Denial of Benefits for the WASP
By March of 1944, Congress was considering legislation to militarize the WASP. Both General Arnold and Cochran believed the WASPs should be brought into the Army Air Forces under direct commission. As civilians, WASPs were denied insurance, burial and death benefits, military rank, and Veteran's benefits. In contrast, women who served in other branches including the WACs, WAVES, SPARS, and Marines were allowed such benefits. Throughout the program, WASPs believed that eventually they would be granted military status. They never thought they would end their service the same way they began- as civilians without benefits.
The Fight for Rights
On March 22, 1944, General “Hap” Arnold stood before the House Committee on Military Affairs. He convinced this board to advocate the militarization of the WASPs. John Costello, a committee member, introduced the bill H.R. 4219 which, among other things, would grant the same privileges, insurance, hospitalization and death benefits that male flying officers received. The Secretary of War wrote a letter giving complete support for the bill. Still, controversy clouded the bill. The Civil Aeronautics Administration War Training Service had recently been terminated, leaving 14,000 men without jobs. Some of these men were suddenly being drafted for ground service despite their experience flying. General Arnold took the stand that the WASPs were not taking their jobs and that the civilian fliers could be pilots- if they qualified. Less than a third of these men did. This quarrel quickly opened the way for gossip and criticism of the WASPs. On June 20th, 1944, the debate was more heated than ever, and the House convened to vote on H.R. 4219. After lengthy discussion, the bill that was to give WASPs their promised military rights was struck down. It was defeated by only 19 votes.
In 1944, as the bill to militarize the WASPs went before Congress, the need for pilots decreased. At one minute past midnight on December 20th 1944, the WASPs were officially just women. Earlier on December 7, 1944, the last class of women pilots graduated from the program. General Arnold was present at Avenger Field for the ceremony. During the speech he presented, General Arnold stated "You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown that you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. If ever there was any doubt in anyone's mind that women can become skillful pilots, the WASP have dispelled that doubt. I want to stress how valuable I believe the whole WASP program has been for the country...[We] know that you can handle our greatest fighters, our heaviest bombers; [We] know that you are capable of ferrying, target towing, and test flying. So, on this last graduation day, I salute you and all WASP. We of the Army Air Force are proud of you; we will never forget our debt to you." But forget we did.
"We will never forget our debt to you" - General "Hap" Arnold before WASP Class 44-10