 687-4008.

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