Millicent Peterson 44-10


In the 1940s, in the dusty fields of Sweetwater, Texas, Millicent Peterson Young became part of a group of history-making women aviators.

At 20, Young joined the WASP, or Women Airforce Service Pilots, which freed up men for combat flights in World War II by using women to support the air effort at home.

The women were assigned to bases around the country, with jobs such as ferrying military planes coast to coast, testing aircraft and towing targets for gunnery practice.

About 25,000 women applied for the WASP starting in September 1942. In the end, 1,074 graduated from the training program in Sweetwater. Thirty-eight WASP died in the line of duty.

Young trained for about six months, then towed targets in Victoria, Texas, for only a few weeks before the program ended on Dec. 20, 1944.

“They just came and told us one day, ‘It’s over.’” She and others were left to make it home on their own.

But the adventure helped fulfill a dream she’d had since age 7 when a small plane landed near her rural Nebraska home, carrying a family that was visiting her neighbors.

She remembers the plane circling in the sky and her mad dash across a pasture to see a man, his wife and their daughter getting off the plane.

“The man said, ‘Little girl, don’t touch that airplane.’ But I did. I snuck a feel.”

She decided then she would learn to fly. She clung to that desire even when a ride in a Trimotor Ford a few years later proved disappointing. The pilot didn’t do any stunts, she complains. “He just flew around.”

She learned to fly in a grass field in Ogallala, Neb. Her instructor, who didn’t think women should fly, kept a flexible exhaust pipe handy during lessons.

“He said in case I froze at the controls, he could hit me over the head.”

The Colorado Springs woman, who turns 81 this month, flew little after her WASP days. But she remembers fondly the excitement of the skies, the thrill of learning to do loops and slow rolls.

“I felt sort of powerful up there.”

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