Militarization and Deactivation
By March 1944, Congress was considering legislation to militarize the WASP. A long time objective of both Cochran and Arnold, the general believed the WASP should be brought into the Army Air Forces under direct commission. As civilians, the WASP had no insurance, no burial and death benefits, no military rank, and no Veterans benefits. By contrast, women serving in other branches of the military including the WACs, WAVES, SPARS, and Marines had all these. Throughout the program, the WASP believed they would be granted military status. It never occurred to them they would end their service the same way they started – as civilians.
On June 21, 1944, a bill for the militarization of the WASP was defeated in Congress by only 19 votes. On October 3rd, Cochran sent a letter to all WASP informing them of the program’s pending deactivation. The War Department announced that the decision to disband the WASP was based on indications that by the end of the year there would be sufficient male pilots to fill flying assignments in the US and overseas.
One minute past midnight on December 20th, 1944, the WASP were officially just women. They were supposed to be provided transportation home, or at least officially as close to home as possible. Some bases were grateful to have had them, sorry to see them go, and glad to be able to offer them transport. Others only saw them as far as the gates. The rest of the way would be up to the women.
Deactivation of the WASP was costly for both the war effort and taxpayers. It deprived the Air Transport Command of about 200 expert ferrying pilots, tow target pilots, test pilots, and administrative pilots. It cost a million dollars to train men to do women’s jobs, and it hampered the delivery of planes during the four to six months necessary to train men. It also prevented men who were being transferred to ferry duty from completing training for specialized combat missions. Women pilots had 18 months experience that could not be replaced and 50 percent of pursuit ferrying in the United States had been done by the WASP.
On December 7th, 1944, the last group of women pilots graduated from the program, class 44-10. General Arnold was present at Avenger Field for the ceremony. During his speech, Arnold said, “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.”