Courtesy VA Historian
In 1932, Hazel Ying Lee was the first American woman of Chinese heritage to obtain a pilot’s license in the U.S. She later became the first woman pilot of Asian descent to serve in the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) and made the ultimate sacrifice for her country during World War II.
Hazel Lee was born in Portland, Oregon on August 24, 1912 to Chinese parents. She took her first plane ride at an air show in 1932 and got the “bug” to fly. Despite her mother’s objections, she joined the Portland Flying Club and learned to fly under famed aviator Al Greenwood. In October 1932, at the age of 19, she obtained her pilots license, making her the first known woman of Chinese heritage to do so.
In 1943 she signed up for the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) and received her training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. The WASPs were civilians who aided the U.S. Army from 1942-1944 by ferrying planes between manufacturers and military air bases, testing planes for mechanical problems, and towing practice targets for aerial gunnery students. Roughly 1,000 women served as WASPs and 38 of them, including Hazel Ying Lee, died while in service to their country. Hazel Ying Lee died when her plane crashed near Great Falls, Montana, in November 1944.
Public Law 95-202, signed by President Jimmy Carter on November 23, 1977 and known as the G.I. Bill Improvement Act of 1977 (Title IV, Section 401), provided WASPs with official military status for their service during World War II, making them eligible for federal veterans benefits.
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