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Her love of flying leads to career as WASP in WWII

Updated: Oct 25, 2019

At age 6, Millicent Young touched an airplane for the first time but it certainly wasn't the last.


"I'd seen them circling, so I knew they were going to land," Millicent said, "I ran up there as fast as I could, and as I approached the aircraft the man said, 'Little girl, don't touch that airplane.' And of course I walked around him and touched it."


The 48 Stars team interviewed Millicent Young on March 25 [year] in Colorado Springs. Millicent was the 48th person to be interviewed for the upcoming film "48 Stars", which will capture the lives of 48 people who lived through World War II. In addition to being the 48th interview, Millicent was also the last, which truly excited the film crew.


Therefore, it's perfect that we begin our journey through the 48 stars and delve into their thrilling stories with Ms. Millicent.


Millicent served as a WASP, or a Woman Airforce Service Pilot, during World War II. As a WASP, Millicent flew military aircraft under the direction of the Army Air Forces.


Initially, Millicent hadn't had any intention of joining the WASPs. She just wanted to learn how to fly. And once Millicent set her mind to something, she couldn't be swayed.


"I told my mom I was going to learn to fly," Millicent said, "And my mom went home and she says, 'Well, she's going to learn to fly!' and my dad says in response, 'I'll be damned!' and that was the end of that."


Millicent soon traveled to Ogallala, Nebraska, and began learning how to fly at Searle Field. Millicent wasn't without obstacles though.


"The guy who was teaching me, Al, he didn't want women in the air. He let me know that was no place for a woman," Millicent said, "He would sit there with a piece of flexible exhaust pipe and slap it on his knees and I said, 'What are you doing that for,' because I got a little annoyed.


He then said, 'Well, I'll hit you over the head with it when you freeze on the controls.' That was comforting."


"But he did teach me to fly," She said, "There's no doubt about that."


"You had to have a reason for wanting to fly then," Millicent says, "because gasoline was in short supply. And I put down that I wanted to fly for the Army Air Corps, so that's how I got on the list to be in the WASPs."


And sure enough, soon after Millicent learned how to fly and returned home to Colorado, she received a call to join the WASPs. Of the 25,000 women who applied for the job, the Air Corps selected only 1,833 for training.


"I wanted to learn other kinds of airplanes, and my boyfriend was off in the South Pacific," Millicent says, "and so I thought I better do something. Besides, I wanted to fly!"


Millicent traveled to Sweetwater, Texas and joined the WASPs at Avenger Field. She learned how to fly military aircraft, which differed from her previous training. With the military aircraft, Millicent had to learn how to land very quickly and accurately.


"They'd draw a line in the dirt," Millicent says, "and you'd have to land so that your front two wheels were on one side and the tail would land on the other side."


The Air Force also used WASPs trainees as target practice.


"You towed targets and they'd shoot at you," Millicent says, "You had a windsock only made of nylon and you'd tow it about 100 feet behind you. And they'd shoot at you, and each had bullets with different colored chalk on them so you could tell who was hitting the target."


Other duties of the WASPs included administrative piloting, test-flying, and instruction.


"We did every kind of chore you could do in the United States," Millicent says.


However, the WASPs still experienced discrimination against them because of their gender. Millicent recalls a time in Carlsbad, New Mexico after she parked her plane.


"The guy jumped up on the wing and he took the cap off the gas tank and hooked me up to the mobile gas tank," Millicent says, "As soon as he did, I slipped back the canopy and fluffed up my hair and he went beserk. He said, 'What are you doing in there?' And I said, 'I'm flying the airplane.'


And he said, "You shouldn't be flying the airplane, I should be flying the airplane, I'm the man.' And I looked at him and I said, 'Honey, if you were, I'd have noticed.'"


Many other branches of the military, including the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard, had created a women's auxiliary unit. Many people thought the Air Force would do the same for the WASPs, as they were not officially part of the military. The men who helped train the WASPs saw how good and efficient they were in training, and were afraid that the women would take their jobs. They were so afraid that they began to campaign against the women. The Air Force shut down the WASP program in 1944.


"We were furious, and still are," Millicent says, "I picture Al, who didn't want any women flying - it was him preventing us from getting our military status. We finally got it, but it was long afterwards."


The WASPs didn't receive military status until 33 years later, in 1977. They received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.


Millicent says she doesn't like to describe her service as a sacrifice.


"Well for me, I never sacrificed anything, and I checked with my other WASP friends and none of them felt that they were sacrificing anything either," Millicent says. "Were we sacrificing parts of our lives? I didn't think so. We were investing in our lives and in our nation. At least that's the way I looked at it, and when I checked with them, they agreed as well."


At the the end of the interview, the 48 STARS team had the pleasure of hearing Millicent sing her WASP class song.


"Every class had their own song to the same tune, and the one I was in went like this:


We're the very last class at the Avenger field.

We're the very last class at the Avenger field,

We're the very last class at the Avenger field,

But we ain't gonna be here for much longer!

We'll go forth from here with our silver wings,

We'll go forth from here with our silver wings,

We'll go forth from here with our silver wings,

But we ain't gonna be here much longer!

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"When you see it waving, you know you're home.

No matter where it's at, you know you're home."

-Sibby Lebeau, WWII US Navy

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