For Women’s History Month, highlights a recent visit with Jerrie Badger, one of seven remaining members of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program during World War II, by female cadets in the Georgia Wing’s Forsyth Composite Squadron.

GAwingAt 102 years old, Jerrie Badger has a lot to share with young women about what it took to be an aviation pioneer in the 1940s, when she flew for the World War II Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).  

One of the seven remaining WASP alumna, Badger also has a lot of advice about life in general.     

“Right now, if you ask me my age, I would have to say, ‘I don’t know’ because it’s not that important,” Badger told a dozen female Civil Air Patrol cadets during a special-invitation question-and-answer session organized by the GAforsythVeterans of Foreign Wars Post 9143 and Auxiliary at the Cumming, Georgia, assisted living center where she resides.   

“My advice in life is to have the desire to do what it takes (to achieve your goal), whether it’s what you would like to do or not, and work to get where you want to be,” Badger said.  

Where she wanted to be in her early 20s was in the sky, handling the controls of an aircraft while riding in the cockpit.  

When one of the cadets asked if her family encouraged her to fly, Badger didn’t hesitate to tell the truth.  

“Ooh, that’s a long way back,” she said. “My family was opposed to me flying.  “Women didn’t do that at that time. They didn’t like it, but I did it anyway.” 

The demands posed by World War II helped make her aviation dreams possible.  

The WASP were formed in 1942, when the U.S. faced an unprecedented shortage of pilots because of the demands of World War II. The military needed to transfer planes between more than 100 bases across the country and transport supplies and parts without tying up the male pilots needed for combat duty. 

In response, Nancy Harkness Love created the Women Auxiliary Ferry Squadron and Jacqueline Cochran the Women’s Flying Training Detachment. One year later, the two organizations merged and formed the WASP program under Lt. Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, Army Air Forces commander.   

Cochran’s inspiring story was what first garnered Badger’s attention.   

“She was the outstanding women pilot of her day,” Badger said. “She was the guiding angel for us.”  

According to the Department of Defense, during the war the WASPs logged more than 60 million miles flying every airplane the military possessed and every type of mission male pilots flew except combat. They delivered 12,650 aircraft representing 78 different types to bases throughout the nation.  

“We weren’t accepted into the service at first,” Badger told the visiting Georgia Wing cadets. “You really had to prove your capabilities and willingness.   

“But it all worked out fine.”   

WASPbadgeIt didn’t take long for the men to welcome the WASP once they saw what the women were capable of, she said.   

The WASP were paid as civil service employees with the promise they would be able to join the Army Air Forces afterward. 

According to the Department of Defense, Arnold told the WASPs, “We have not been able to build an airplane that you can’t handle. It is on the record that women can fly as well as men.”  

He planned to commission the women pilots as second lieutenants within the Army Air Force, only to run into political opposition. After an attempt to change the WASP status from civilian to military in March 1944, a militarization bill failed in Congress. Later that year, the program was officially deactivated.  

For 35 years, the WASP service records were classified and withheld from the public.   

WASPabFinally, in 1977, the WASP won their veterans status. In 2010 they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service. 

Badger was one of only 1,074 women to graduate from the program. More than 25,000 women applied, but only 2,000 were accepted.  

She was a part of the last graduating class, 44-W-10. 

Cadet Capt. Juli Vega of the Forsyth County Cadet Squadron said spending the morning with Badger meant a lot to her. 

“They started women in the Air Force,” Vega said. “They started women flying in the military, and that’s exactly what I want to do.  

“They served in their own way. and it’s a piece of history that you don’t see often anymore.”  

For Vega and her fellow cadets, talking to someone who lived through history turned out to be much different than reading about it. 

“Did you ever feel like you were flying better than the boys around you?” one asked. 

“No,” Badger replied. “We were equals.” 

She added, “I never looked at it as ‘This is hard, and I don’t think I can do it.’ 

“I wouldn’t have been there if I’d had that kind of attitude.” 
Capt. J. Elizabeth Peace
Public Affairs Officer
Georgia Wing