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Seventy Years Later, Pioneering Pilot Gets her Full Military Funeral Honors

so long and thanks for all the fish

The Women Airforce Service Pilots have fought an uphill battle for recognition ever since the program was decommissioned in 1944 and all its records classified for thirty-five years. But one small victory was achieved yesterday when Cheryl Marie Michell, niece of Marie Michell, succeeded in winning military funeral honors for her aunt, who died in 1944 while doing what she was best at: flying.

The WASP were a group of female civilian pilots who took on the job of flying any different make of American military plane wherever it needed to go in the U.S., a vital job when the Air Force needed every combat trained pilot to be, well, flying in combat. Unlike their male counterparts, however, the WASP were considered to be part of a civil service and did not receive military benefits. It wasn’t until 1977, after an act of congress, that their records were made available to historians and the public and the women who participated in the program were granted veteran status. The women of the WASP have since been awarded the World War II Victory Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, and those who served for more than a year have been awarded the American Campaign Medal.

According to the Detriot Free Press, Marie Michell originally got into flying to impress a boy, but obviously enjoyed the job for its own sake. Says her older brother Roy, a Navy veteran, “To Marie, flying was just a natural thing. She loved it. I figured, right from the start, she was a better pilot than I was.” Michell was accepted into the WASP program at its inception, a month before her sweetheart died in a military plane crash. In October 1944, she took the copilot seat on a training flight that crashed in the Mojave Desert.

In a service yesterday at her grave, among other honors, her brother Roy, now ninety, received the traditional folded American flag, and Cheryl Marie Michell read the poem “Celestial Flight.” According to Freep, the piece, written by Elizabeth MacKethan Magid, another WASP pilot and Marie’s best friend in honor of her death, has become a staple at tributes to WASP pilots, and the funerals of the thirty-eight of the more than 1,800 women pilots who died in the course of their duties.

There’s still lots of interesting stuff about the WASP and Michell’s life in the Detroit Free Press article.

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