FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — They were known as WASPs and served their country during World War II, but it has taken decades for them to get the recognition for that service.
The civilian "Women Air Service Pilots" performed important military duties including ferrying combat aircraft from the factories where they were made to various air bases around the country. That work freed up male pilots to serve in battle overseas.
One of the WASPs was Scarsdale native Alice Lovejoy, who was killed on Sept. 13, 1944, in a midair collision over Texas. She will be honored Monday, Memorial Day, by the American Airpower Museum on Long Island as part of "Operation Celestial Flight," a national program that seeks to pay tribute to all 38 WASPs who died during the war.
The program aims to place commemorative markers on the graves of the 38 women who died during WWII, according to Julia Lauria-Blum, curator of the WASP exhibit at the museum. Lovejoy will be the 35th WASP to receive the honor.
"It's very important that we recognize not only their contribution to American history, but women's history," Lauria-Blum said. "These women really blazed a path; they were pioneers for women's aviation. And most important, they gave their lives serving their country and must be honored like anyone else on Memorial Day."
Lauria-Blum said she became curious about Lovejoy, who was entombed in a mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery in Westchester County, while visiting her own mother's grave in the same cemetery. The cemetery does not allow commemorative markers, so Lauria-Blum said Lovejoy's instead will be put on display at the museum on Long Island.
Lovejoy, who was born in 1915, was the middle of three sisters. She learned to fly in Westchester County and later worked for Piper Aircraft in Lock Haven, Pa.
She was one of 18 women from Piper to join the WASPs.
She was piloting an AT-6 "Texan" when the wing of another AT-6 flying in formation colliding with Lovejoy's aircraft, according to Lauria-Blum. An instructor flying in the AT-6 with her tried to revive Lovejoy as the airplane went into a spiral.
He successfully bailed out, but Lovejoy crashed at Port Isabel, Texas.
The same year she died, a bill to militarize the WASP program failed by 19 votes in Congress. It was disbanded later in 1944.
The WASP eventually gained belated militarization and veteran's status from Congress in 1977, according to Lauria-Blum. In 2009, the WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Among those expected at Monday's ceremony are Alice Lovejoy Timmons, who was born eight years after the fatal crash and was named in her aunt's memory, and her daughter, Kayla.