Blog Tour Review: Clipped Wings

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To celebrate the release of an upcoming documentary, Clipped Wings has received a timely re-release! I am thrilled to share this extraordinary book with all of you today! Please read on for an excerpt from Clipped Wings by Molly Merryman! ClippedWings (2)Clipped Wings: The Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) of World War II Publication Date: September 15, 2020 Genre: History/ WWII/ Avation/ Female Pilots

In her exhilerating book Clipped Wings: The Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII, author Molly Merryman shines light on the critical and dangerous work of the daring female aviators who changed history. New York University Press classics series has just updated the book with Merryman’s reflections on the changes in women’s aviation in the past twenty years. A documentary based on Merryman’s work, Coming Home: Fight For A Legacy, is currently in production.

The WASP directly challenged the assumptions of male supremacy in wartime culture. They flew the fastest fighter planes and heaviest bombers; they test-piloted

experimental models and worked in the development of weapons systems. Yet the WASP were the only women’s auxiliary within the armed services of World War II that was not militarized.

In Clipped Wings, Merryman draws upon finally-declassified military documents, congressional records, and interviews with the women who served as WASP during World War II to trace the history of the over one thousand pilots who served their country as the first women to fly military planes. She examines the social pressures that culminated in their disbandment in 1944—even though a wartime need for their services still existed—and documents their struggles and eventual success, in 1977, to gain military status and receive veterans’ benefits.

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My Review

I have always loved history.  Give me a story- whether fiction or truth- set in World War I or 2, and I will quietly disappear into the past for a few days.  “Back then” fascinates me; to think of a time so different then now; when middle class Americans talked instead of texted, grew their own food, ate dinner together every night and lived/worked/died within a 5-mile radius.

When the opportunity to review this book presented itself, I jumped on the chance to read it.  I have met an author who has extensive knowledge of wartime history and, after watching her present at a local library a few years ago, I have become enchanted with the women of war.

The WASPs, or the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, was a group of women pilots formed in 1942 to aid the war effort. While these women risked their lives each day- the same as men- they were treated very differently.  This book showcases those differences and the injustices done to these women because of their sex.

Coming from a large Italian family whose roots were barely two decades old when World War II broke out, it never occurred to me that anyone other than men went to war.  I have spent countless hours with my great-aunts, listening to so many stories of the “good old days”, “when Uncle So-and-so was in the War”, I could probably write my OWN book about it. But it never occurred to me that it was only men; looking back and remembering, never once do I recall anyone speaking of a woman going to war.

This book not only does a great job of outlining the story of the WASPs, but it does so in a way that is also interesting. As a woman, obviously I would like to see my gender treated the same as any other. However, that was not the case during for these patriots.

Did you know:

  • Over 25,000 women volunteered for this program.
  • The WASP program was the only women’s auxiliary within the armed services of World War II that was not militarized.
  • The program was considered a “civilian volunteer” group, even though they flew risky missions and tested the first fighter jets. These women were required to have a pilot’s license with a minimum of 75 hours of flight time. (Versus a man’s requirement of no license or flying hours required).
  • The women who fought to be a part of this group paid for their own training, housing, and transportation. If they died in service, they were not recognized as wartime casualties and did not receive military burial honors.
  • The WASPs did not get to participate in post-war benefits provided in the GI Bill and had to wait nearly thirty years to gain any type of military status.

What a blatant sexist attitude that was taken by our government.  These women were largely disrespected because they were taking the place of a man in the military when they should’ve “been at home”, tending to more “domestic chores”. While there were thousands of other women aiding in the war effort throughout the different branches, the WASPs were ALL pilots, thus taking a most coveted roles from men. 

The subject matter is fascinating, such a huge part of American history, yet largely unknown.  As I was reading this book, I discussed it with several family members (some of whom were- or had fathers- in the military) and the WASPS were a group they had heard extraordinarily little of.  The determination and perseverance of these women to fly was evident in what they went through to be given a chance. Merryman does a great job of explaining then program and its beginnings as well as what happened after the war. Although disbanded before the official end of WW2, the WASPs still delt with the issue of gender inequality. Not being able to participate in benefits meant for veterans, ineligibility for a flag to drape one’s coffin and being chastised for expecting the same treatment as their fellow male veterans were struggles that did not end on VE day.  But these fighters did not give up. It may have taken them 30 years, but they did eventually get the recognition they deserved: to be considered honorably discharged veterans. 

A very solid read. I will not lie, there is A LOT of information between these covers.  This is one of those books where it could take you a few weeks to get through, simply because the material is so dense. Her use of military documents as well as interviews with former WASPs were well organized and so interesting! I wish I would have started it a bit sooner, only because I found myself wanting to stop every few pages and absorb what I was reading. A wonderful ride into the past, showcasing the strength and determination of some amazing women.



WASP Missions

Airplane ferrying was the initial mission for which WASPs were created, and it would occupy nearly half of all active WASP graduates when the program ended in December 1944. Planes produced in the United States needed to be flown from the factories to air bases at home, in Canada, and overseas. To handle this transportation demand, the ATC hired thousands of male civilian pilots to ferry planes. These male pilots were later commissioned directly into the AAF if they met the requirement and desired commissioning. The WASPs were brought on as ferrying pilots, and by the time they were disbanded in December 1944, they had delivered 12,652 planes on domestic missions. By that time, 141 WASPs were assigned to the ATC. Although they comprised a small percentage of the total Ferrying Division pilots, WASPs had a significant impact. By 1944, WASPs were ferrying the majority of all pursuit planes and were so integrated into the Ferrying Division that their disbandment caused delays in pursuit deliveries.

The days of ferrying pilots were long and unpredictable. At bases that handled a range of planes, pilots did not know from one day to the next what planes they would be flying or how long of a flight to expect. In Minton’s words, “We usually reported to the flight line at seven o’clock in the morning and looked at the board to see what had been assigned us in the way of an airplane, where it went and what we would need in the way of equipment to take along, and then we would go out to find our airplane and sign it out at operations and check it over to be sure everything was okay with the airplane. And then we would take off to wherever the plane was supposed to go.”

Ferrying military aircraft during World War II was not an easy task. The majority of these planes were not equipped with radios, so pilots navigated by comparing air maps with physical cues (highways, mountains, rivers, etc.) or by flying the beam. (The “beam” was a radio transmission of Morse code signals. A grid of such beams was established across the United States. To follow the beam, a pilot would listen on her headphone for aural “blips” or tones to direct her. This required a great deal of concentration and was not always accurate.) Both navigational techniques were difficult, and this was compounded by the facts that many air bases and factories were camouflaged, blackouts were maintained in coastal areas, and the navigational beams were prone to breaking down. Problems sometimes arose with the planes themselves, which ha d been tested at the factories but never flown. Cross-continental flights often took several days, depending on the planes being flown and weather conditions.

In addition, planes equipped with top secret munitions or accessories had to be guarded while on the ground, and WASPs received orders to protect these planes at all cost. WASPs flying these planes were issued .45 caliber pistols and were trained to fire machine guns.

Available on Amazon

About the Author

Merryman, Molly

Molly Merryman, Ph.D. is the founding director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and an Associate Professor at Kent State University. She is the Historical Research Producer on the upcoming Red Door Films documentary about the WASP, Coming Home: Fight For A Legacy. She has directed and produced nine documentaries that have been broadcast and screened in the United States and United Kingdom. She is the research director for the Queer Britain national LGBT+ museum and is a visiting professor and advisory board member for the Queer History Centre at Goldsmiths, University of London. Merryman is the vice president of the International Visual Sociology Association.

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