A man is trying to raise funds to honor his late mother and other Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) who served during the Second World War.
Albert ‘Chig’ Lewis has been fundraising to put a float in the Rose Bowl parade to commemorate his mother, Dorothy ‘Dot’ Lewis, who died in September – just before her 98th birthday. The float will not just honor Dot, but all the women who completed domestic operational missions as WASPs during the Second World War. Despite their service, the women were dismissed from their roles when male pilots returned from the war.
Dorothy ‘Dot’ Lewis was one of 1,102 women to get her ‘silver wings’ as a WASP, with her training male pilots and flying P-63, B-26 and P-40 planes during her two years as a WASP in the Second World War. “She was a remarkable woman,” Chig says. “She was the bravest person I know.”
Chig’s fundraising group has raised over $100,000 so far, but still needs to find another $29,000,
“The WASPs were relatively modest,” Chig explains. “The thing that got them going was that people didn’t know their history, or that this had happened.” The WASPs didn’t get the attention of some other women’s military divisions, in part because they were never awarded the military status they’d been promised at the start of the war.
Former WASP Alyce Stevens Rohrer explains how the group of female pilot’s role in the Second World War has been airbrushed out of history. “I taught school for 20 years. Nobody in the classes ever knew anything about us. We’re not even mentioned in history books,” she says.
Chig plans to raise awareness of the role his mother and her fellow WASPs played during the Second World War. He is president of the Wingtip-to-Wingtip charity group who are fundraising to build a float in the Rose Bowl parade, which is broadcast all over the United States and reaches around 15 million homes.
Preparing a float for the Tournament of Roses Parade is not easy. There is a $5,000 charge to enter, with the costs of building a float able to reach a quarter of a million dollars, the Washington Post reports.
“It’s really a very public way to do a final honor for these women, to say thanks for their service,” says the vice president of Wingtip-to-Wingtip, Kate Landdeck, who is also a history professor at Texas Women’s University.
WASPs were established by Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy Harkness Love, who put the group together to allow male pilots during to serve in foreign countries during the Second World War. 38 women lost their lives while serving their country.
The WASPs’ status was initially as civilian pilots, although it was promised the women would be classified as military at a later stage. However, towards the end of the Second World War in late 1944, the WASPs were demobilized. This meant the loved-ones of the 38 women who lost their lives were unable to place a gold star in their windows as the female pilots were not officially classed as veterans.
It was not until 1977 when the WASPs were recognized for their work during the Second World War given full military status and were given Congressional Gold Medals in 2010.