SWEETWATER, Texas - Just down the road from Abilene, a museum in Sweetwater tells the story of a group of women who changed the military...and society's view of their gender.
In 1929, the WASP World War II Museum started off as the Sweetwater Municipal Airport.
Seventy years ago, due to a shortage of male pilots, women pilots came to Avenger Field, Sweetwater to learn to fly for the military. The program was civil service, so they weren't considered military personnel at that time.
The WASP Museum administrator, Carol Cain, has studied the women's history and says they knew just as much as the men did.
"Anything that the male pilots were doing in the United States, these women were trained to do," said Cain.
At the end of 1944, the government closed the flight school in Sweetwater and WASP records were sealed. Thirty-three years later in 1977, the women of WASP were granted military status and were given veteran's benefits.
According to Cain, the importance of the women being granted military recognition is a big deal.
"Well, it's important to keep the history of the WASP alive because it is such a unique program. These women were the first women to fly United States military aircraft and they forever changed the role of women in aviation," Cain said.
We found a few interesting facts about the women of WASP. They were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010 and most women drove 1938 Buicks, or similar vehicles, to and from training in Sweetwater. The women also had a gremlin mascot that they kept on their planes; her name was Fifinella.
The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the admission is free. However, the museum does host an annual 5k fundraiser in an effort to expand the museum and support veterans.
"We are in the midst of a $4.5 million climate controlled expansion where we will be able to exhibit the artifacts that we are collecting," Cain said.
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