The National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater tells the story of the courageous women who served as pilots during the war. This past spring, the organization moved into new facilities at the historic Avenger Field.
The first class of 28 female recruits reported for duty on Nov. 16, 1942 at Howard Hughes Municipal Airport in Houston. The last class graduated on Dec. 7, 1944, in Sweetwater. During that period more than 20,000 women applied to join the Women's Airforce Service Pilots and 1,102 received their wings. Avenger Field was the only all-female training base.
One of the more poignant aspects of the museum is the wall of honor telling the stories of 38 pilots who died in service to their country. That's an astonishingly low percentage considering the women flew more than 66 million miles in 77 kinds of aircraft.
The WASPs ferried aircraft ranging from the fastest fighters to the biggest bombers from factories or repair facilities to military bases around the country. Some didn't make it to their destinations when engines stalled or wings fell off in flight.
In a climate-controlled hangar the museum has amassed a hodgepodge of artifacts from the former pilots. Objects in the collection range from uniforms and diaries to flight simulators.
During the war, the women were not officially considered part of the military even though they went through the same training as male pilots. It wasn't until 1977 that they were given veteran status.
The National WASP WWII Museum is on the west side of Sweetwater a short distance off I-20. The doors open Tuesday through Sunday and are locked on Monday. For more information, go to waspmuseum.org.
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