WASP archives at TWU featured in documentary

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Courtesy photo
 
Members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, from left Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Currier and Blanche Bross walk in front of a B-17 plane called a “Pistol Packin’ Mama” after training at Lockbourne AAB in Columbus, Ohio.

The extensive archives of the Women AirforceService Pilots — known as WASPs — at Texas Woman’s University will be featuredin high definition for the first time tonight in a new documentary on localpublic television stations.

The documentary, We Served Too: The WomenAirforce Service Pilots of WWII, will air tonight on KERA (Channel 13) at 5p.m.

TWU provided resources and research assistance forthe documentary, including access to photographs, documents and clothing thatare housed at the university, according to Katherine Landdeck, a historyprofessor who has researched the group for almost 20 years and is featured asan expert in the documentary. 

TWU began to collect and house the archives in 1992after some of the program veterans decided to try to preserve their history,Landdeck said.

They were impressed that TWU cared about theircollections, and the university excelled in research on women in the militaryand women in aviation, Landdeck said. 

“I think they started to realize that their storyis going to be forgotten and they’ll be left out of history if they don’t puttheir stuff there, and TWU is doing a really good job of caring for theirmaterials,” she said. 

In 1942, 25,000 women applied for a new,experimental Army Air Corps program that would train women to be civilianpilots. Of the applicants, 1,830 were accepted and 1,074 became the WomenAirforce Service Pilots of World War II, operating until December 1944. 

In the program, the women were assigned tooperational duties, and flew every different plane. They also served as flightinstructors, flew planes with targets attached to allow soldiers on the groundto practice shooting, and in other skilled jobs. The goal of the program was torelease men from these duties so they could go and fight as combat pilots,Landdeck said. 

The collection has grown as more women from theprogram provide documents and memorabilia from their time as WASPs, saidKimberly Johnson, the coordinator of special collections. 

“At the archives, our goal has been to enhance thehistory and legacy of the WASPs and be active in the promotion of theirhistory,” she said. 

To date, the archives include more than 5,000electronically accessible items and support around 100 different exhibitionsaround the country each year with memorabilia. The collection has more than 1million documents and 50,000 photographs, Johnson said. More than 15,000researchers have accessed the archives, with visitors flying from as far asFinland.

The records helped provide much of the backgroundresearch for the documentary, and staff from the collection worked with thefilmmaker, Jill Bond, when she visited the archives in person and later,Johnson said. 

Having a filmmaker interested in the collectionhelps the staff refamiliarize themselves with the collection, and also helpsremind the student employees in the archives of the collection’s importance,Johnson said. 

“It has a tendency to excite students about theresearch that they’re doing,” she said. “They’re working with materials thatare unique and rare, and truly historic, so when they see someone doing that andthe project is something they have an opportunity to see themselves, you canfeel their excitement.”

Part of the importance of preservation is how longthe group went without recognition, Landdeck said. The women weren’t givenrecognition as WWII veterans until 1977, and were given the Congressional GoldMedal in 2010. 

“They went from being vilified as the program wasending because they were seen as taking men’s jobs,” she said. “Then in the’70s, they’re these grandmas fighting for their recognition as veterans. Now,in 2010 they’re these cute great-grandmothers finally getting nationalrecognition — it’s been quite a ride for them, I think, to be forgotten, then[have] people realize, ‘You were pretty special, weren’t you?’” 

Landdeck and others are trying to keep the legacyof the WASPs in modern-day conversation about WWII veterans, especially sinceless than 200 are alive today. She and others are working to raise money tobuild a float for the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade (www.waspfloat.com) inhopes of honoring the women on a larger stage. 

“We just want to honor these women. ... It’s areally interesting group, and they’re just amazing,” Landdeck said. “The floatwould be a great chance to say, ‘Yeah, we really do think you’re special.’”

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and viaTwitter at @JennaFDuncan.

WASPs on PBS

What: A new documentary, “WeServed Too: The Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII”

When: Airing tonight, 5 p.m.

Where: KERA-TV, Channel 13

On theWeb: www.wstthemovie.com


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