On Veterans Day yesterday, a crowd filled a room at the Proud Bird restaurant near L.A. International Airport. They honored the Women Air Force Service Pilots - or WASPs - who served during World War II.
Brian Watt: More than 1,000 women became WASPs during the program's two years. They tested military planes, flew them from factories to their points of debarkation, and towed targets for moving target practice. All this happened stateside... so the men could fly the combat missions. But the WASPs were not officially in the military.
Betty Jane Williams: We were not allowed to be even called veterans for 34 years before we were even recognized.
Watt: That's WASP Betty Jane Williams of Woodland Hills. The armed forces acknowledged her and others as military about 30 years ago. Williams says that was way too late for the 38 WASPs who died while serving in World War II.
Williams: When we sent the bodies home, in some cases, we had to take nickels out of the Coke machine to send the body home – there was no insurance. That's a pretty raw deal.
Watt: Gertrude Tompkins Silver was one of the 38 WASPs who died while on duty. She disappeared in October 1944 after she took off from what is now LAX in a brand-new P51D Mustang fighter plane. A volunteer search team continues to look for the wreckage of her plane in the Pacific Ocean.