WASP Hazel Ying Lee broke barriers for Chinese-American Women

by Jess Clackum

Hazel Ying Lee was the first Chinese-American woman to fly for the U.S. military. Celebrated for her bravery and skill, she was honored as an excellent pilot by her peers.

Hazel Lee was born in Portland, Oregon on August 24, 1912. Lee showed interest in flying since early adolescence, and saved up money for private flying lessons by working as an elevator operator. It was one of the few jobs that a Chinese-American woman could hold at that time.

Despite the fact that less than 1% of pilots in the U.S. were women, let alone Chinese, Lee was headstrong. Her sister Frances said, "It was the thought of doing something she loved. Lee enjoyed the danger and doing something that was new to Chinese girls." By age 19, Lee was soaring in the sky.

In 1944, Lee attended Pursuit School in Brownsville, Texas, becoming one of a select group of women qualified to fly high-powered, single-engine, fighter aircraft, including the P-51 Mustang.

Hazel Ying Lee died on November 25, 1944, as a result of injuries sustained in a collision on a runway with a malfunctioning plane whose radio had failed. Both planes had accidentally been directed to land on the same runway at the same time. Hazel Lee was one of the last of the 38 WASP’s killed during the war.