By Joseph Pentangelo, Senior Police Public Information Officer
WACs & WAVES—long popularized in Hollywood’s 1940s patriotic films and memorialized in song by the Andrew Sisters—are the American women who served their country in WW2, performing auxiliary military duties for the Army and Navy.
Civilian women also served our country well during the war, taking traditionally male jobs in factories to keep the war machine moving—think Rosie the Riveter. However, lesser known, and almost lost in history, were the flying women of WWII.
Kathleen Hilbrandt learned to fly at the Staten Island Flying School, and continued her training there when the school relocated to Pennsylvania soon after the start of the war. In 1944, at age 20, she was accepted into the WASP program. After the war, Kathleen worked as a pilot instructor, giving flying lessons to veterans under the GI Bill. She concurrently worked as a secretary for Bendix Aviation for another 33 years. Kathleen was instrumental in the fight to receive recognition for her, and all the other WASP’s, service during the war.
When the Port Authority Police Department learned that Kathleen would be traveling through Newark Airport in September on her way to a family vacation in Florida, they were honored to escort and provide VIP treatment to this trailblazing vet. Led by Inspector Louis Klock (pictured), the PAPD, along with Jet Blue Airlines personnel, ensured that Ms. Hilbrandt received the red carpet treatment.
“The Port Authority Police Department is thrilled to offer assistance to one of our valuable WWII vets. It is indeed an honor to meet Ms. Hilbrandt, and we humbly thank her for her service to our country. It was our goal to enable her to have a comfortable experience in our airport,” said PAPD Inspector Klock.
In the early 1940s, the war was taking a toll on the American military, resulting in a shortage of pilots for the Army Air Force. After much resistance from US Army commanders, yet with the full support and backing of Eleanor Roosevelt, an all-volunteer contingent of female pilots was organized and trained. This skilled and fiercely patriotic group became an official volunteer arm of the US Army Air Corps. Almost 25,000 women across the county applied to fly for the US military. Ultimately, 1,074 were chosen to become Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs.
The WASPs were assigned to military bases across the United States and performed such work as flying missions towing targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice and airlifting cargo. By the end of 1944, the WASPs had also delivered over 12,000 new aircraft, including some experimental models, to Air Force bases around the country.
In December of 1944, the WASP program was quietly dissolved and the records of these women’s service were sealed. Although their service was an integral part of the war effort, they were denied veteran’s benefits. Despite sustained opposition from much of the military elite and some veteran’s groups, President Jimmy Carter finally granted veteran’s status to the WASPs in 1977. In 1979, the surviving WASPs were issued long-overdue WW2 Victory Medals. In 2009, President Barack Obama bestowed Congressional Gold Medals to each living WASP member.