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November 7, 2013

Female pilots of WWII set eyes on Rose Bowl float

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

But getting a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade is a difficult thing. Even after a formal application is accepted, the entrance fee is $5,000, and the total cost of float construction can approach a quarter of a million dollars.

The group began fundraising in earnest last February, accepting both $10 checks and one large $60,000 pledge from a former WASP in Texas.

Then, in the fall, Dot Lewis' health began failing. Chig put fundraising efforts on hold. To give their float designer enough time to complete the project by the Jan. 1 parade date, Chig figured, they would need to have the money pledged by Veterans Day.

"It's really a very public way to do a final honor for these women, to say thanks for their service," says Kate Landdeck, vice president of Wingtip-to-Wingtip and a history professor at Texas Women's University.

The WASPs were the creation of racing pilot Jacqueline Cochran and aviator Nancy Harkness Love, who envisioned a domestic team of female military pilots freeing up male pilots for combat abroad. WASPs flew recently repaired planes to make sure equipment was functioning properly. They hauled cargo and air-chauffeured top brass to meetings. They introduced green servicemen to the air, with the winking motto, "If we can teach them to walk, we can teach them to fly." Thirty-eight women died in this service to their country.

WASPs were classified as civilian pilots, with a promise that they would later be classified as military. Instead, in December 1944, as the war's end approached, the program was disbanded. The families of the 38 women who died were not allowed to display gold stars in their windows, because their daughters were not recognized as veterans.

The WASPs received a letter informing them that their service was over. Two days after that letter came, "several of us received letters from aircraft companies inviting us to come and be stewardesses," remembers Rohrer. "I was so angry, I tore that letter up."

The WASPs would finally be granted full military status in 1977, and they were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in 2010.

Chig Lewis says that a place in the Rose Bowl parade would have pleased his mother, although, ever the cool pilot, she wouldn't show it too much. "She was a remarkable woman," he says. "She was the bravest person I know."

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