N.C.-based Women Airforce Service Pilots to be Honored with Historical Marker

HOLLY RIDGE

The contributions of more than 1,800 women pilots during World War II soon will be commemorated with a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker.

The marker, honoring the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who served at Camp Davis during the war, will be dedicated at the Holly Ridge Community Center Sept. 23 with a ceremony beginning at 10 a.m.

The WASP program trained women to become pilots from July 1943 to December 1944. After their training, the WASP were stationed at 122 air bases across the U.S., including Camp Davis near Holly Ridge where 52 women served.

Approximately 25,000 women applied to join WASP nationwide. Among those, only 1,830 were accepted and 1,074 women (58.5% of accepted applicants) earned their wings. The WASP graduated with commercial pilot’s licenses and instrument ratings. They passed Army Air Force Regulations and had the equivalent of a college aeronautics degree. However, they had no military standing despite working closely with the armed forces during the war.

WASP at Camp Davis played an essential role in military training. They towed targets and flew simulated strafing missions for anti-aircraft gunnery training on firing ranges at Fort Fisher, Sears Point, Topsail Island, and Camp Davis. They also transported cargo between bases.

Former Camp Davis WASP pilots Doretha Moorman and Dora Dougherty were instrumental in training pilots to fly the B-29 Superfortress bomber, the model of the plane that eventually dropped the atomic bombs.

Some WASP from Camp Davis participated in a state-of-the-art and secretive program testing remote-controlled aircraft. The development of drones improved safety, especially during anti-aircraft gunnery training.

Although WASP did not see combat, their infrastructure and training support was often hazardous. In all, 38 WASP, including two at Camp Davis, died performing military work. There were 14 crashes at Camp Davis.

The WASP finally were recognized in 1977 when Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona sponsored legislation granting members of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots status with the Veterans’ Administration. In 2009 the WASP were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of their service.

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