by Jess Clackum
In 1972, thirty years after the WASP program began, the WASP still had not received veteran status or military benefits for their service. Equal Rights Advocate and Title IX Author, Rep. Patsy Mink, of Hawaii, sponsored a bill for the militarization of the WASP, but the House Veterans Affairs Committee refused to consider it. WASP members organized the WASP Military Committee and named retired USAF Colonel Bruce Arnold, a longtime WASP advocate, and son of the late General "Hap" Arnold, Chair of their committee.
Joining forces with Col. Arnold, was another ardent WASP supporter, Senator Barry Goldwater. Goldwater, who had flown with WASP aviators in WWII, launched an investigation into the veteran status and military benefits for the WASP. When Goldwater's legislation to recognize the WASP was rejected, he was undeterred, threatening to attach a WASP amendment to every piece of legislation that he introduced in the upper chamber if Senate opponents continued to block the WASP bill.
The American Legion and Veterans Administration argued that if the WASP were granted veteran benefits, then other civilian organizations that had supported the war effort -- the Civil Air Patrol for example -- would also begin to lobby for military recognition.
Col. Arnold and many of the WASP testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, as to the military training, top secret missions, drills, uniforms, sidearms and all of the things that made the WASP a military organization.
Col. Arnold concluded his remarks with an impassioned plea:
"...Who is more deserving, a young girl, flying on written official military orders who is shot down and killed by our own anti-aircraft artillery while carrying out those orders, or a young finance clerk with an eight to five job in a Denver office?... We hope that this committee will remember that the WASP too have borne the battle, a battle that left 79 of them killed or injured. Not to care for them also makes a mockery of the motto of the Veterans Administration as well as the whole Veterans Administration system in our country."
It was a five year battle, but in the fall of 1977, President Jimmy Carter, initially opposed to the legislation, signed the GI Bill Improvement Act of 1977, granting the WASP full military status for their service.