Today marks the 70th anniversary of the deactivation of the WASP program.
Elizabeth “Betty” Maxine Chambers was a young mother and a widow. Betty’s husband, Army pilot Lieutenant Robert William Chambers, died in 1942 when his P-38F Lightening aircraft crashed at Mills Field in San Mateo, California.
Undaunted, Betty applied to be among the first female pilots in the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. This innovative civilian program was designed to employ women to ferry wartime aircraft, serve as flight instructors, tow targets for live anti-aircraft practice, transport cargo, and fly experimental aircraft. These female pilots relieved men from domestic duties so they could fight overseas in the war.
The women were trained as rigorously as military pilots and were paid at a rate of $1,800 per year. Successful trainees were be stationed at one of 120 air bases, paid $3,000 per year, and reclassified as civilian pilots.
Like the majority of her fellow pilots, Betty Chambers received her training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. After training, Betty was sent to Turner Field in Albany, Georgia, then attended the Army Air Force Tactical School in Orlando, Florida. She was later stationed at Greenwood Army Air Field in Greenwood, Mississippi.
As male pilots returned from wartime service, WASP members in service at the end of 1944 were forced to resign.Men wanted to fly domestically and the country wanted women back at home to take care of their families.
Betty Chambers was among the women whose service ended when the WASP program was disbanded.
On November 2, 1977, President Jimmy Carter passed Public Law 95-202, which granted military veteran status to all who served under the WASP program. In 2009, the highest medal awarded to civilians—the Congressional Gold Medal—was bestowed upon the Women Airforce Service Pilots.
Betty’s photograph (seen here) comes from her official personnel folders (OPFs).The National Archives at St. Louis maintains the civilian WASP (OPFs).
The administrative paperwork in these files reveals story after story of WASP adventures and history. OPFs are open to the public and photocopies of OPFs can be obtained for a fee. Please visit http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/archival-programs/civilian-personnel-archival/ for more information.
Elizabeth ”Betty” Maxine Chambers, WASP Class of 44-W-3, from her OPF, National Archives in St. Louis.
Telegram from Jacqueline Cochran summoning Elizabeth Chambers to WASP duty, from her OPF, National Archives in St. Louis.