Published April 25, 2016
Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) Bernice Haydu, 94, was one of the first women to fly for the U.S. Military as a member of the World War II Women Airforce Service Pilots.
When her parents’ sewing business fell under due to the Great Depression, Haydu started taking aviation courses at night school, supporting herself by working as a secretary. Eager to contribute to the war effort in 1944, she signed up to join the WASP.
She arrived in Sweetwater, Texas in February 1944 at the age of 23 and immersed herself in the training environment of Avenger Field. There, she trained on the Stearman PT I7, the AT6, and the BT13.
Haydu was one of the 1074 qualified women pilots that graduated training between 1942, when the program began, and December 1944, when it was disbanded.
After flying for the WASP, she continued a life in aviation by teaching flight lessons, ferrying aircraft, running a Cessna dealership, and racing in occasional aircraft derbies.
Later, Haydu was at the forefront of the WASPs’ decades-long fight to be recognized as veterans. She was the president of the WASP organization when they made their case in Congress, advocating for their rights until President Jimmy Carter signed the bill that granted veteran status to the WASP in 1977.
Haydu was present when President Barack Obama signed the bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASP in 2009.