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Recognition finally arriving for Millicent Young, other women pilots in WWII WASP program

Millicent Young displays her Congressional Gold Medal during a reception on her behalf at a Westside restaurant Jan. 5. She and other surviving women who were non-combat pilots for the military in World War II received the medals in 2010 - some 66 years after their WASP program was decommissioned. The blue patch with wings was given to her by General Hap Arnold, then chief of the Army Air Forces.
Westside Pioneer photo
       A reception at a Westside restaurant Jan. 5 honored Millicent Amanda Peterson Young, a Colorado Springs resident who in World War II was among about 1,000 female pilots who served the U.S. military.
       She proudly displayed for attendees her Congressional Gold Medal, which she had received in 2010 at a belated ceremony in Washington, D.C., for about 170 surviving WASPs (Women Air Force Service Pilots).
       According to a book by Millicent's son, Bill Young, the WASPs - known informally as the “Fly Girls” - logged more than 60 million miles “in every type of aircraft and on every type of assignment flown by the male Army Air Force pilots, except combat.”
       Titled “Going for the Gold! The Journey with the WASP, Women's Airforce Service Pilots of World War II,” his book includes the history of the program, as well as the lack of honor those aviators received during the war and for many years afterward. The “Gold” in the book's title refers to the Congressional Gold Medal event March 10, 2010 in Washington, D.C., when the neglect finally ended.
       The Jan. 5 reception was organized by Judy Kasten, owner of an Old Colorado City accounting firm. Having recently met Millicent Young, Kasten said she was impressed by the service of a “most delightful lady” and wanted to give her some recognition.
       Interviewed at the reception, Millicent, now 92, said she grew up on a Nebraska farm and longed to fly from the age of 6. She started taking lessons in 1943, inspired by the exploits of Evelyn Sharp,
Millicent Young greets an attendee at her reception. At right is her son, Bill Young, who has written a book about the women aviator program in World War II, of which his mother was a part.
Westside Pioneer photo
a pilot who was also from Nebraska, “I read an article on her and I thought, if she can do it, I can do it.”
       Bill Young's book points out that the government put out a call for women aviators in 1943 as a result of “the severe loss of male combat pilots” in the war. Still, the Army Air Forces was selective. “More than 25,000 American women applied for training, but only 1,830 were accepted and took the oath,” he writes.
       The WASPs went through the same flight training as the male Army Air Forces' cadets. They also took many of the same risks, sometimes with planes that were new and/or had problems. Over the program's two-year span (1943-44), 38 of the Fly Girls died - including Evelyn Sharp. Millicent herself specialized in towing targets for gunnery practice, she recalled, with 100 feet of distance between the targets and the AT-6 she was flying.
The cover of Bill Young's book about the WASPs features a photo of his mother Millicent when she was a non-combat pilot in World War II.
Courtesy of Bill and Millicent Young
       But the government position was that the WASPs were not actually military. This manifested itself even in the way their dead were treated. The military did not pay for the burials, nor did it allow gold stars in their parents' windows or flags on their coffins, Young relates in “Going for the Gold.”
       The Fly Girl program ended suddenly. “With victory in WWII almost certain, on Dec. 20, 1944, the WASPs were quietly and unceremoniously disbanded; there were no honors, no benefits and very few thank-you's,” Young writes. “Just as they had paid their own way to enter training, they had to pay their own way back home… The WASP military records were immediately sealed, stamped 'classified' or 'secret,' then filed away in government archives, unavailable to the historians who wrote the history of WWII or the scholars who compiled the history text books used today.”
       But over time the story spread, anyway, with the help of the WASPs' “Wings Across America,” an organization “dedicated to educating the American public” about their service, according to Young's book. There also have been exhibits at “numerous museums,” including the Smithsonian, the book states. And in modern times, “thousands of women aviators flying support aircraft have benefited from the service of the WASPs and followed in their footsteps,” Young reports.
       Millicent went on to work for a short time after the war as a commercial pilot. Marrying another pilot, she became a mother and devoted herself to raising a family. They moved to the Springs in 1952. She later worked in other types of jobs (even as a newspaper food critic).
       Asked in the interview if she felt bad about the past treatment received by herself and the other Fly Girls, she said no. “Why should I forget the good times,” she commented with a wide grin, “just because somebody was stupid?”

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 1/7/15; Business: Events)

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