When Japanese planes executed a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Cornelia Fort was already in the air. At twenty-two, Cornelia had escaped Nashville's debutante scene for a fresh start as a flight instructor in Hawaii. She and her student were in the middle of their lesson when the bombs began to fall, and they barely made it back to ground that morning. Still, when the U.S. Army Air Forces put out a call for women pilots to aid the war effort, Cornelia was one of the first to respond. She became one of just over 1,100 women from across the nation to make it through the Army's rigorous selection process and earn her silver wings.
In The Women with Silver Wings, historian Katherine Sharp Landdeck introduces us to these young women as they meet even-tempered, methodical Nancy Love and demanding visionary Jacqueline Cochran, the trailblazing pilots who first envisioned sending American women into the air, and whose rivalry would define the Women Airforce Service Pilots. For women like Cornelia, it was a chance to serve their country--and to prove that women aviators were just as skilled and able as men.
While not authorized to serve in combat, the WASP helped train male pilots for service abroad and ferried bombers and pursuits across the country. Thirty-eight of them would not survive the war. But even taking into account these tragic losses, Love and Cochran's social experiment seemed to be a resounding success--until, with the tides of war turning and fewer male pilots needed in Europe, Congress clipped the women's wings. The program was disbanded, the women sent home. But the bonds they'd forged never failed, and over the next few decades, they came together to fight for recognition as the military veterans they were--and for their place in history.