Archived Story

Real American hero speaks in Buchanan

Published 12:16pm Tuesday, November 13, 2012

About 60 people were on hand Sunday for the ninth annual Veterans Day program at the VFW Lodge in Buchanan. This year’s event featured Bernice “Bee” Falky Haydu , who served as a WASP during WWII and is one of the first female military pilots in the country’s history.

The Women Air Force Service Pilots, or WASPs as they were nicknamed, began on Aug. 5, 1943, with the purpose of training women to fly for the military when the Army Air Corps realized it would take at least 12 pilots to provide the necessary support for each combat pilot serving in the war theaters. More than 25,000 women from all walks of life, including dancers, secretaries and housewives, accepted the call to serve, but only 2,080 were able to meet the strict qualifications and only 1,074 were able to complete the training. For more than a year, the women logged thousands of hours delivering supplies and flying training missions. During that time, 38 women lost their lives while flying and were not granted the same military honors their male counterparts received. In 1944, WASP was deactivated from service when Congress failed to militarize the organization and recognize its members.

After their time as WASPs, some of the women formed the Order of Fifinella named after a character designed by Walt Disney for the WASP insignia. Its goal was to remain in contact with members, but the organization later served as the nucleus for a political drive to be acknowledged for its members’ service. Haydu served as the Fifinella president for two terms from 1975 to 1978 and led the fight for recognition.

In 1977, the organization’s wish was granted and members were given full veteran status. President Obama went a step further when he awarded the women of WASP the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009. Haydu attended the ceremony and described it as one of the proudest moments of her life. In 2000, Haydu was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in Teterboro, N.J. Her original WASP uniform is on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and, in March, she was inducted into The Women of Aviation International Hall of Fame.

Haydu recently wrote a book about her experiences, titled “Letters Home 1944-1945,” based on her correspondence to loved ones while serving. She also describes her training as a military pilot and herlifelong determination to remain a working pilot in a male-dominated profession. The proceeds from her book go to support the WASP museum and for scholarship programs to train women to become pilots.

Haydu flew well into her 70s before hanging up her wings, but she still attends as many air shows as she can each year. At 91, she maintains a full speaking engagement schedule addressing schools and VFW lodges across the country. She said she hopes to keep alive the legacy of the brave women who volunteered to fly during WWII.

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