World War II women pilots soar past male prejudice

Bernice Falk Haydu
Bernice Falk Haydu
Justine Woods and Mildred Marshall
Justine Woods and Mildred Marshall

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

FORD ISLAND (KHNL) - There are only 300 of them still around today to share a piece of history few people know about. They were called Fly Girls in the 40's.

One of them is visiting Hawaii to share her story of how they served in World War II as pilots, and soared past male prejudices.

Bernice Falk Haydu of New Jersey is a living, breathing chapter in history. She is one of the last remaining Women Air Force Service Pilots, or WASP, who proved to our male-dominated war-torn country they could handle what was considered back then only a man's job.

"After all, an airplane knows no sex, it has no idea whether a male or female is flying it," Haydu said.

Haydu's colleagues Justine Woods and Mildred Marshall are the only two living in Hawaii.

As WASPs, they flew military planes. A few are on display at the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor.

"Oh wonderful, wonderful, I could never have flown anything like that without doing this," said Marshall.

WASP was formed in 1942 to help the Army Air Force, which was stretched thin during WWII.

25,000 women answered the call.

Only 1074 earned their wings.

"If you notice there's a diamond in the center of the wing, not because diamonds are a girls best friend, but because that is the shield of Athena, the greek goddess of war wisdom and crafts," said Haydu.

WASPs ferried planes, tested them, and taught male pilots. They didn't fly in combat, but some were shot at while towing target planes.

"Sometimes they came very close. And I said let it out. Ten more feet!" said Marshall.

Their stories as WASPs tell of a past the future can learn from.

"If you have a dream, if there's something you want to do, just do it. Don't listen to other people telling you that you can't," said Haydu.

The military didn't recognize the women at first. It took 30-plus years before Congress finally declared WASPs as veterans.

On September 21 and 22, Bernice will speak at the Pacific Aviation Museum to share her stories as a WASP.

You must register by September 18 to attend.