FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — They were known as WASPs and served their country during World War II, but it has taken decades for them to get the recognition for that service.
The civilian “Women Air Service Pilots” performed important military duties including ferrying combat aircraft from the factories where they were made to various air bases around the country. That work freed up male pilots to serve in battle overseas.
One of the WASPs was Scarsdale native Alice Lovejoy, who was killed on Sept. 13, 1944, in a midair collision over Texas.
She was honored on Memorial Day by the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale as part of “Operation Celestial Flight,” a national program that seeks to pay tribute to all 38 WASPs who died during the war.
“This is a belated tribute to each one of them and today is Alice Lovejoy’s day,” curator Julia Lauria-Blum told 1010 WINS.
The program aims to place commemorative markers on the graves of the 38 women who died during WWII. Lovejoy is the 35th WASP to receive the honor.
“In the time period between 1942 and 1944, the 38 who died in the service of their country were not given military funerals,” Lauria-Blum told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan.
“It’s very important that we recognize not only their contribution to American history, but women’s history,” Lauria-Blum said. “These women really blazed a path; they were pioneers for women’s aviation. And most important, they gave their lives serving their country and must be honored like anyone else on Memorial Day.”
Lauria-Blum said she became curious about Lovejoy, who was entombed in a mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery in Westchester County, while visiting her own mother’s grave in the same cemetery.
“I came upon Alice Lovejoy’s headstone and it had a little bronze plate describing her service and it captured my interest,” Lauria-Blum said. “The story unfolded over the course of many years.”
The cemetery does not allow commemorative markers, so Lauria-Blum said Lovejoy’s instead will be put on display at the museum on Long Island.
Lovejoy, who was born in 1915, was the middle of three sisters. She learned to fly in Westchester County and later worked for Piper Aircraft in Lock Haven, Pa.
She was one of 18 women from Piper to join the WASPs.
She was piloting an AT-6 “Texan” when the wing of another AT-6 flying in formation colliding with Lovejoy’s aircraft, according to Lauria-Blum. An instructor flying in the AT-6 with her tried to revive Lovejoy as the airplane went into a spiral.
He successfully bailed out, but Lovejoy crashed at Port Isabel, Texas.
The same year she died, a bill to militarize the WASP program failed by 19 votes in Congress. It was disbanded later in 1944.
The WASP eventually gained belated militarization and veteran’s status from Congress in 1977, according to Lauria-Blum. In 2009, the WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Alice Lovejoy Timmons, who was born eight years after the fatal crash and was named in her aunt’s memory, and her daughter, Kayla attended Monday’s ceremony.
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