Women of the U.S. Air Force: Selma Cronan and Yetta Moskowitz
"From the time my mother took me on a two dollar airplane ride in Asbury Park, New Jersey in the 1920's, I fell in love with flying and I knew I was going to become a pilot someday." —Selma Kronan
In 1942, the United States was suffering through a severe shortage of pilots. Men were needed to fight overseas, and the government was forced to take a chance and train women to fly military aircraft. This pioneering group of civilian female pilots was called the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots, or WASP for short. Over 1,000 young women were trained to fly B-26 and B-29 bombers, test new planes, and fly shipments across the country from factories to military bases. Fun fact: the WASP mascot was drawn by Walt Disney, and appeared on each woman’s shoulder patch. Less fun fact: All records of the WASPs were classified and sealed for 35 years, so their contributions were little known and all but inaccessible to historians.
In 1943, Selma Kantor Cronan was invited to join the WASPs by Jacqueline Cochran, the legendary female aviation pioneer. After WWII, Cronan took part in flying competitions and earned a name for herself as a competitive pilot. In 1992 she was interviewed at home in Delray, still flying at age 82. Of her time as a WASP Cronan said, “I was very young and gung-ho. My next flight was all I cared about. Looking back, I realize now there was a lot of discrimination against women. You’d fly into an air base and there was never a ladies’ room. I realize now the subtleties of the whole thing. If there’s anything I’m happy about, it’s that we were the forerunner of what’s taking place insofar as discrimination against women.”
"The world should be made aware of what the flight nurses did. We started air evacuation medicine, which helped save thousands of lives." —Yetta Moskowitz
A pioneer of air evacuation medicine, Yetta Moskowitz received an air medal for flying over 100 hours through combat zones in New Guinea and the Philippines to evacuate wounded soldiers in World War II. Moskowitz was fresh out of nursing school in June of 1943 when she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps as a flight nurse. She trained in the Air Force School of Air Evacuations before deploying to the Philippines, where she helped extract seven thousand troops from enemy territory and keep them alive until they could reach area hospitals. Her courage under fire earned her a promotion to first lieutenant and chief nurse of the 804th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron.
While nurses were technically noncombatants, they had to carry revolvers in case they were shot down over enemy territory, and Moskowitz’s best friend was killed while rescuing wounded soldiers. Have you seen the movie Pearl Harbor? Where Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnet vie for the love of Kate Beckinsale, a WWII nurse with perfect banana curls, crisp white uniforms, and an impressive collection of high-waisted bikinis? The real story, it seems, was far less glamorous, significantly more dangerous, and, well, simply awe-inspiring.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it meant to serve this country as a Jewish woman during World War II. These women were likely discriminated against for their gender and religion in the U.S. and still chose to do whatever they could to support the war effort. There weren’t women’s bathrooms on many Air Force bases. They had to deal with quotes like this one from LIFE magazine: “Girls are very serious about their chance to fly for the Army, even when it means giving up nail polish, beauty parlours and dates for a regimented 33 weeks.” (REALLY) This Memorial Day, remember the women who rarely make it into the movies and the history books.
How to cite this page
Metal, Tara. "Women of the U.S. Air Force: Selma Cronan and Yetta Moskowitz." 22 May 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 20, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/women-of-us-airforce-selma-cronan-and-yetta-moskowitz>.