John Moseley, historian and manager of the NC Maritime Museum in Southport, presented his program “Daughters of the Sky”: The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in the Cape Fear at Harper Library on March 9,2023. This unique military program trained the first women pilots to fly the US Army’s frontline arsenal in World War II.
Ms. Jacquline Cochran found support from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in establishing this program. In spring of 1941, Ms. Cochran met with President Roosevelt and Chief of US Army Air Corps, General Henry Arnold. Ms. Cochran set up expectations and training for the women who had to be accomplished pilots before they were accepted into this program.
The first class of women began training in Houston, Texas in November 1942. By July 22, 1943, fifty-two WASP were transferred to Camp Davis, in coastal North Carolina, to replace male pilots who were transferred to combat duty. The women trained to fly worn out Douglas A-24 Banshee that were brought back from the Pacific. These women pulled targets along a prearranged flight path to assist soldiers who were firing live ammunition, to improve their accuracy. They flew over beaches at Fort Fisher, Sears Point, Topsail Island and Camp Davis. Two of the pilots at Camp Davis made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
This program was kept quiet until 1977, when they were finally recognized for their service to our nation. During the 1980s, the WASP were awarded WWII victory medals and in 2009, the surviving WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award an American citizen can receive.
In 2021, Mr. Moseley was instrumental in securing a North Carolina Historical Marker on US Highway 17, at Camp Davis in Holly Ridge to honor these women. In compiling the history of these extra-ordinary women, Mr. Moseley met with a former WASP who lives in Wilmington who provided information about their missions.
If you want to find out what is was like for these women pilots, take a walk to the NC Maritime Museum in Southport on March 18 and try the anti-aircraft simulator based on an actual device. See firsthand how difficult it was for the gunners to hit their targets and how dangerous for the women pilots.