As SUN ’n FUN celebrates the 70th anniversary of the creation of Women Airforce Service Pilots Thursday, efforts are underway to raise enough money to have a WASP float in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade.
“The theme of this year’s parade is ‘making dreams come true,’” noted Kate Landdeck, WASP historian and coordinator for the WASP Float project. “The WASP worked so hard to make dreams of flying for their nation come true, and it’s important to honor and recognize their legacy and what they did for all the women who came after them.”
The fundraising effort is sponsored by the Wingtip to Wingtip Association, the legacy organization of the Women Airforce Service Pilots. The association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to supporting the WASP in gatherings, telling their story to new generations, and protecting their legacy.
“These women are in their 90s now,” Landdeck noted. “We want them to be recognized and honored while we can.”
The Tournament of Roses Parade is one the most prestigious and well-attended parades in the United States. Established in 1890, the parade takes place on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif. Organizations must apply to be part of the event.
“In March of this year we learned that our application was approved by the Tournament of Roses,” said Landdeck. “They invited us to be part of the parade and we happily accepted that invitation.”
According to Landdeck, there are professional float-builders who are interested in designing the WASP float, but first the money must be raised to pay for it.
“These floats cost $250,000. We are aiming to raise $50,000 by April 15. Through social media we know people are interested and enthusiastic about the WASP float, and now we need them to show that support with their checkbooks.”
Landdeck noted that the committee is also looking for volunteers to help with website design, social media outreach and the like to get the word out about the project and assist with fundraising.
The WASP program was created in 1943 by noted aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran, who persuaded Army General Hap Arnold that women could be used to fill non-combat flying roles so that the men could go to war.
Some 25,000 women applied to be WASP, but only 1,830 were invited to training in Sweetwater, Texas. Just 1,102 made the cut. They flew everything from bombers to trainers. Although the women were not officially part of the military during the war, they wore Army uniforms and lived on military bases. The organization was disbanded in December of 1944 because they were no longer necessary for the war effort. After the war the WASP were seemingly forgotten, until the 1970s when President Jimmy Carter signed an order recognizing the women as veterans. In 2010 the WASP were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The WASPs will be honored throughout the day Thursday at SUN ’n FUN, starting with a WASP luncheon and forum, which will showcase surviving WASP reliving their wartime experiences from flight training to ferrying bomber and fighter aircraft, and flying as engineering test and transport pilots.
At 2:30 p.m., a proclamation of the WASP’s 70th anniversary will be presented by Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields, followed by a Hero Ride of WASP.
The day concludes at 7 p.m. with a tribute concert to the WASP on the SUN ’n FUN grounds.
For more information or to donate: Fifinella.com/RoseParade.htm